Menu Planning 101

I have always been a planner, but over the past few years meal planning has become a necessity for our family. With me working outside of the home again, winging it for dinner just doesn’t work anymore. I started out just doing weekly dinner menus. Now I have bumped it up to 2 week menus. Sometimes I am even able to stretch my 2 week menu out to 3 weeks with more leftovers than I expected. I have found that the less I go to the grocery store, the less money I spend. Less money going out for groceries means more money for our family to do other things. Here’s how I go about planning out my menu.

Step 1: Cozi (www.cozi.com)

I started using cozi.com as a family schedule back in August. I pull up the site and go to the calendar. I prefer to use the calendar to show our meals. There is also a meals section, but it won’t allow you to go back and see past meals, so I stick with the calendar. Once the calendar is up, I am ready to type in our dinner plans for each night. I can easily switch a meal from one night to another if needed. Plus here is an added bonus, since the whole family has access to this site it cuts down on having 4 different people ask me “What’s for dinner?” I even have the cozi app on my smartphone. Cozi makes my life so much simpler.

Step 2: Check out my current inventory.

I try to use as much of what I have on hand as possible when planning out my meals as well. Using what I already have helps to cut down on my grocery costs big time. Sometimes I find great deals on ground beef and stock up, so then I have a bunch of beef in my freezer. Then I can plan out meals like spaghetti sauce, taco soup, tacos, burgers, meatloaf, etc. But if I have a large amount of chicken, I try to plan more chicken meals than beef. I also like to check out the weekly sale ads for my grocery store. That can also be a big help to see if I can get an extra good deal on certain ingredients before I start planning. So peruse your cupboards, fridge, and freezer … after you have a good idea of your current inventory that’s when you have a good starting place to pick your meals.

Step 3: Choosing the meals

I have a few favorite websites that I go to for quick, easy, healthy, and delicious meals. www.kraftfoods.com, www.allrecipes.com, and www.foodnetwork.com are my three favorites. I use others too, but those are the sites I am on the most. I also have a three-ring binder filled with my own recipes or some of our faves from the above sites. When I am planning out our menu I try not to have too many of the same types of foods planned together. As much as I  like it, I don’t want to eat mexican food every night for 2 weeks. Same thing with chicken, we would get sick of chicken if we ate it every night. So I try to mix it up and have different foods or styles of foods throughout our menu.

Step 4: The list

While I am plugging our dinner plan onto the calendar, I also plug into cozi’s grocery list the ingredients that I need to buy at the store. Then I have other items that I have to get because we are out or it is something that you have to buy all of the time or that one time you need to grab something for a special event or activity. Once the list is complete I double-check with everyone in the family to see if they need anything else. Then I am off to the store with my favorite weapons … my list, and my coupons. I am not one of those people who walks out of the store with carts filled with food and I only spent $20.00. Too many of the things that I buy don’t have coupons. So I get what I need and maybe snag a few clearance deals and get out of the store to head back home.

Step 5: Organize the goods

Once I am back home, I call the troops to help me get everything unloaded from the van and into the house. Then I have to put it all away in the proper place. I don’t want the meat that I am cooking for dinner tonight to get stuck in the freezer on accident, that would NOT be good at all! Once it is all organized and put away then I can kick back and relax knowing that when it comes time for dinner we are prepared with everything that we need to feed our family something delicious every night of the week.

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