Monday, May 2, 2016

Menu Monday: Menu-Making Edition!

It's May!  Wow.  This is going to be a VERY busy month for our family.  It is our last month of school until fall, Ashley's last month ever which means graduation prep, getting ready for out-of town company and staying on task with other projects on the burners as well (haha, pun intended!!).

On that note,what better time to share the art of planning... Menu Planning that is!

This is just how I do it.  I alluded last week that my style is very eclectic.  If you like my method, use it and enjoy it.  If you like parts of my method, pull those parts out and try them where it works for you.  I have learned over the years, typically, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' plan for housekeeping or menu making... but there are a plethora of great ideas floating around.  There is nothing wrong with taking bits and pieces of other plans and knitting them together to make something that works for you!

With that said, here we go:

(Clicking on images should make them larger)

I menu plan for a month at a time because of how our pay/bill schedule works each month.  I have been doing this for years and as a result, I have my planning down to a bit of a science which works for me.  This plan can also be used for weekly or bi-weekly plans... whatever period of time you are needing to plan a menu for, the concept is the same.

The above picture shows all the basics I sit down to do my planning with.
  • Planner/calendar so I can take note of anything on the schedule affecting our meals
  • Menu worksheet which I designed to help collect ideas
  • Menu binder has all my shopping and menu planning worksheets as well as previous year's menus, for inspiration when I want to revive and oldie but goody!
hand drawn/printed/portrait/landscape... yup, I've been doing this since about 1999
  • Shopping worksheet
  • Refrigerator magnet shopping list (I collect a list of throughout the month)
  • Reminder bucket list
  • Sales ad for local grocery store(s) (I get mine as an app on my cell phone)
I will share more about all these as I go.

I start by going through the sales ad to see what the deals are.  Sometimes special deals will inspire a dinner idea.  Mostly, I am looking to see items which we could use, I add them to their respective categories on my grocery list with the sale price next to the item. We only have one chain grocery store where I live, however, when I lived in NW Montana we had 3.  I used color coding and/or abbreviations to indicate which store the sale price was at.  As I jot these items down, they may spark my memory on other things we need so I will add them to the list as I go as well.

I keep post-its close-at-hand for anything which comes to mind through this process and I need to verify whether or not I need more of that item.  For example, I may see green beans are on sale but I can't remember how many I already have so I will jot "green beans" on the post it.  And continue list making.  When I am completely done with my pre-menu and list browsing, I will take my post-it of any items I need to check my stock on and verify if it is actually needed, crossing off un-needed items and circling needed ones.  Then I go back and add them to my master grocery list when I am done.

Next I begin jotting dinner ideas down on my menu worksheet.  I use pencil so I can change plans as needed.  The Menu Sheet comes with NO dates.  I fill those in with pen (so they don't erase if I have to erase a dinner idea!) and add any special occasions in the month.  For May's worksheet I added "Mother's Day" on the 8th.  Also, my husband is on call that week which occasionally affects our dinner plans so I make a note of that in the margin.  Anything else which might affect dinner plans is noted here as well.  Notice (last image below before printable worksheet links) Tuesdays and Thursdays are circled on my worksheet, these are the days we have company for dinner and other things going on.  The 6th and 20th are paydays for us so I underline those knowing these are when I can replenish certain supplies.  My dinner plans for May stop at the 19th because I will grocery shop on the 20th.

This initial dinner plan will NOT fill the entire calendar.  My goal is to note dinners we usually have or would like to have to help me better articulate what I need to buy when I go to the store.  The rest of the menu fill-in will come AFTER I go grocery shopping.  More on that in a moment.

How the pre-menu to grocery list works...
Looking at the image above you can see where I planned pizza for one evening... a request my family has made.  This is how that works:
  • Write pizza on Menu worksheet
  • Begin to think of ingredients needed to make pizza
  • As I consider the ingredients I add the ones we don't have to the appropriate categories on the grocery shopping worksheet.
Notice black olives has tally marks next to it.  I had previously thought of a meal I would need black olives for so I added it to my grocery list.  As I continued menu planning I thought of a few more meals I would need them for and began a tally mark collection for each time a meal would need them.  When I am done I have a good idea of how many I will need to buy of that item.  I do this with any repeats including meats.

This may seem a bit confusing, I have prepared a video to help understand this part better:

Also in the close-up before the video you can see a penciled off section labeled "Costco"  I do this to the right inside each box where I may get items at Costco so I don't forget anything while I am there.  It also helps in case I can't get an item at Costco, it is already on my master list and I will identify it as still needed when I leave Costco and go to my next grocery stop.

Order of shopping, typically:
   Costco 1st
   Walmart 2nd
   Grocery store 3rd
Occasionally I switch those last 2 around. I watch the sale price I have written down compared to the prices at other stores I visit and go for the best bargain on what I need.

Finally, before shopping I sit down with my magnetic grocery list from the fridge.  Throughout the month my family and I jot things down on this list as we identify a need for them.  I go through and add the items to my master shopping list in their appropriate categories, crossing them off the magnetic list as I go so I don't miss anything.

