I've received several emails recently asking why and how I make our menu plans. Everyone has their own reasons for meal planning but most of us do it to save money and time. Those things are certainly factors for us but another factor is monotony. Planning meals keeps us from eating the same dishes over and over.
For a lot of people, coupons are a real boon but since most food coupons are for items we don't eat or rarely eat, we don't use a lot of them. We've had much better results buying food items when they're on sale at a great price and planning around those inexpensively purchased items.
It's not unusual for us to buy 6 whole chickens when they're on sale. We do the same with beef roasts, ground beef, brisket, chicken pieces, frozen vegetables, etc. Having a freezer full of several kinds of meats and vegetables makes menu planning fairly simple.
Here's a run down of how I buy our groceries and make our menus:
I have a freezer and cupboard inventory and when we run low on an item, it's put on 'the list'. 'The list' isn't necessarily a list of what items will be bought this week - it's just a list of things we're going to need soon and things to watch for on sale.
Each week I scan the grocery sale fliers or peruse the store's website to see what's on sale at our price. The items that are on 'the list' and are also on sale at our price get listed to be purchased during that sale. Once that's done I look through the fliers or sites again, paying particular attention to the front and back pages of fliers since that's where most loss leaders are featured. If there's an item on one of those pages that is a real deal, it goes on the list to be purchased during that sale.
I take the list to the store and buy the items on it. And I don't just buy one of each item. If the price is a real bargain, I buy as much/many as I can afford and store. I don't hold to the "buy only what's on the list" theory, either. If I run into an unadvertised special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and the price is right, I'll buy several packages. Why wouldn't I, even if it isn't on the list to buy? Spending a little more money now enables us to eat well later at a much lower price. Rarely do we pay full price for food and when the price of beef takes it's next hike, we'll have several months worth, purchased at a lower price, in the freezer.
Once the shopping is completed, I decide what we'll eat for the coming week using the items that we have. I don't normally determine that we'll have this meal on Monday and this one on Tuesday. Rather, I make a list of the meals for the week and generally decide the night before what we'll have the next night. If I need recipes for some of the items on the week's menu, I gather them from cookbooks, magazines, and the web and put them in a folder in a kitchen drawer. When I need them they're ready and waiting.
This way of meal planning works for us and it allows room for unexpected company, eating out, or simply having a change of food mood.
That's it in a nutshell, folks. I like to keep things simple and menu planning is no exception.