- What do I need to use up? I poke through my fridge to remind myself what I have that hasn't been used yet - half a bag of spinach, perhaps or two leftover chicken thighs in the freezer or ricotta cheese or buttermilk. The internet is brilliant for this kind of thing. There is no use buying a bunch of new food and throwing away your perfectly good food from last week.
- What is on sale? I will admit right here how deeply pathetic I am and say that Wednesday, the day the grocery store fliers come, is - I kid you not - a highlight of my week. I look through to see what's on sale and see if I can work those into my menu.
- What will we actually eat? Haley commented on my last post that she doesn't like to buy ho-hum foods just because they are on sale, or she'll be tempted to go out to eat instead. I absolutely agree - I never ever buy something just because it's on sale. I really enjoy cooking, so making new interesting things is a big part of my motivation to get dinner on the table and having it be something appealing is vital as well. We're not eating hot dogs just because they are on sale or I have a coupon (although, at nine months pregnant, I have to say hot dogs appeal to me in a way they never have before. . . .).
Every week, my menu looks like this: one main dish, and two side dishes for seven nights of the week.
At the end of the week, as I'm making a new menu, I go to the previous week's menu and choose "Make a Copy" and save it with the dates for the coming week:
Then I delete the dinners I made, leaving any that I haven't made and still plan to and start filling the new one in:
And now I can start thinking about what to fill in with. If ground turkey is on sale, we might have meatloaf or spaghetti pie. If I have leftover croissants in the freezer, we might do some sort of sandwich. I check out my "Dishes to Try" document and see what's there that I've been wanting to make. I ask Bart if he has any requests. I Google recipes that use feta or artichokes or whatever ingredients are nearing death in the fridge.
And I make my grocery list as I choose meals, so I know that I have all the ingredients for every meal.
The days of the week I have a meal for aren't necessarily very firm - I might make what it says on Tuesday on Friday, but if I do have an item that needs to be used up ASAP, I will generally put that early in the week so I think about it sooner, or if there is a day that I know will be particularly crazy, I will put an easy or crockpot meal on that day.
I also do very easy side dishes - I buy a lot of lettuce and we have salads many nights (as you will notice). I throw whatever vegetables or fruit we have sitting around in with it and make a salad dressing to go along. I often will write on my grocery list "Fruit" or "Vegetable" and then choose one of each off the reduced produce section (when I bought 6 oranges for $1.29 a few weeks ago, we had. . .a lot of oranges that week) depending on what's available.
Any suggestions? How do you do your menu planning?