After the magnetic list, I pull out my bucket list.  This is a list I collected quite a long time ago (to give you an idea, it has diapers, wipes and even guinea pig needs on it!!! My youngest is 13 now and our last guinea pig died about 7 years ago!).  I will add it below, however, only as an example.  It desperately needs updating but it is an idea.  This bucket list often helps to spark my memory on items I tend to forget I need until I am desperate without them!  I use to use this as my shopping list, highlighting the items I was to purchase and adding notes in appropriate categories.  However, it is about 4 pages long and was actually cumbersome as a shopping list so I switched to my current method.  Using it as a reference, I add items to my grocery worksheet as I skim through the bucket list.

*side-note: Once I have my preliminary menu down I will tally mark how many dinners I have on my list and how many I still need.  With this in mind, as I shop and watch the prices of dinner meats, I will keep tally of how many additional dinners I pick up.  For example, if I know I need about 15 more dinners for the month not already accounted for in my pre-shopping plans and I know I can get around 4 dinners out of a pork loin from Costco, once I put it in my cart I will tally 4 marks on the top corner of my grocery list and keep going.  Once I have placed in cart and estimated the 15 dinners then I know I am good to go!  Every now and then I am one or two dinners shy of hitting the mark by the time I head home with my purchases but I don't worry about it.  Often we will have an un-planned leftovers night or do something else entirely.  Rarely do we come up short and, if anything, usually we may go one or two dinners over.

Conversely, as an example, I always put burgers on Saturdays.  In a month we will use about 20 burger patties.  I know a package comes with 24 if I buy the small or 40 if I buy the large.  When I am working up my preliminary menu, I will account for these extra meals.  For example, the extra 4 patties in a 24 pack can be fried and crumbled into chilli, so I can count that as a meant on Mexi night.  Or, I might plan 8 patties friend and crumbled as a base in beef stroganoff, so I will write that into the menu before I go shopping and tally it off as a dinner already planned for out of the meat I am planning to buy.

This entire process of pre-shopping planning can take as little as 30-45 minutes if I don't have a ton of interruptions and am working with a clear idea of what our meals will be.  It saves me ALOT of headache later on and keeps me on track while I shop.

When I get home I make a checklist as I put things away.  I'll use the back of my grocery list or a post it or a piece of paper from my magnetic shopping list... just whatever is on hand.  I note what meats I got and how much.  I also jot down any specialty items which are specific to a certain meal or sides I don't usually have so I can remember to include them in my planning.

Then, I whip my menu worksheet back out.  I go through what is already planned and begin to tally mark/check-off the meats as accounted for and then I use whatever meats are still remaining to fill in the rest of my menu with dinner plans.

Usually I will break-down my meats before I begin the menu planning process.  I mentioned this in last week's post and shared this image:

I have also done this with pork.  I will purchase the HUGE pork loin packaged at Costco and break it into 4-5 meals for our family for a cost of $3-$5 per meal in meat (feeding 5-6 people and producing leftovers and lunches)

I will share another post, another day, on how to take these bulk items and really make your money stretch!

So, with these lists and pre-packaged ideas, I wrap-up the menu plan and it looks something like this:

I keep this in my planner, though it could also be hung on the fridge for everyone's reference.  If you  look closely, under each week is a space labeled "grocery needs" and you will see notes under certain days.  These often refer to fresh produce or extra purchases I still need to make.  For example, we are having bean-less taco salad on Tuesday the 17th and underneath I have listed tomato and green onion.  I can't buy those now or they will go bad but I will need to remember to get them then.

Also, the B L D in the margin is for those weeks when I need to micro-manage my menu.  B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner  I use this break-down when we have guests staying with us or special occasions at hand.  Otherwise, most of the time I just use my menu worksheet for dinner plans.

So... that is my eclectic menu planning.  Some people like plans quicker and less involved.  There are ways to shorten this process.  My family asks me to mix things up each month though so I take a bit longer, I browse cookbooks and Pinterest and make a running list of ideas at the bottom of my menu worksheet.  I also try to balance my week so we aren't eating the same meat or same type of food too many days in a row.  Essentially it is a balance of tastes, healthy choices and variety.

Time needed:
Quick version: not looking up new recipes and instead using more of the same = 60minutes +/- from the time my pencil hits the paper for grocery list/menu until the time I put the finished menu in my binder.

Extended version: looking up new recipes, drawing out lists of needed ingredients for the new ideas to try = 1.5 - 2 hours +/-

Neither of these account for breaking down bulk meat buys.  Nor do I usually sit and work for that entire time straight.  I will do it in spurts as my daily schedule allows or in the quiet of the evening when the kids were small and in bed (aka, not interrupting!)

I hope this helps.  If you have any questions at all, please let me know.  In the mean time, you can click on the images below to get the PDF version for printing and using....

Monthly Menu Worksheet

Grocery Shopping Worksheet

Grocery Bucket List

Planner Weekly Worksheet
I threw this last one in just in case anyone saw it in the above pictures and wanted to give it a try for weekly planning.  I 3-hole punch this and keep it in a binder.  I can't remember if I have shared details about how I use my planner pages yet... if not, I will soon.

I pray you have blessed menu planning!  Remember, a Mary heart with Martha living, choose to see the blessing of serving those around you with joy and preparation.


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