Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Menu Planning- (here's what I do)

Everybody has their own method for menu planning.  The key is to find what works for you.  Sometimes it is helpful to hear what other people do, so I am going to share how I menu plan.  

The first thing you need to figure out is how often do you go (or want to go) grocery shopping? I usually go grocery shopping once a week.  I live within a mile of several grocery stores so it is not big deal to go shopping once a week.  A few years ago, I lived a half hour to the nearest grocery store so grocery shopping that often wasn't happening. I'd go every 2 weeks.  The grocery store ads come in the mail on Tuesdays and the sales typically start wednesday (with the exception of a store or two in my area)  I peruse through the ads and circle/right down things that are on sale.  I stock up on items that I use alot that are on sale (canned tomatoes 2 for $1!)  I buy produce that is on sale and in season.  I usually go grocery shopping on Wednesday/Thursday.  I like to avoid the weekend, because I hate crowds and that's when EVERYONE goes grocery shopping.  I go in the morning too when it is less crowded and my kids are happy.  Yes.  I take my kids grocery shopping with me.  For the most part they do great, but I have been that lady in the store before whose kid is screaming their head off and crawling all over the shopping cart... 
Before I go shopping, I plan my menu for the week (sometimes I go through several drafts). I try to plan recipes that have similar ingredients so that all my fresh is used up and I'm not stuck throwing away a half rotted bunch of cilantro because I didn't plan well enough to use it up.  I usually try to plan for leftovers too.  If I can cook enough for 2 nights, then I am only cooking about every other night instead of every night.  Lightens the load.  I also take into account the cost of the meal.  If I want to splurge on something more expensive, then that usually means we are eating spaghetti or mac and cheese a few nights to balance it out. :)

I think the secret to my success, is stocking up on things while they are on sale.  That has been huge in keeping my pantry stocked and saving me money.  Things like chicken broth, cereal, oats etc.  I also stock up on a variety of cheese, cream cheese.  Just check the expiration date when you are buying it to make sure you will use it before it expires.  As long as these items remain unopened you can keep them in your fridge for awhile. (Side note: Once you open cheese or sour cream or something, though, IGNORE the expiration date and use it up!  They don't last forever once they are opened)  How much to buy?  I try to buy enough to last me until that item goes on sale again.  I read somewhere once stores cycle through sales every 3-4 months (true?  not true?)  Certain times of the year are better for stocking up than others.  In the fall chicken broth can be found at screaming deals. (brag time: Safeway was having a buy one get one on 32 oz of broth- plus I had a catalina coupon for $2.50/off 4.  I got 32 oz cartons of chicken broth for less than $1/piece.  Suh-weet!)

I always have my list items that I buy every week regardless of whether they are on sale or not: milk, yogurt, bananas, fresh fruits and vegetables on sale

So there you have it. I shop for things that are on sale, stock up on good pantry staples when they are on sale and create my menu plan each week based off sales and things I already have in my pantry.  I'm always interested in what other people are eating so I thought every now and then I would post my menu plans to help jump start ideas in case anyone is in a dinner rut... I feel like I'm there a lot sometimes.

What are some menu planning tips and tricks that you have found helpful?  What are you having for dinner this week?

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