Making Menus

Paper_list Well, as part of my goal of getting out of debt in 2009, I'm going to cut back my food budget.  Making a menu in advance has always worked for me, so I'm sitting down right now to work on my menu and grocery list for the next few weeks.  Here's what I do:

photo by:  sunshinecity

  1. First, I print out the perpetual grocery list that I keep on my computer.  If you don't have such a list, don't worry.  You can work on that project another day.
  2. On the back of my grocery list (or on another scrap of paper), I make a list of all the major ingredients that I already have in my freezer, fridge or pantry.  I usually include meats, poultry, dinner-sized leftovers, and any other item that I particularly want to remember to use.  (Apples nearing the end of life?  Container of ratatouille to add to an appropriate meal?) 
  3. I start with a blank menu and then fill in any events that will impact our meals:  are we having dinner with a friend one day?  Is there a school event that will have pizza one evening?  Do we have a late afternoon doctor's appointment that will cut into dinner preparation time?  I do mine on the computer, but non-computer options are fine, too.  I include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, but you may choose to do only dinner, or any other combination.
  4. Once I know what my days look like, I start filling in meals. Some are easy:  we always have pizza and veggies on Friday nights, and we always have cookies for snack on Friday afternoons.  I make a place for the items I've already noted above, making sure that they'll work for the day in question.  (Easy meals on busy weeknights, slow cooker meals as often as possible, big bakes on unscheduled Sunday afternoons.)
  5. Once I've filled in the food items that I already have, I consider the remaining days.  I usually ask the children for suggestions, check out my recipe binder for family favorites, or search the internet for ideas (I love AllRecipes.com).  This year, I'm trying recipes from A Year of Crockpotting as well.  This is the hardest part for me:  the ideas.
  6. With the menu made, I go back to my grocery list and circle or add all the ingredients that I will need to make the dishes on the menu. Now I have a great big grocery list.
  7. I take my list and pen and review the contents of my cupboard and fridge, scratching off any items that I don't need to buy and circling any things that are super important and must not be forgotten.
  8. I head to the grocery store with my snazzy list and efficiently purchase the items we'll need to eat well for the next week or so.

I know some people write their menus on sticky notes and put them on their calendar.  Then they have an easy way to move the meals around when their schedule changes.  I like that idea, but I'm afraid the sticky notes would get lost at my house.  I keep my menu either on the refrigerator or as the first page of the everything binder I keep in my kitchen.  My family knows where to look and I don't hear a lot of "What's for dinner?"  questions.  If my husband is home, he can start dinner without me.  And I'm a lot less likely to pull out the bag'o'frozen chicken again.

Do you have any tips that would improve my work?  I'd love to hear them.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.