Seven Tips for Menu Planning
By Sue Hooley
The two types of menu planning are a weekly menu plan and a four-week menu plan. There is not one perfect way to plan a menu. My sister-in-law, Beverly generally plans a week of menus on Monday and she consults the sale flyers for current specials. She has easy access to several grocery stores and she usually makes a weekly shopping trip. In my area, local choices are limited, but we do have a large city close by. I typically plan menus four weeks at a time and buy in larger quantities. I generally plan only the main meal of the day, which in our home is the evening meal.
1. Choose a theme to help steer you to a particular section of a recipe book. Here is an example: Monday- casserole, Tuesday- meat and potatoes, Wednesday- soup, Thursday- casserole, Friday- Italian or Mexican, Saturday- grill or CORN (clean out refrigerator night). Remember these formats are not laws; they are plans that can be modified at any time.
2. Check your calendar for upcoming events and note on your meal planner anything that will affect your blueprint – birthdays, parent/teacher meeting, church events, youth activities… Take thought as you choose recipes so that you are not planning a time consuming meal after a full day. As things come up throughout the week, menus can be altered.
3. Start menu-planning by looking in your freezer, refrigerator, garden and pantry. This provides you with knowledge of items on hand and may be a springboard for menu ideas.
4. Select your recipes to be used. To make the planning process easier, use a few cookbooks and/or your own personal recipe collection at one planning session. An abundance of cookbooks and food magazines may tend to bog us down with too many options. With the four-week method, it is easy to incorporate everyone’s favorite foods throughout that time frame or to try a new tantalizing recipe.
5. Make a shopping list at the same time you plan menus. For Beverly, this is the list she uses immediately. As I lay out a month of menus, I have a list for each week. Sometimes, I purchase all of the non-perishables items in one shopping trip, and then pick up the perishables locally. Menu planning helps you to save time and money by reducing the number of trips to the store. If you know what is on the menu, you can easily take advantage of advertised sales and seasonal produce.
6. Select a format for menu planning. Notebooks, blank month calendars and white boards are good options. Beverly uses a daily planner that has a space for menu planning. I use a four-week computer print-out; then transfer the basic information to my planner. Notations are made in the planner of any prep work that is needed like defrosting meat or getting food in the crockpot.
7. Take note of similar recipes that could be made at the same time. For example, Finnish Cake and Ice Cream Cake take many of the same ingredients, so why not make both while the fixings are out? It saves much time in clean-up and ready-made food in the freezer is like money in a savings account.
It is helpful to plan at least one meal per week that is easy to assemble so when the unexpected occurs, you can move menus around to give you some space. Sometimes a bought pizza and ice cream sandwiches make the difference between calm and chaos. Occasionally I “plan” a store-bought meal just to get a break from cooking.
With the four-week method, you can easily double recipes one week and then, have a similar menu two weeks later. Occasionally that extra dish in the freezer becomes the perfect gift to help a friend through a crisis and it is a blessing to use our resources in this way.
As mentioned before, there is not one perfect way to plan a menu. But with a little practice, you can change that “exasperating hour” to a “prepared hour.” Try it.
…the kitchen might still be a mess…
…but the stress will be less,
…you won’t need to guess,
…what is for supper?
Sue Hooley, wife of Dan and mom to six children ages 4-20 is a Mennonite homemaker in Washington state. After several years of motherhood and homemaking, she developed a Daily Planner that is perfect homemakers. www.homemakersfriend.com
Sue has also compiled a devotional book for new mothers called The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. This book was a gift to me from my mom when our first child was born. After each of my children's birth since then I have pulled out this book. It is a perfect book to read while nursing to be encouraged by the words of Scripture and insights from many other mothers.