Creative Living

Menu planning, Part 2

I love menu planning. I’m sure this is partly because I like thinking about food almost as much as I enjoy preparing and eating it! (OK, I should rephrase that: I like preparing food as long as the baby’s not crying and the children are pleasantly occupied.) That said, in no way do I think that menu planning is required in order to be a good homemaker. I have found menu planning to be a tool that has helped me a lot as a wife and mom, but please don’t feel condemned if you don’t feel like it fits you and your household needs. Also, there is no “right” or “wrong” amount to spend on groceries. Our goal as good stewards of our money should be to honor the Lord in how we spend it, not to make sure we’re all spending the same amount on the same things.

Today I want to talk a bit about how menu planning helps me stick to my budget:

1. First of all– and this has nothing to do with menu planning, but I thought it worthy of mentioning– it really helps to decide ahead of time what the grocery budget will be. Whether it’s a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly figure is up to each shopper, but the simple truth of the matter is that there is no money-saving replacement for having a predetermined amount to spend. You may have to track your normal grocery expenses for a bit in order to come up with a workable budget amount, but it’s worth it!

For me, I prefer a monthly budget. This way, if I have a week or two in the month when there is family visiting from out of town or special holidays/events, I can spend extra there and then plan very inexpensive meals the other days/weeks to make up the difference. My goal is not to spend exactly $x.xx per person every single day, but rather to stick to $xxxx.xx/year in groceries.

2. “Mix ‘n Match” meals. In other words, when I plan a meal like salmon, I will almost always insert it between two less expensive meals (i.e. lentil & rice tacos, potato soup, vegetarian chili, egg & spinach casserole, etc.). This way, at the end of 3 days, our average dinner meal expense is fairly low. Once again, an inexpensive meal in my home might be expensive in yours; but I think you get the gist.

3. Keep breakfast and lunch meals nutritious yet simple. I really get away with this right now because my children are young and like repetition. They actually get disappointed when I don’t serve them PB&J for lunch and their absolute favorite breakfast meal is oatmeal (baked or regular)! You may like a bit more variation in your home, of course, but you don’t have to be fancy to make sure you’re eating whole grains (cereal, oatmeal, whole wheat bread), fruit (bananas, pineapple, apples), veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks), protein (peanut butter, tuna, eggs), and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt) throughout your day.

4. Have a Master Menu List. This is a compilation of all the foods I like to make/my family likes to eat/I want to try, which allows me to salvage some creativity in my weekly planning (personally, I don’t think I could handle a rotating menu due to boredom issues) while still, well, planning! When I sit down on Monday afternoons or evenings to plan my menu, I pull out my calendar and my Master Menu List, which has all my favorite foods broken down by category– beef, chicken, fish, beans, cheese & eggs, sides– and plot through the week, marking down items I need to buy as I go. The money-saving aspect of this is that I can utilize what’s on sale at the grocery stores better than if I had a predetermined menu from weeks and weeks ago.

Regardless of what we eat and how much it costs, I think we all can agree on how great it is to save money, especially at the grocery store. I hope these tips help/encourage you in your efforts to be a wise steward of what God has given you!

Discussion

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  1. I like the Master Menu List idea! I’m definitely going to have to try that.

    In the last few months, I’ve gotten a lot better at making regular meals and planning what I’m going to make in advance, but I’m still trying to figure out how to stay within a practical budget. Sometimes we’re over, sometimes we’re under. We’ve been trying a lot of new meals lately, which may be the reason, but I think making the Master Menu list will help me have a better idea of how much I may end up spending.

    I often find myself in a bit of a predicament when I need to plan meals according to my budget, but I want to plan healthy meals, and healthy is not always cheap! I know many women have to tackle this issue – I’m just not sure what to do about it!

    Anyway, thanks for the post! I look forward to reading more :)

    Posted by Rissa | June 3, 2008, 9:52 am
  2. I like your Master Menu List idea. I too, get bored from the rotating menu thing…tried it, don’t like it. Thanks for the tips! :)

    Posted by Gina Murawski | June 3, 2008, 12:10 pm
  3. You are so organized. I feel almost overwhelmed on where to start in just organizing the time to plan a menu! Thanks for the good tips, though! One of these days I might be able to tell you how great our menu planning is going. :)

    Posted by Heather | June 3, 2008, 6:16 pm
  4. I’d love to hear more about the lentil and rice tacos:)

    Posted by Rachelle Amo | June 4, 2008, 2:39 am
  5. For the first time last night I sat down and made not only my grocery list but my dinner menu for the next two weeks. I found that to be so much more helpful at the store. I was focused and not tempted to buy “things” I’d hope to make “someday” but buy what specific ingriedents we needed. Thanks for the posts on menu planning it’s been helpful!

    Posted by Michelle | June 5, 2008, 6:08 am
  6. @ Rachelle: This recipe for lentils and rice is a pretty good one, especially when used as taco filling. It’s the only way I’ve found that I can cook lentils and my whole family will gladly eat them.

    [Note: when I cook them, I don’t use beef bouillon because I haven’t found any that is MSG-free– and it’s my preference not to use MSG– so I add salt & pepper and extra chili powder with the lentils to make up for that missing flavor. It seems to work just fine.]

    Posted by Brietta Paladin | June 5, 2008, 9:05 am
  7. Just a little report that we tried the lentil and rice tacos and all LOVED them! I used your modifications and added extra of all the spices. Wow. Definitely a repeater. Thanks! What about the vegetarian chili? I can’t eat meat for health reasons so am really excited about your vegetarian dishes. Thanks for the ideas.

    Posted by Rachelle Amo | June 6, 2008, 5:17 am
  8. I read some random crafting blogs, and one of the girls I “follow” has really gotten into whole grains and beans in her family’s diet. Anyway, she has talked about many different cookbooks, but this cookbook in particular grabbed my attention. I’m hoping to get it out of the library, for sure, when I get back from NY. It has lots of interesting recipes — and with lots of different ethnicities represented (not just Latin America, which seems to be 90% of the bean recipes I find). Anyway, thought I’d throw the link out there, as this thread seems to be turning into a love for dried beans and such! :)

    Posted by Danica | June 6, 2008, 6:39 am