February 7, 2014

Grocery Shopping: The Menu

I am going to try to make these posts and explanations as clear and understandable as possible. If anything is confusing or you need me to clarify, please let me know! It's kind of a work in progress as I see how things work for us at this stage in life, so it could be changing as we go.

I thought I should start out with my goals for the pantry and our food life. I already cook from scratch as much as I can, so that is a big part of our life and I don't consider that a goal. But you might, so please feel free to write up your own goal list if you want to do this along with me.

My Food Goals:

 - To stock our pantry to have 3 months worth of food for emergencies, to facilitate surprise crowds, or to help others out in times of need. I would like this to include water, so I need to find a place to store large amounts of water if I can.

- To save time in planning our menus and lists. And hopefully get down to shopping once a month.

- To have less waste. I've been pretty bad about tossing things lately.

- To save money on our groceries. Over the last year I have spent an average of $800 a month on groceries. Considering I used to spend $400 for 5 people, that was a major jump. Now, we do have 6 people eating full meals, and the boys are all getting bigger and eating more so I do realize that we are spending more for a reason, but I am hoping a better plan can lower us to about the $600 or under range (and I will admit our spending went up because the junk food consumption did...).

- To get our diet back on track and get rid of the junk food that has crept in while I was being lazy.

Planning Menus
I had originally planned on talking about the pantry first, but it made more sense to go over menus first, since that's why you pack the pantry!

My routine lately has been to write down whatever sounds easiest at the time, then shop for that. My menus have almost been the same from week to week lately, usually including enchiladas, a crock pot meal, and spaghetti. Which are all fine meals, but when I put the same things on the menu every week it gets boring.

So, my new plan is to come up with 15-20 of our favorite meals and rotate those. I might even try to come up with a meal for every day of the month and have the same menu every month. My plan is to use meals that involve mostly pantry items, since my goals is to have a stocked pantry, but you must rotate and use your pantry goods on a regular basis. I will have some days that are special meals, or trying new meals, but for the most part I am trying to simplify and focus on pantry building.

As far as what meal to put on what day, this is how I usually do it:

I usually plan for two weeks, since that is my shopping schedule right now. I am going to try to get on a one month routine, aside from quick trips for milk and such.

I use a blank calendar for my menus. You can print one out from your email/calendar program, or I'm sure you could find something on pinterest.

Mark down any special days like birthdays, anniversaries, etc that would have a special menu or going out. For example, we have a family dinner coming up at my mom's to celebrate some birthdays so I will put "OUT" on that day. If you will be cooking a special dinner, write out that menu on that day.

Make note of any days that need to be a quick meal or easy meal. If you have soccer practice every Thursday night, then a crock pot meal put on the in morning will probably be easier than making a 4 course meal. My cousin comes over every other Wednesday, so on those days I try to plan a crock pot meal or something quick so I can spend more time visiting and less time cooking (and cleaning up).

Fill in all the other days that are still blank. Try to include meals that will use leftovers from previous meals, or produce that needs to be used up. If I have leftover chicken from Wednesday, I will try to use it in pasta salad or enchiladas on Thursday or Friday. If you have some peppers that are starting to look a little sad, try to find a meal that will incorporate those so they don't go to waste.

That's pretty much it! So to recap:

Have a set number of go to meals that rely mostly on ingredients from the pantry. Fresh things can be a bonus as they are in season or the budget allows.

Use a blank calendar and fill in special meal days.

Fill in "busy" days that need easy meals.

Fill in the rest, again, still using meals that are based off of pantry staples.

Now, make a note of breakfasts and lunches, and snacks you want to have on hand (or preferably make). For us breakfast is almost always eggs and toast, in one fashion or another, or oatmeal/pancakes. Lunches are sandwiches or leftovers or hot dogs.

In the next grocery post I'll talk about my plans for the pantry and getting it stocked.

Happy Weekend!


Kessie said...

I've been trying to eat back on track with cooking, too. When the baby was born, we just ate frozen stuff like pizza. Hubby's schedule is all over the place, so sometimes he eats dinner home and sometimes not. Makes it hard to plan! I'm anxiously watching food prices, since a lot of our produce here comes from CA.

Angie said...

You certainly put a lot of thought into all of the aspects of meal planning. My biggest failure in meal planning has been planning ahead for the busy days. Amazing that something so simple didn't click for me! Anyhow, it was a much needed reminder. Love the idea of using a blank calendar to fill in the busy & special days. Great post.

Farm Girl said...

I do love when you write about menus and planning. When we were looking at how much we spent last year and where I was shocked that our biggest next to housing was our groceries. I decided I have to cook much more from scratch. I do a lot now but more in order to get that under control.
I wish I could get it down to going to the store once a month. I think I just need to plan more than a week at a time.
I enjoy it when you write about home making. I still think I could do a better job. Have you ever thought about once a month cooking? I was thinking I was going to do a bit of it next week so I don't have to worry about cooking after the surgery.
Keep it up, I love how you think.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

It does take time and planning but it's so much nicer to have a set meal plan isn't it? I like your goals!!

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