It's been way too long since I wrote a post about menu planning. It's not that I haven't been doing it at all. I've been scribbling notes in my calendar book (see the link to the right for the calendar book that I just LOVE) with loose meal ideas for a few days at a time. I got out of the habit of doing my complete weekly meal plan after the holidays and I've just been lazy about getting back to the discipline of sitting down and thinking it through.
But what inevitably happens when I am not as disciplined about planning is that I spend way too much money on food and end up buying too much stuff that we don't really need. Some people like to shop for shoes, I like to shop for food! I really do enjoy going to the grocery store and just browsing! But if I don't have a complete planned out menu, with a grocery list to go with it, then I find myself at the store and just buying what looks good, or buying more than I need just to have stuff on hand.
Our budget is tight these days, and I've realized that I need to get back to being more disciplined about my meal planning, and get back to having a better handle on what groceries I really need to be buying. But instead of just planning for the coming week, I decided to take the extra time and really think through a full month plan (or four weeks at least). This took quite a bit of work! But now that I have a template for a four week plan, I think it will be really easy to maintain moving forward. For the following month I can either just repeat the exact same plan, or I can easily go in and just swap out a few dinners with new ideas - either way, I've already done the bulk of the work so it will be super easy. I already feel a big sense of relief in knowing that I've got a whole month of meals all figured out.
I designed our plan to fit our current weekly schedule, knowing which days I have time to cook and which days I don't. We have a late ballet class on Mondays and the kids and I have been having dinner at Grandma's after, so my husband just has leftovers when he gets home from work. And on Sundays my husband has band practice so I'm on my own with the kids, so that's the night I do some kind of 'kid food' for them, and either leftovers or a salad for me.
I've also worked in a few of our regular theme nights that my kids have learned to expect - like Taco Tuesday, and Pizza Friday. I love Asian food so I've got two nights of the month with an Asian style meal. And I like the efficiency of cooking a large piece of meat or roast chicken and having lots of leftovers to use in other easy meals, so I've got a night of a pork roast (less expensive than beef) and one night where I'll roast a couple of chickens. Both meals will leave me with lots leftover for a stew the following night and enough extra meat to use in one or two other meals, and you'll see in the menu plan that I've got several dinners that are based on the assumption that I've already got cooked chicken or other meat available to use.
You'll also notice that for breakfast and lunch I follow a plan that's pretty much the same each week, with just minor variations in a few of the items. I don't need to reinvent the wheel each week for breakfast and lunch, and as long as I don't repeat something twice in one week, my kids are ok to eat the same lunch somewhat frequently. I should also note that I'm not actually making things like pancakes and French toast on weekday mornings - those are leftovers from the previous Sunday's breakfast. I always make extra of all of those kinds of things and stash them in the freezer, they make super easy weekday breakfasts. The breakfasts and lunches that I've included here are mostly just for the kids (except Sunday breakfast).
Most of the time my husband and I just have leftovers for lunch, so I plan my dinner quantities also with the assumption that we want enough left over for a few lunch servings. For my husband for breakfast I'm keeping a supply of frozen breakfast sandwiches or single serving yogurts on hand, things that he can just grab and take to work with him. This isn't as ideal as eating something homemade, but he needs some kind of grab and go option at home, otherwise he'll end up spending twice as much at Starbucks. So this is at least a better solution than that, and maybe next month I'll work in time to make up a bunch of homemade breakfast sandwiches and stick in the freezer for him. For myself for breakfast I usually just scramble a couple of eggs, or on busy mornings I grab a couple of boiled eggs on my way out the door.
I am also trying to get a better handle on the free-for-all snack time, and I am cutting out all the pre-packaged convenience snack foods - so I've got a snack on the menu for each day. I'm going to be doing things like making homemade applesauce and putting it in refillable squeezies instead of buying disposable ones, and just cutting cheese blocks into sticks and keeping a container of those in the fridge where the kids can reach, and making homemade cookies and granola bars. When you start to add up how much can easily be spent on buying convenience snack foods, especially healthier ones, it's a shocking amount of money.
I'm actually really excited to get started on this menu. I'm starting it this week, instead of at the beginning of the month, because this is after my husband's mid-month paycheck. This is the paycheck that we actually have some money to spend. The first of the month our mortgage and health insurance bills are due, and there's not much left to spend after those. So by planning for a full month I can do the bulk of my shopping for the month after the mid month paycheck, and then I know we've got most of what we need to get us through, and I've got a solid handle on what I need to be spending to feed our family.
I've included a grocery list page with my plan. I didn't put quantities on this version, just the basic list of ingredients that need to be bought, which you could customize based on the number of people you are feeding. I do have a more detailed spreadsheet version with quantities and local prices which I'd be happy to share with you if you want - but I'm feeding 7 people so the quantities might be a lot more than the average family would buy. I've spread out the grocery list by week based on the plan, and the items that I only need to buy once a month I've spread out across the weeks so that I could do the shopping one week at a time. But in reality what I am doing is purchasing all the meat to freeze and all the pantry and non-perishable stuff in the first week when I've got the most money to spend. Then after that for the next three weeks all I need is dairy and produce.
In order to maintain a somewhat reasonable grocery budget, I'm trying to really prioritize what I buy organic, and right now my top priorities for organics are our milk, eggs, and most of our produce. Basically the stuff that we consume a lot of (and so our pesticide/hormone/antibiotic exposure would be the highest), and the things on the 'dirty dozen' produce list. I will keep an eye out for sales on organic meats, and if, for example, I see that Whole Foods has organic whole chickens on sale for the same price as the regular ones at Trader Joe's, then I'll try to run over and pick up several and stick them in the freezer. For produce, I'll buy non-organic things with thick skins or peels, like oranges, avocados, bananas. But I'm still only buying organic apples, greens, celery, tomatoes, etc. - you can see the Dirty Dozen list here. I get a weekly organic produce delivery which is a really good value for what we get, and we are getting our milk delivered weekly from a local dairy. So after those two deliveries each week, my grocery shopping for the rest of the month will be very minimal, which is going to save me a lot of time!
Also in my document I've included links to some of the recipes I'm using, and for the meals where I don't follow a recipe I've included just basic lists of what I use. If there's anything you want to know more about, just ask and I'd be happy to answer any questions. Click here to get the pdf version of the whole document, or click here if you want to get the word doc so you can customize for your own use.
So here we go! I'll try to keep you posted on how it goes!
- Pancakes & Waffle
- Instant Oatmeal
- Bread & pizza dough
- Banana bread
- Granola bars
- Ranch dressing
- Basil Vinaigrette
- Lentil soup
- Cauliflower pizza crust
- Korean beef bowls