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Timely Tips on Tuesday: Using a Master Grocery List and Menu Plan

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Faith's Firm Foundation: Timely Tips on Tuesday: Using a Master Grocery List and Menu Plan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Timely Tips on Tuesday: Using a Master Grocery List and Menu Plan

     Do you run to the grocery store or convenience store frequently for ingredients that you need and don't have?  Are you always wishing that you could make this dish or that, but you can't because you don't have that one necessary item?  Do you stand in your kitchen at 5:00 p.m. thinking, "What on earth am I going to make for supper?" Do you end up spending money eating out or ordering in because you don't have a plan?
     Something that has helped me immensely is to make Menu Plans and to use a Master Grocery List.  I don't make a menu plan every week, or follow it absolutely, but I try never to go to the grocery store without my Master Grocery List. Over the years these tools have probably saved our family thousands of dollars.  The less that I am in a grocery store, the less money I spend on groceries, so I don't plan to go to the grocery store every week.  I like to do a main shopping trip twice a month and then, only if I have to, go to the store to buy fresh fruit, veggies and other perishables in between.  When we were still Homeschooling and taking piano lessons, we did our grocery shopping after lessons, as this was our "day out," and we were in the area. I like to see how many things I can accomplish at the same time--how many "birds I can kill with one stone."  When I am home, I try to stay there.  When I'm out, I try to accomplish as much as I can in one trip.  Therefore, I try to keep a stocked pantry at home, and to utilize the freezer.  I recommend, if you are a young couple, that one of the first major expenditures you make is to buy a chest freezer.  This will allow you to buy a hind quarter or side of beef and whole chickens directly from the farm, (if you don't raise them yourselves), so you will know where your food has come from and what's in it, and to buy in quantity when there's a sale.  You will also be able to freeze produce from your garden, and freeze leftovers, and even make "planned leftovers."  Many young wives find it difficult to cook for 2 (or even 3-4 when the children are small and don't eat much) without wasting a lot of food.  If you don't have a pantry, ask your husband to put up some shelves for you--they don't have to be pretty, but they do need to be sturdy.  I have a larger pantry in our storage area, and an upstairs "pantry" (not a walk-in) in the kitchen. The shelves need to be accessible and you need to be able to see what you have.  A list attached to the side is helpful, but not absolutely necessary.  Keep on these shelves staples and other items used frequently, and ingredients for dishes that you make often (in other words, for the recipes that you keep in your head).  Don't keep such large quantities that the flour becomes buggy or things spoil.  Also keep on these shelves extra paper products and cleaning supplies, if there's room.  Think of this as the convenience store in your house.  I keep one extra upstairs, and more extra downstairs.  When you run out of that thing you're using, you use the one extra upstairs, and then when it's convenient, you replenish it from downstairs.  And you put it on your list to replenish your "store" downstairs.  Now, when you "run out" of something, you don't have to run to the store--you are in control, you can go to the store in a time convenient to your schedule, and when you are already out for other reasons, and have planned it.
   As to the Menu Plan, there are many ways to organize it.  I use a monthly calendar, but you may want to start with one week at a time. Because many women find they keep making the same meals over and over and lack variety in their cooking, I'm going to give you a menu plan that, if followed, will avoid that particular problem.  The Menu Plan that I use is not the only one out there, but you can start with it, especially if you've never done this before--and you can always adapt it to your family, add on, and tweek it more later.  I have learned that everyone cooks and eats differently--no two homes are alike.  So your Menu Plan will be unique in some ways to your family. Some people plan all three meals. For our family at this time, I only need to plan the evening meal.  It is sometimes helpful for Homeschoolers to plan lunches, especially in large families, so that lunch doesn't end up becoming a huge interruption to your school day.  Remember that it's OK to have the same 2 or 3 things every week for breakfast, (and this is true for lunch, as well).  Find a plan that works well for you. Revise it when necessary, but you will find life becomes easier as a wife and mom when you're not constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.
   To start menu planning, look at your calendar to see which evenings you'll be eating at home in the next week and then plan three of those evening's meals.  If you are sure that you will be home for 5 evening meals, plan that many, however, you might want to start with three, for two reasons.  If you're just starting out in this, you won't get overwhelmed as easily, and secndly, you may have leftovers to use up or changes in your schedule that you didn't expect which will negate some of your plans.  You won't want ingredients in your fridge spoiling because you didn't make some of those meals.  What you can do is have ingredients on hand which will keep (in your freezer or on your shelves), in case your schedule changes.  A couple of notes:  In order to keep costs down and eat healthier, I include one non-meat meal a week, (you may want to plan more), substituting beans or a breakfast meal with eggs.  I also have a soup category.  Because we have people in our home frequently, I have one meal called a "Special Dinner" on my menu plan.  You don't have to follow this schedule religiously, but when you have a plan, you will be able to be calmer as the mealtime approaches and have a good healthy meal on the table for your family most nights.  Some of the advantages to menu planning are: saving money, healthier meals, more variety, less stress, a good example to children, and children and guests are able to help more easily because there's a plan.
(I am still trying to post my Master Grocery List and my file with Sample Menu Plans and a Blank Form.)

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