Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Menu and Grocery List Planning Made Quick & Easy

Before I even begin ... GUESS WHAT I GOT TO DO YESTERDAY??? I got to talk to TWO blog Divas on the telephone! Yes, two!!! Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer and Everyday Mommy! And they are both a hoot. Shannon is so gentle, so encouraging, and very soft spoken. Very. And Southern! My goodness, she's got a southern accent! I told her that her accent sounds the very same "live" as it does on her blog (hehehe). And Jules -- she is such a sweetie too. I think she spent two hours encouraging me, giving me awesome advice and making me laugh. And keeping me distracted while my husband ran from the back of the house to the front of the house (cutting through the kitchen) cooking on two different grills (poor guy). They both speak exactly like their blogs read, if that makes any sense whatsoever! I think I could have talked to both of them forever, but I had to cut Shannon off so I could get back to work, and I had to cut Jules off so I could sit down to dinner with my family! Okay ... enough bragging... on with the regularly scheduled program...

Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie has started a cool weekly meme called Menu Plan Monday. She was inspired by some comments left on one of her posts, as well as by a post she read at Everyday Mommy about Menu Planning. And really, who doesn't Everyday Mommy inspire? Anyway, I was inspired to, and thought I'd post some of my thoughts on menu planning and grocery shopping, as well as provide you with some helpful tips/links.

First of all, in retrospect, I can see how menu planning not only saves us money, but time, too. For many years, I have flown by the seat of my pants ... no menu planning ... no grocery list ... nothing, nada, zip, zilch. Well, I can honestly say that taking the 30 minutes or so to plan out a menu and create a grocery list really is much easier than racking my brain on what we're going to have for dinner, wandering through the grocery store trying to get ideas, making upteen million trips to the grocery store, and always forgetting that one crucial ingredient and having to go back to the grocery store again.

We still make extra trips to the grocery store to get perishable items that won't keep for long periods of time (like milk, bread, some delicate produce like salads, etc.), but it's been cut down to about 1 or 2 extra trips every two to three weeks, and our love/hate relationship (as in... I loved my husband to make a pit stop, he hated to make a pit stop) with the trips we would make to the grocery store has come to an end. Besides ... it's just too hard to go to the grocery store 4 times a week with an infant. Honestly, we're still working out the whole budget thing. Neither one of us sticks to a hard and steadfast budget, but we have an idea of how much we will spend at the grocery store, and we usually stick to that within $20-40 depending on the household cleaning items we need.

Lately, every Saturday morning, usually over breakfast, I sit at my kitchen table with my husband. We flip through our cook books and magazines and we pick what we want to eat for the week. I personally could eat things like hasbrown casserole, mac and cheese, and hot dogs and burgers until the cows come home. But my "oh, so refined, foo-foo-shi-shi husband" (bwahahahaha -- ehem) prefers freshly prepared, yummy gourmet food made from scratch. And, since we both love to cook, it's okay for us to slave in the kitchen for hours on end. At least until we have a housefull of kids! In any case, I always cut corners and create short cuts when cooking, so that even the most complex recipe turns out to be shorter and faster.

Now ... my husband refuses to go to the grocery store without a menu planned, a quick "inventory" of what we have, and a grocery list of what we need. And, since I refuse to go to the grocery store without him, I'm pretty much stuck to planning instead of flying by the seat of my pants. Which, by the way, I so love to do.

Anyway, I used to write the menu for the week on one piece of paper, and the grocery list on another... but now, I have created my own menu and grocery list that I absolutely love. It's so easy, and it's all on one page. An 8-1/2 x 11" page -- easy to read! I even took it to Kinkos and they copied it and "padded" it all up for me (if you provide your own copies, it's under $3)! Neato mosquito, that's what I say! I keep the pad by my cookbooks, and rip the paper off once my menu is planned and I'm ready to go to the grocery store. Once at the grocery store, I cross through everything. If I need a particular item, and it's not available at that grocery store, I'll know to pick it up at another time because it won't be crossed off. The paper goes back on the refrigerator as soon as we return from the grocery store. (I haven't figured out how to post a copy of it yet!)

Here are some of "our" (yeah, I gotta give the hubs props) quick tips:

1. Pick your meals for the entire week and write them down. Include the days you plan on eating out on your menu.
2. As you write down your meals, jot the name of the cook book or magazine along with the page number next to it so when it comes time to fix it, you're not "lost".
3. Do one day at a time. As you select the menu for the day in question, immediately write down everything you need to purchase for that complete meal, including side dishes (and dessert if you so desire).
4. Select an easy "extra meal" that you can fall on if you don't feel like eating or cooking whatever you might have chosen, or if things "change"... if you don't use this meal, you can put it on your menu for the following week.
5. Take a few minutes to do a mental inventory of whatever else you may need and add it to the grocery list immediately.
6. Go to the grocery store the same day you do your menu planning... otherwise ... it won't get done in time for your next meal!
7. Hang the menu/grocery list on your refrigerator.
8. Be flexible (days can change), but still hold fast to the menu.

