Menu planning became a necessity for me due not only a very tight budget, but also the lack of time I have during the week. I work full time and have to be ready to get dinner started as soon as I walk in the door. It saves a lot of time, frustration, the urge to run out and pick up something I know is unhealthy for my family, or running into the grocery store last minute grabbing full priced, expensive items to put together a meal.
When it comes to menu planning I generally do a list of meals for the month. I keep a running list of new recipe ideas, family favorites, and new meals that were a hit. Every Sunday I like to do my more detailed meal plan for the week. It’s obviously more than just jotting down what I want to make. I first do a quick inventory of what I have in the freezer and pantry, then there’s the grocery list. There’s the actual shopping to do, there’s repackaging and there is pre-preparation to do that will make the week easier for me.
Unfortunately I really don’t have time to run from store to store to shop the sales, and I very rarely take the time for coupons either – I know I should, but I just don’t. What I do is shop in bulk, especially for meats. Meats are one of the things that tend to be much, much cheaper in bulk than buying at the local grocery store. You do have to be careful shopping in bulk, some items are a real deal, others work out more expensive. My local store also has a big buy one get one free sale that changes each week. I try to limit the remainder of my shopping to those buy one get one free sales, and stock up on all the basic items I use on a regular basis.
When I bring things home in bulk I think about the upcoming meals, cut and package accordingly. Some shortcuts I sometimes use are putting marinades in the bags with the meats prior to freezing. That way when it’s taken out to defrost it marinates at the same time and is ready to cook. Other things I may go ahead and cook before freezing, such as ground beef. I like to have a few packages precooked in the freezer to throw together quick meals without having to be bothered with cooking the ground beef. Meatloaf and meatballs can be mixed and shaped to put in the freezer. Meatballs need to be slightly frozen on cookie sheets first to keep them from getting all stuck together in one giant meatball. Even easier is to cook the meatballs and then freeze for really quick meals.
Another shortcut in cooking I use is to buy several rotisserie chickens at a time. My bulk store, Sam’s Club has them for $4.97 each. We’ll have one for dinner the first night, I freeze one whole to just defrost and reheat with some stuffing and veggies, and the third I take the meat off the bones and freeze in baggies for quick meals that call for shredded chicken.
And finally, the last shortcut in menu planning I use is to cook an extra large amount of almost any main dish I make. I plan a different meal for the next night (or sometimes the next two nights!), and freeze some as well for a future meal or two. A good example of this is in the first menu plan I posted here last week. Even very small amounts of leftovers can be stashed in the freezer and then turned into a homemade soup for a soup and sandwich night – never any waste!
I’m very interested to hear your hints, tips, and shortcuts – please share! 🙂