Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 Question

Hi. My name is Alaina and I used to menu plan.

When the new year starts, I always feel ambitious and inspired. I want to try new things and more than anything, I want to be a regular menu planner. I know it would make life easier because...true confession...I used to be a fairly successful weekly menu planner (do you like weekly or monthly plans?). Now, I occasionally make out a list and even less occasionally actually stick to it. WHY? I honestly don't know. Life happens, I get busy, there are a lot of poor excuses.

So, once again, I'm here at the beginning of the year and ready to dive in on menu planning. I know it will save money, reduce stress, and mean healthier eating for our family. I'm a little weary of failing and really, really want to be successful. So - I have two questions for you today that I hope it will be helpful to other readers.

1) Do you menu plan? How often? (Answer on the poll.)

2) What makes you successful (your top couple of tips)? (Please share in the comments.)

Ooh, can I add a third...pretty please...

3) Do you use any type of menu plan sheets, websites, recipe sites, freezer meals etc?

Yes, I realize that was about 5 extra questions not-so-subtly masked in one question. :)

Please, please help a girl who desperately wants to be back in the menu planning game.

[polldaddy poll=5811547]


  1. Last summer I purposefully threw menu planning out the window. My challenge and goal for myself was to use only vegetables from the garden, pantry staples, and meat that was on weekly sale at the grocery. I also threw recipes out the window. :-) I had so much fun and my family loved the creativity. Once the vegetable garden goes away though, it's really hard to do this and be fiscally responsible (or at least for me) and have decent variety. Plus, once I got preggo, my brain turned to mush so I really needed the help of recipes. Now I'm back to menu planning each week. I don't know if I'm successful per se, but I do try to find recipes that share similar expensive ingredients or ingredients that come in larger quantities so that I don't waste say half a bag of kale. I guess that would be my tip: I menu plan each week around what is already in the fridge so that I'm only buying a few new ingredients each week, and little gets wasted. Easier to say than do!

  2. The single-most factor that motivates me to menu plan is FEAR! I can't imagine not having a list in front of me and being forced to cobble together ingredients at the end of a long day! The thought terrifies me b/c I'd be a grumpy, grumpy Mom and I'm a bit scared of what we'd be eating.

    I shop every 2 weeks (with a milk/produce run in between). Before I go, I plan for 11 meals and make a shopping list from that. That leaves a few meals where we will eat leftovers, eat out or I'll come up with something out of ingredients we have on hand. In that list of 11 meals, I try to vary them (1 vegetarian, 3 quick/easy, 2 cheap meals, hopefully 1 meal that I'll double for the freezer, etc Also,each girl helps me cook one night a week so I make sure there are meals that they can help with.) I have a notebook where I keep a running list of all the meals we like (it keeps growing and growing.) I use that, plus sale ads, to help plan the menu list. I don't assign a specific meal to each day. I just have a list of meals hanging on the frig and then plan what we'll eat each day once I know what's going on in our week.

    My new trick for the year (trying it out for the first time today): I made a word doc that will serve as my basis for my grocery list. When I'm shopping for 2 weeks, it takes me a long time to make my list. On my "fancy" new list, I've divided it into sections of the grocery store (in the order that I shop) and I've listed staples that I frequently buy in each section. Each section also has some blank lines. When I make my list, I'm going to circle the items that I need for that week and write the additional items on the list. I'm hoping the list-making will be faster and neater. I'll just print a few of these at a time and fill them in every couple weeks. We'll see if it's helpful or not.

    Well, that's more than anyone every wanted to know about the Wiggins grocery routine!

  3. I do a weekly meal plan most of the time. I use Google Calendar, so I can easily see how each meal fits in with the rest of our schedule. I can also page back to previous months if I get stuck for ideas. Menu planning has become absolutely necessary--if I don't do it, I don't have the fridge and pantry well-stocked, and I'm too distracted by homework and kids in the late afternoon to focus on what's for dinner. In other words, chaos! I usually try to meal plan while I'm making a grocery list with that week's grocery ads, so I work around what's on sale (or what I have good coupons for) and what's already in the pantry or freezer.

  4. I menu plan in a "light" way:

    Every week or so I do a "state of the groceries" moment: I look through the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what needs to be used up, and browse through the grocery store ads, while also looking at our calendar to see what the coming days have in store for us (to know if I need something quick and easy or if I'll be able to cook most evenings). Then I brainstorm to see what I feel like eating that week. After stocking up on groceries I make a rough outline of meals that can be eaten that week. Sometimes I put them into my google calendar (I love this, I set up a calendar that syncs with my iphone and with my partner's android phone, so we both know what is going on, and I can throw in meals and events that we should both know about), other times when the week is looking highly variable I write down a list of possibilities in the notes app on my phone, so I have a reference list.

    The summers are always tough to plan around, because we get a CSA basket each week, and we never know what we are going to get until the day before or day of. It helps that we eat a lot of salads and stir frys in the summer, so it makes improvising easy.