If you don't have a budget planned, but you want one, then I'd suggest going through the menu-planning exercise for four weeks before setting a budget. Keep track of each week's grocery cost. Save the receipts. Once four weeks has passed, compare the receipts. Certain weeks will be heavier than others because you'll have household cleaning items or other miscellaneous items. Use these receipts to plan your budget.

Also, I try to get many of my non-perishables at Costco, like toilet paper (Kirklands brand is pretty good, and each roll comes individually wrapped - and it's soft, but not all linty), paper towels, diapers, wipes, etc.

Here are a few helpful links:

1) My Menu/Grocery Planner -- Email me at with "Menu/Grocery Planner" in the subject line, and I'll email you the PDF file.
2) Shannon's WFMW post on creating a grocery list (she does it by aisle at her grocery store)
3) Shannon's PDF link for her own grocery list (very cool -- but blogger won't let me post mine like this!)
4) Link to I'm an Organizing Junkie main page so you can check back each Monday for her Mr. Linky Links to other menu planners...
5) Link to Rocks In My Dryer main page so you can check back each Wednesday for other awesome tips (not kitchen inclusive)
6) Link to Everyday Mommy's Kitchen Tips

Finally, I try to be flexible. I know there are days when neither one of us are going to feel like cooking. So, we order pizza, and move the menu for that day to another day. Then, there are nights like last night, where the ribs take a wee bit longer (like 3 hours longer) to cook than you expected, so you need to jump to another night and eat something quick and easy (like grilled chicken Caesar salads). Of course, then your husband might be jumping from the back of the house where the charcoal grill is (ribs) to the front of the house to cook on the gas grill (chicken) at the same time (like mine did). That takes talent, folks!


Heather Smith said...

Well girl, me and my brother are gonna be roomies for the next year. I'm the designated cook, so I'm definitely gonna practice this method! Hey, only 17 more days! I need directions to your house!

Overwhelmed! said...

I do weekly menu planning. For an example, check this link out,

I do the Five Ingredients Friday recipe exchange to give me new ideas for quick and easy meals to go on my menu planning.

Menu planning sure has made meal time less challenging!

Beck said...

I love menu planning. That is, I love menu planning for SUPPER. Lunch and breakfast? I pretend that the magical Lunch&Breakfast fairy is going to come to my house with groceries.... I need to put more effort into my menu planning, I think.

Katrina said...

Great post! I'm an on-again-off-again menu planner, but you're right - it goes so much better when I have a plan. Thanks for the links, and ideas!

Faith said...

Woman - you are a plethora of information. It just keeps coming and coming!

shannon @ rocks in my dryer said...

That is the first time in my ENTIRE LIFE I have been called soft-spoken, and I'm sure somewhere my husband, brother and father are laughing hysterically at the notion. But you made me smile...thank you! ;)

org junkie said...

Hi Gibee! Excellent know I agree with everything. It really has made my life so much easier especially since I DON'T like to cook. I used to stress so much come 4:00 about what to cook for dinner and now I don't need to. Right now my Italian pork chops are cooking away in the crockpot and it just makes me sooo happy knowing I won't have to cook later on when I'm pooped out!

Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

I NEED to do this and get more organzied.

Susan's friend said to her one day, and we had to laugh about her brutal honesty, "it is not that you are too busy to cook, it is that you are lazy and disorganized." Besides the shock and laughter we had over this new friend's comment, yes Sue barely knew her, we did agree. But yes - we are really busy too.

My mom is way better about being organized. She does the recipe, grocery list and crock pot in the morning thing. And although we live with her - we don't get the benfits!!! She does it all at Sue's house where our home office is and where she spend all day and evening! Boo hoo for us - although Jackson and I, and sometimes my hubby too, do go there and enjoy her efforts some days.

That is the problem I have for meal planning though - I so often change plans mid day. But I need to get organzied. It will save us so much money and stress! I am going to email you....

momrn2 said...

You spoke to them BOTH!?! And in the same day!!! Ok, now it's my turn to be envious! :-) How fun that was for all of you I'm sure!!

Everyday Mommy said...

Okay, first of all let me dispel the notion that Shannon is VERY soft spoken. Nuh, uh. Southern, yes! Soft spoken, no!

I really MUST stop teasing that poor girl. You're right GiB. She's a wonderful woman and a dear friend.

And, now look what I have to live UP to! I'm a blog diva, a hoot, a sweetie, and inspiring?? Wha!!?? My husband would be rolling in the aisles with laughter over that last one.

Susanne said...

I have a much easier solution! Can I move in with you? Sounds good to me!

Seriously, I so fly by the seat of my pants. I shop twice a month so have varied meats in the freezer but I'm sometimes scratching my head at 5 p.m. wondering what I'm gonna cook.

I'll give this a try!