Guest post by Dawn Witman of Simple Gourmet Cooking
Menu planning might seem daunting, time consuming and to some unnecessary. My hope is to convince you that menu planning is easy and worth every second!
Why menu plan?
- I plan my menus weekly, and actually find that menu planning saves me time. Instead of running to the store nightly before I cook a meal, I already have everything I need to prepare a meal at home. Of course, if I want something really fresh, like a fish, I make an exception to this rule.
- Menu planning also saves money-cooking at home is cheaper than ordering out or going out.
- You don’t waste as much food-if you plan ahead, you will “reuse” that extra spinach instead of tossing it because the unused portion didn’t go bad.
- I strongly believe that menu planning helps us eat more variety. We don’t eat the same things over and over. Sure, I have a few “go to” recipes, but I love experimenting with new recipes as well.
- Menu planning encourages us to eat healthier-think of all the calories you save making that stir fry at home instead of picking up the phone and ordering it from your favorite take out place? I love that I know exactly what I am eating-no surprise ingredients (and added calories) if I make it myself! Plus, if you have a “splurge meal” one night, menu planning helps you balance it out by planning healthier, lighter meals following that.
How to do it (without spending too much time)
I plan one week at a time and I tend to only menu plan for dinners, and the occasional special weekend breakfast or baking treat. Lunches tend to be leftovers from the night before, allowing us to save even more money and eat healthier by not going out to lunch!
- What are you craving? When it’s hotter out, I tend to want to grill more foods, so grilled foods go on the menu. I also like to add seasonal items-such as asparagus in the spring and butternut squash in the fall.
- Use what you already have! Check your refrigerator and pantry. Is that kale about to go bad? If so, add something with it to your menu early on to use it up.
- Reuse ingredients! We’ve all done it–we go buy a special ingredient that we need to make a recipe, use some of it, and then the rest ends up going to waste. If you’re making something that requires a small amount of something, add another menu item with that same ingredient later in the week to use it up (or freeze the leftovers if possible). Since I’ve been menu planning, I rarely waste food anymore. I was definitely a culprit with this, especially with produce and cheeses.
- Make list(s). I make 2–one list of what will be on the menu and one grocery list.
- Plan fresh foods early! Plan recipes with ingredients that “go bad” closer to your shopping date. I tend to make things like salads earlier in the week and recipes with things that come from the freezer later in the week.
- Allow for “easy” meal nights. I know there are some nights where I’m not going to want to cook. This tends to be Mondays and Fridays for me. I also know there are nights that are busier than others. For these nights, I purposely plan crockpot meals, things like salads, sandwiches, quick pasta dishes, or leftovers from the freezer.
- Be flexible! Maybe you come home one night and had an awful day and don’t want to cook. Don’t pick up that phone to order pizza! Check your menu plan and move something easy up! Maybe you aren’t craving something you had planned for that night–feel free to move things around and add meals as necessary. That’s the benefit of having a week’s worth of meals on hand!
Give it a try—I really think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy menu planning is-and how much easier it makes getting those meals on the table!
About the author: Dawn is a speech therapist by day and spends the rest of her time cooking and baking for her and her husband, exercising, and learning about real estate. She has been known to read cookbooks cover to cover like others would read a novel. Dawn is also an animal lover and slightly obsessed with her black lab, Captain. She blogs her cooking adventures at Simple Gourmet Cooking.