Jun 22, 2010

Making a Menu (Janssen)

When I sit down to make the menu for the week, I ask myself a few questions:
  • 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. . . .).
As I mentioned before, I use Google Docs to make my menu. I like it because it's free, it's accessible, and I have a running record of my menu. I can also copy and paste them each week into a new menu and reuse any meals I didn't get around to making. You can see below my running list of menus for the last six weeks or so (and my favorite document of all, "Dishes to Try").

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?


    lisa said...

    I keep a file of recipes I want to try either starred in google reader or marked with a post-it in magazines or cookbooks so that I always have ideas at hand for meals I'm already interested in trying. We also eat very little meat, but that doesn't work for everyone. I also shop around -- I get milk and eggs from a local dairy because they're a bit cheaper, produce comes from one grocery store (where I have found the quality, selection and price to be better) and household items from a third (because they double coupons). It's more work I suppose, but I find it easy to run these few errands when I have my lists ready and menus planned.

    I also only plan five (maybe six depending on our plans for the week) meals because we always end up with leftovers that need to be finished up.

    Michelle said...

    I like your method and might try it for a bit. The way I do mine is in Google Calendar. I can plan way in advance and if we don't have something one week because we ate leftovers then I just move it down to the next week. I've done it this way for a couple years and I love it. I can easily scroll to past months and get ideas that I've cooked or I go into my file in my email that is full of recipes I've wanted to try.

    Sarah said...

    I like your menu and the "to tries"! I use a calendar - just a cheap pocket calendar and a mechanical pencil that I keep in my purse. But I still struggle with the best way to make a shopping list. I've just discovered mealfire.com. It's got a calendar, shopping lists, and recipes that you can enter. I'm going to try it out and see if I like it.

    Carly said...

    I do my menu when I make my grocery list (which i have divided into sections--produce, canned, meats, bakery, dairy, frozen, and misc.) I have a specific way I divide up the page with my list, and "menu" has it's own corner. Then when I get home from the store, I fold the paper so that's on top and I put it on my fridge. When I make my next menu, I just look to see what I didn't make from the last one.

    I'm not good at planning my sides (a weakness), so I like that you always include two sides.

    Like you, I try to plan around what I already have in my fridge/pantry or to plan meals that will use up the ingredients I'm buying (i.e. if I'm going to buy a jar of pesto for chicken calzones, I'll plan to make pesto pasta later (I do a two week menu) or pesto paninis for lunches etc.)

    I've been trying to figure out way to plan better for lunches and "Raymond food" but haven't really found anything to work consistently yet.

    Unknown said...

    I've been using the chalkboard method--everyone sees it (holds me accountable) and when I'm wondering what to make, I just glance up at the chalkboard and ta-dah! Not as organized as your method, but it works.

    I'd love to bottle up some of your organization and inject it into my arteries.

    Lady Susan said...

    I menu plan and do my grocery list at the same time--a week at a time. It used to be that I would just look through my recipes and see what looks good at the time, but lately I have been trying to be better about using up freezer and pantry items and planning specifically around that.

    I am impressed that you plan your sides as well--not something I am really good at. (It seems like so much extra work to make something else.....I really just try to have our main dish incorporate a lot of vegetables.)

    The next thing I need to work on is using up partially used items in the fridge--sour cream, etc.

    Inspiring as always Janssen.

    Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

    I'm terrible at planning meals around the food that's on sale - our menus are much more ruled by whatever we have a taste for.

    Since I eat lunch and breakfast at home every day, we try to make at least a couple meals a week that will have leftovers I can eat for lunch.

    We also do the side dishes thing - two sides for most meat-centric meals. But we aim for two to three vegetarian meals a week to save on meat costs.

    Anonymous said...

    This is really clear, straightforward and do-able. I already got started!!! Thank you so much for walking us through your system. I think it's going to make a big difference to my family life.
    - Lucy

    Jillian said...

    Janssen, what is spaghetti pie? Also, I love how organized and prepared you are. What's hard for me is I get to picky in what sounds good! I grocery shop and buy things but then when I'm supposed to make it, just the thought of eating it makes me ill. So right now, I'm not grocery shopping as much.