Menu Planning Basics: Part 1

January 25, 2013

Whenever people are talking about resolutions there are always two things that I hear: saving money and eating at home more. The key to succeeding at both of these is starting a menu plan. With the overflow of blogs featuring recipes and sites offering meal  plans for you, none of us have an excuse anymore. Menu planning is vital to a successful kitchen and will not only save you money, it will help save your sanity as well.

So, now that we know Menu Planning can save your home time, money and reduce that unwanted extra cost of eating out when it’s 5 oclock and everyone’s asking, “What’s for dinner?” How do you get started?

Here are some basics.

Think Simple

Dinner does not have to be a 9 course event every night. This was one of my mistakes in the beginning of our marriage. For some reason, I thought I had to make 19 different things for dinner. I quickly learned that we do not go hungry if I make less and we definitely waste less when I do. Also, if you’re only shopping for a protein and two sides you’ll definitely spend less money. Here is what a before meal was like:

Sunday: Roast Chicken, Mashed Potatoes,  Broccoli, Corn and Rolls

Why was I making so much food? Call it my southern roots but a girl had to change. This is what it looks like now:

Sunday: Roast Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Broccoli<– well balanced and more than enough

Another keep it simple change I have made is to stop serving bread when we have Pasta. I mean, we’re having pasta, we don’t need bread too. Know what? Nobody has missed the bread and our waistlines are definitely thanking us because of it. Also, make simple meals on a regular basis. People love the “usuals” so serve them! There is nothing wrong with making an elaborate new recipe every once in a while for a special occasion, but make sure to do just that and in doing so, it will make it special!

So, your focus for dinner should be on providing a protein, whole grains and fruit/vegetables – it really can be that simple! And remember, serving dinner in its simplest form (like steamed broccoli or baked chicken) provides the most nutrients and fewest calories.

Plan Ahead and Write it Out

I usually make my menu plan for two weeks at a time at the beginning of each pay period. Not only does this help me prepare according to our schedule but it also helps me prepare my shopping trips. I alternate types of meat and meatless meals, doing my best to keep a variety of protein, grains and vegetables on our plates. Then, once my menu is made I browse my cabinets to see what I already have and then make my list for what I need to grab.

In the past, I have just made a menu for dinner but since we have started our whole eating lifestyle, I’ve had to be more conscious about what I’m buying to include breakfast, lunch and snack ingredients. I still try to keep breakfast and lunch simple and snacks are usually fruit, yogurt, cheese or a homemade baked good but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to grab the right amount from the store.

Once I write everything out, I usually have a pretty good idea if I’m going to be in budget or not. If my dinner plans are going to put me over budget, then I can rethink my menu before I go to the store instead of after I get to the register. For example, if I had planned beans and rice for Tuesday night and Salmon with broccoli with couscous for Friday night then I can readjust and we can have beans and rice again Friday night to make room for the fresh items I may need for snacks and lunches during the week.

Change Your Attitude and Your Perspective

It used to stress me out to re-serve the same thing more than once in the same week but as I’ve had to do this a few times, I’ve learned that nobody complains and our bellies are always full. We have never, ever gone hungry. What a statement! We may not have a gourmet meal every night but my children have always been nourished and not everyone can say that. Changing my attitude about dinner and recognizing my blessings has had such a positive effect on my menu (and my pocket book) and I hope it encourages and blesses you too.

Here’s what’s to come:
Part 2: Think Themes
Part 3: Buy Ahead
Part 4: Freezer Cooking as your kitchen BFF
Part 5: It’s all about Balance

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