Menu Planning a balanced diet for the whole family doesn’t have to be stressful. It also doesn’t have to be a budget breaker. I’ve been doing it for years. While it started as a way to stay on budget and save time because of our busy lifestyle and work schedules, not to mention that we both worked 2 jobs and had work commutes (mine was 130 miles round trip) at the time, it became a way of life that just makes things easier!

It’s no longer about just making it through the work week for me. These days for me it is all about the artistry and adventure of making interesting and pretty meals. Hubby and friends love being my guinea pigs!

There is more to menu planning than just deciding what to make for dinner, at least for the average family. We we’re a military family used to getting paid once a month when I started and trying to make it last. So for me, menu planning also encompassed recipe scouring and coupon clipping, we loved to read the Sunday papers back then while we had our coffee.

Back then one of the things I looked for first was the coupons to see what I could save for us – hubby always laughed when I got excited at a large coupon for something already on the grocery list, then I scoured the local sale ads reading and logical common sense planning. I used to participate in Menu Plan Monday, but that became a defunct meme and I actually prepared my menu for the entire month all at once and then just break it up for posting. So while it gave me a few ideas, it wasn’t an end all for me. If you read my WHERE I LIKE TO PARTY tab at the top it shows you a few party memes that give me some ideas these days.

When I menu plan I start the last week of the previous month with checking out what I already have in the freezer inventory and then the ads for my local markets for the upcoming week. I used to see what meats would be going on sale and then scour my recipe file for recipes to match. These days because of where we live I order most of my higher end cuts of meats from Butcher

These days I start with considering my calendar, what holidays or special events will be happening and pay more attention to the season that may need more attention for appetizing color combinations and or decorations.

My planning now a days also encompasses specific flavors combinations and food textures that will complement each other well. You don’t want to serve dishes that fight each other. Spicy or bold main dishes require a mildly seasoned vegetable side or even a delicate fruit salad. The sides and sauces even play a large part when planning your menu.

Be sure and read your recipes all the way through also. There is nothing worse than planning a menu and then realizing the meal you planned for tonight should have been marinated overnight yesterday! Having a “schedule” working backwards from the longest cooking dish for preparation and execution helps tremendously at having a successful and enjoyable meal that will be served all at the same time.

One of the biggest things I do to help not only with cost of ingredients, but also waste time and food is to make sure to back up recipes to each other that use similar ingredients that I can buy in bulk. For example if a recipe calls for half an onion for Monday night’s recipe, I make sure Tuesday night’s recipe uses the other half.

I also note which meals we’ll probably have leftovers for so I plan to either freeze part of it for a future meal or plan a C.O.R.N. (clean out refrigerator night) within my plan if there is only going to be a little of this and that leftover. Over the years I added YOYO (You’re on Your Own) for the nights we have meetings or events that pull us in two different directions.

I write my shopping list and then I match up any coupons I may have especially for staples (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc…) that I need and then the luxuries if there is room within the budget. If there is a really good sale I buy in super bulk for the following month also. Now I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the whole process takes less than an hour and then it’s done for the month.

I have every scrap of a recipe I ever saved as well as many of my grandmother’s too, though I do eliminate them after I try them and get them posted on the blog. It’s like an obsession with me. If a recipe sounds good in a magazine, I figure I can make it better based on my family’s likes and dislikes and tuck it away to try and manipulate at a later date. I recently decided it was time to clean-up this mess.

Years ago I found an old metal LP file box at a garage sale for 50 cents and dressed it up a bit so it didn’t look like a trash bin on my kitchen counter, it was a beat up lime green with stickers everywhere originally. I have since retired that box, but kept the system. 😀

Years ago I wrote 2 different family reunion cook books which helped some with eliminating the scraps of paper and I’m also in the midst of writing another Tastebook to use as family Christmas gifts that is helping to clean up this mess on a permanent basis.

I have a perpetual list on the counter and every time we use something or run out of something, everyone is trained (finally) to list whatever they used or ran out of on an ongoing basis.We keep a pretty concise calendar with everyone’s activities, appointments, meetings and such on it. I also write what we will be eating on each day so they’ll know what to expect. If for some reason we have to cancel a night I will rearrange the week so that the meal actually canceled is one using something from the freezer, not the fresh ingredients I’ve already purchased. When I do the shopping I buy in bulk to cut the cost and since I have my menu plan ahead of time, I break down the bulk package into meal appropriate sizes before freezing when I get home.

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