Menu Planning

January 06 , 2012 by: Marga Munson Money Savers, Time Savers

The new year has dawned. Ok, 6 days ago, but still. I am back in school this week after a lovely 3 weeks off. It’s time for my crock pot to be my most used kitchen tool once again. Or is it??

This time around I only have to be on campus 2 nights a week, unlike last quarter which was a dreadful 4 nights away from my home. So actually, I’m hoping to get some decent cooking in. And, god bless him, Mike has agreed to pick up some of my culinary slack. He’ll be doing some light cooking of his own to provide sustenance on the nights I won’t be home until 10:30 or later.

In the spirit of eating healthfully and bypassing Fast Food Street and Fat Thighs Avenue, I have menu planned until the end of the month. Actually, this is a normal routine for me. I always have at least 2 weeks planned ahead of time. Is this a quick or even easy process? Not really. It takes some time and some serious thought, so we don’t end up eating Top Ramen or Jack in the Box all the time.

Below, I have listed my basic guidelines for menu planning. I would remind you all out there interested in trying this, to be flexible. Life happens…if your loving fiance says he wants to take you out to dinner when you had a casserole planned, for the love of god go with it!! Moments like that are rare for busy people, enjoy it. Casseroles can wait.

Menu Planning Basics:
1) Be creative: There is no point to planning a week or months’ worth of meals if all you’re eating is pasta or rice and beans. This gives you a chance to plan AHEAD and try NEW things!
2) Variety is the spice of life: If you plan a pasta dish one week, try not to repeat it for a week or more. At most, I do 1 pasta dish a week, because its cheap, easy, and always delicious.
3) Don’t forget your proteins: Costco exists for cheap frozen meat. I’m convinced of it. Oh, and the glorious samples. At any given time, there are at least 3 different proteins in my fridge/freezer. Usually, frozen chicken breasts, ground beef, some cut of cheap meat for stir fry…oh and tuna!
4) Pantry basics are a lifesaver: Stocking up on canned items while they are on sale will cut down your expenses, and increase your recipe repertoire. Unless you live in a golden pagoda, canned corn, beans and rice are vital meal components.
5) Stay organized: I plan a month ahead and then write my grocery list. Non-perishables are bought on sale and kept, and perishables are purchased week of the meal planned. But having the list written out ahead of time cuts down time spent running around the supermarket and worrying about forgetting something. Shop with purpose!

Here is a sample of what my menu looks like for the next 2 weeks:

1/6/2012-Friday-Costco Trip/Hot Dogs or cook Beef Stir Fry
1/7/2012-Saturday-Spaghetti and Meatballs
1/8/2012-Sunday-Cobb Salads
1/9/2012-Monday-Tamales
1/10/2012-Tuesday-Taco Night
1/11/2012-Wednesday-Sausage & Peppers w/ rice
1/12/2012-Thursday-Chicken Florentine Casserole
1/13/2012-Friday-Egg Drop Soup and Fried Rice
1/14/2012-Saturday-Chicken and Biscuits
1/15/2012-Sunday-Chilaquiles Casserole
1/16/2012-Monday-Grilled Cheese & Salad
1/17/2012-Tuesday-Refried Bean Soup
1/18/2012-Wednesday-Turkey Burgers w/Rice

Lots of variety, no? We’ve got asian food, Italian, creole, latin…you get my point. There’s even classics thrown in. See that grilled cheese on the 16th? Mike’s doing!

Remember…this isn’t a concrete list. Things may be moved around. But the general principle remains the same. Planning and shopping ahead will save you time, money and worries in the long run. And if you’re busy like us, time and money are precious commodities not to be wasted. Happy planning!

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