Phoebe over at Cents to Get Debt Free is hosting her Finding Freedom Friday again this week, and the topic is menu planning. After you read my post, make sure you go over and check out Phoebe's and everyone else's posts :)
Here's my take on it.
How many weeks do you plan at a time?
Usually just one. I've done 2 at a time before, but I usually end up waiting till the last minute to figure it out and don't take the time to come up with 2 weeks worth :) I think it would be GREAT to menu plan a whole month like Erin does!! I wouldn't have to think about "what to have" for a whole month!!
How do you keep track of it all?
I scribble down meal ideas on a scrap of paper, then figure out what days to have what. I usually try to have a simpler, easier to eat, 1-dish type of meal on Wednesdays (since I never know if Daniel will be home to eat or I'll have to take supper to him at church), so I always keep that in mind. I also make sure and plan at least one day for leftovers if any one meal is going to make enough that there will be leftovers. Then I simply write on each day in my day planner what the meal is. I like doing this because I can look back and re-use ideas if I'm stumped.
How do you decide what to eat?
I start off thinking about what meats I have available - beef, poultry and pork - and then I think about what form those are in. Do I have a roast? Or maybe I want to make drumsticks. Or porkchops. Then I think about what kind of sides to make with it. One day I went through the "Meats" "Casseroles" and "Vegetables/Sides" section in my cookbook and made a list of meal ideas using every meat and main dish recipe (it's my "own" cookbook so I know all of the recipes). Sometimes I look at that to get ideas. Once I have a general idea, I mentally or literally look through the freezer, frige and pantry to see what we have on hand. I might not have X to make Y with, but I have Z and could make W with it. Or whatever. I try not to plan a meal that I have to buy a lot of stuff to make it work (another beauty of stockpiling is that you're likely to have everything on hand!). If there is a meal I really want to make but would need to buy a lot of stuff for it, I add those things to my "want" list and gradually work at buying those things as the budget allows.
How has it helped you?
Wow, it helps SO MUCH. First off, I don't have to think EVERY day "what should I make?" and then have to figure out if I have the stuff to make it. I love being able to look at my day planner, see what the meal is, and know that I have everything I need to make it. Menu planning also really, really helps me with our grocery budget. If I didn't menu plan, I would "need" to keep a ready supply of many things because of course I'd never know when I'm going to want to make something that takes whatever!! This way, if I'm out of Cream of Mushroom, it's ok!! I just wait until I need it in that weeks menu, and then add it to the grocery list and usually only buy what I need (if there's extra room in the budget then I do buy extra). I used to shop this way: I'm out of mushroom soup, I'll buy 4 cans. I'm out of chunky pineapple, I'll buy a couple cans. I'm out of .... taco seasoning, I'll buy a couple envelopes. Not anymore :) I buy as I need it - if I didn't stockpile it already when it was on a really great sale :)