Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Menu Planning and Grocery Shopping 101

This post is for my friend Deb. She's been asking me to help her out with menu planning, so since I haven't seen her lately, I thought I'd blog about it.

Because I'm such an adventurous, free-spirited and spontaneous woman, I plan my menus out every week. The actual planning isn't something I love, but the coming home from work and not having to think about what I'm going to make for supper is something I enjoy immensely. All I do is look at my list and get to work. I'm spontaneous that way.

Here's how I do it. Deb - are you there?

Step 1.

Go buy a spiral ring notebook. Doesn't matter what size or color, just get something. Do you like my flowery one? It's pretty. It's pretty and practical. Of course it's practical. Would I do anything that's not practical? Of course I would, I'm adventurous, free-spirited and spontaneous. Please try to remember that.

Your spiral notebook will become your menu book. As you get really into planning your weekly menu, you will have a notebook to look back on and see what you've eaten lately, what you haven't eaten lately, and what you may like to eat. It's a food journal of sorts.

I'm sure you could do this with some sort of technology. This is my way of menu planning. It's not fancy. It involves a pen and paper. It works for me. I'm Mennonite. Maybe we should call this, "The Mennonite Way to Menu Plan." Something tells me I'd probably offend some techno-savvy Mennonite woman. I'm sure she's out there. I'm sure we're related. But this is my blog so we're going to do things my way.

Step 2.

Open up your book and draw a horizontal line about two thirds of the way down your page. Next, draw a box off to one side.

Step 3.

Write the days of the week on the lower third of your paper. My grocery week starts on Thursday as that is the day I get groceries (I'm spontaneous and adventurous remember?) but you can start your grocery week any day you like. If getting your groceries the same day every week doesn't work for you like it does for me, you can plan for that as well. I like getting my groceries every week. Planning menu items for more than a week is too big of a task for me. I  simply don't want to plan for more than that and some things like milk, fruit, and produce won't last us more than a week. My goal is to go to the store once a week and that's it. Some weeks it happens, some weeks it doesn't.

I leave spaces between my days so I can add notes if needed. For example, on Monday, Kelli has a cross country meet that I want to go watch which means I won't be around after work to get supper together. To make things easier for me and to ensure that I won't get home and have to whip something together or spend money on going out, I'll plan a crock pot meal that night.  At this point of my planning I'll write 'crock pot' under Monday.  Looking at my calendar while planning my menu is essential. I don't want to plan to cook a more labor intensive meal if I'm not going to be home to do the labor. Again, this speaks to my spontaneity and free spirit. Spontaneity is much better for me if I plan for it.

Step 4.
Plan out your dinner menu day by day.

I know this is easier said then done. You may have to ask yourself some questions.

What are your favorites? What are the favorites of each of your kids? What about your husband? What nights do you need to do a crock pot meal? Do you want to incorporate a couple of vegetarian nights? If you've had red meat two nights in a row, what is a dinner idea with chicken or fish? Your colon will smile. Let's all pause to think about what that would actually look like.

I love soup, so one night a week we have soup. I don't like cooking Sundays, so usually I'll do something easy like sandwiches which everyone can make for themselves or frozen pizza.

Think about your week. How busy are you going to be? What did you eat last week? How can you incorporate some healthy choices into your plan?

If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, I use google. I'll type in something like, "easy chicken dinner" and see what comes up. Some of my favorite food sites are, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, Pioneeer Woman, All Recipes, and Food Network. Those are the places I turn to when I simply can't think of anything to add to my menu. I also love trying new things. Spontaneous things. Adventurous things.

Step 5.
Once you have your menu planned, you can make your grocery list.

Look at your recipes. What are you going to need? Write it down on the top two thirds of your paper. The box you drew earlier is for your meat. When I get to the meat counter I like to have everything I need in one area on my paper. I'm really good at forgetting things so I set up my list to try and make things easier for myself. I usually put the produce I need on the left side of my paper just so I'm not running back to the produce department to pick up something I forgot, or didn't see on my list. My non-food items go up at the top. Keeping things grouped helps me spend less time at the store. 

Step 6.
Go to the grocery store. 

Step 7.
Shop. Stop and talk to anyone you might know. If you're buying wine or other alcoholic beverages, say a prayer that no one from your church will be in front of you or behind you when you get to the check out lane. 

Don't forget to tell the young person who's bagging your groceries that, "no, you don't want your milk in a sack," because I guarantee they will ask.

If you've purchased alcohol, cross your fingers that the checker will ask to see your I.D. because you know you don't look your age. You're youthful, adventurous, spontaneous and free spirited, even if you're clutching your list to your chest like a life jacket. No one would possibly guess that you're middle aged.

Okay, well, whatever.

I think that's it.

When you first attempt this it may take a little longer to plan out your menu and get your grocery list  together. Be patient. You're doing something good for yourself and your family. As much as I joke, I think a menu plan is the best way to shop. It saves money and it helps you make healthier choices. Once you get going you'll be able to flip through your spiral notebook, grab some ideas from past weeks, know the recipes pretty much by heart and be good to go.

How's that Deb? Hope it helps.

Here's to family dinner times around the table.



  1. Kris, I agree...it is easier to make a weekly menu. And if something comes up at the last minute, you have everything bought to make it the next time...Bonus! One of the kids' teachers told me about a grocery app for my phone and it will sort your list into any catagory you like. So, when I'm in the dairy section, everything is listed together right on my phone. I love it!

  2. That's pretty much what I do too. I do have to admit, though, that sometimes I get in a rut or feel uninspired to plan a week's worth of meals. Bookmarking food web sites or allrecipes.com is a great way to find new things to cook.

  3. And, you purchase alcohol?! You crazy Mennonite girl!


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