    Something I find to be really helpful is not making my meal plan overly strict, and having easy meals on hand for nights when I just don't feel like whatever it is I had planned. I like to keep my freezer stocked with stir fry veggie mix, pierogies, frozen homemade soup and the occasional frozen pizza for those nights.

  5. I do a monthly plan If I do not want to do the meal of the day I have to trade with one from the rest of the month because those are the ingredients I have on hand (and because it keeps me disciplined). I buy most of the ingredients ,except the fresh ones, at the first of the month and prepare all my meats. I bag them in the freezer... spiced and ready. The whole system saves on time and thought process. I only shop for the fresh ingredients at the beginning of each week.

  6. When I was cooking for the group home, I created a menu based on category. Each day was a category like soups/sandwich; chicken; beef; pizza/pasta; freezer; vegetarian; brunch... I can't remember what else I had... That was good for the kids because it was predictable and easy to incorporate new recipes as well as old favorites.

    Now that our family is smaller, it's not as economical to plan as big a menu. The best tool I have now is the menu planner app on my iPhone. It's the only app I've ever paid for and it has been so helpful. I waste so much food when I don't plan a menu.

  7. I menu plan once a week, right before I go to the grocery store. I do try to keep my pantry and freezer stocked with quick and easy meals, so sometimes I'm flying off the cuff between the day my meal plan ends and the next time I go grocery shopping. I plan about 6 meals for a 7 day period, and I take Sunday potlucks into account as well as hospitality possibilities. I do try to plan so that I use up opened jars of sauces or partially used cans. I plan with my pantry/cupboard/fridge/freezer in mind as well as the sale flyer for my grocery store in front of me. I make my shopping list as I go. I also keep a running list throughout the week for when I run low on things I try to always keep on hand. If there is a good sale on something, then I might plan to make extra for the freezer. I have a list meals I commonly make so that I have something to go to when I lack inspiration. I should probably update my list one of these days since it is 5 or so years old and I've added new go-tos.

  8. The Cooks Next DoorJanuary 4, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    I've really pondered a category type menu. In many ways, I think it would simplify my planning. Hm, I'm may have to give this a try.

  9. The Cooks Next DoorJanuary 4, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    I'm loving all the tips and suggestions! This past spring/summer, I actually did a freezer meal night where I mostly put a bunch of proteins (in marinade, made into meatballs, taco meat, bbq etc) and pizza kits in the freezer. I really liked not having to think about a main dish and I was able to do it fairly affordably by meats in bulk at Costco. I'm thinking this would be probably be a good idea to do again.

    It was so much easier to not have to think of dinner when I was successfully menu planning, so I really am committed to being disciplined on this. :)

  10. I think someone has also mentioned this, but I made a huge Word doc of the items we eat most regularly and some others, with our absolute favorites bolded. I printed this out and have it in the kitchen, so as I menu plan each week before we head to the grocery, I can decide what we'll eat. Cooking for 2 can be a challenge, but what I usually end up doing during the academic year (when I'm working and in school) is simply cooking two larger main dishes on Sunday afternoon, right after returning from the grocery. Then, we have most of the week's meals accounted for. I know you don't necessarily like leftovers, but I would be lost without them. We would never eat!

    Recently, I've made a Dropbox folder for recipes that I find online plus the ones I have from my family. I've organized it as only a Librarian can, making it very much like a database with multiple access points. Someone mentioned dividing meals by categories, and this is the general idea. This folder I have shared with my siblings and mom, so that we all can contribute and have access to it. For me so far it has been a huge success in getting new ideas. I like to try a new recipe every few weeks. Plus, if I have chicken in the freezer and don't know what to do with it, I can turn to this folder and browse the chicken dishes that I've collected.

    I appreciate everyone's suggestions in these comments! They have given me new ideas for adding to my current method of menu planning!

  11. I think the reason a lot of people give up on menu planning is that it can get really tedious. Combining multiple recipes into a shopping list is a pain.

    Full disclosure: I built a site to solve this problem. It's called Feastie and it lets you search for recipes, bookmark them, keep track of what you cooked, and build a shopping list automatically from recipes from hundreds of different food blogs. You can also search by ingredient to use up what's in the fridge. Check it out and let me know what you think!

  12. I don't know if this is helpful or not, but here goes: I like the idea of organized menu planning, but it's just too much for me to do it all the time - if I have well-planned menus (with creative, tasty, interesting recipes, complete with sides and dessert) for holidays, Sundays and whenever we have guests over, I tell myself I am doing pretty well :). Usually the rest of the time, I have a favorite rotation of main dish recipes (a lot of vegetarian ones too) that changes with the seasons, and then we almost always have a green salad (kind of boring, but I love salad). So, I just make sure I always have the basic ingredients for those things (enchiladas, tostadas, quiche, frittata, pizza, and various pastas, Thai curries, soups and chilis) on hand, which is much easier now that I have more pantry space in the new house. Then I adapt them to fit whatever fresh produce I have which was probably whatever looked the best at the store or farmer's market.
    I don't have any programs or apps (oops, don't even have a smart phone) to help but I can imagine that would be very helpful to plan in a more organized way. I just write things down on paper lists and *try* to keep track of them :).