Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Works for Me Wednesday: Monthly Menu Planning

A couple of months ago I switched from planning weekly dinner menus to planning monthly dinner menus. I read the idea months ago but was nervous about making the switch. I was finally convinced because I realized that weekly planning was not the best use of my time.

Here are the pros to planning a monthly dinner menu:

  • I only have to browse my cookbooks or recipes online once a month.
  • I can space out my "filler meals" which ensures we don't eat spaghetti every other night.
  • It is easier to guarantee that I do try the new recipes I do find. I'd been in a rut making the same handful of meals every week and even Mary was getting bored. 
  • My budget is relieved. We get paid just once a month and by knowing at the beginning of the month what our main food expenses will be I can plan better. 
  • I do not need to make a big shopping trip on a weekly basis. This is better for the girls attention span and for my sanity. Sure, I stop in for milk and produce throughout the month, but I don't get as sucked in to the impulse buys by not walking the aisles.
How I do it:
  1. I write out the days of the month, including the day of the week. This is necessary so I can keep our schedule in mind as I plan. Its pointless to plan a meal that takes an hour prep on days when we don't get home until 5 pm.
  2. I fill in my recurring meal ideas. We eat pasta with sauce for dinner at least once a week. Breakfast for dinner is another weekly staple. Wednesday nights are at church. 
  3. Then I start browsing blog posts I've flagged with recipes that sound good. Or I pull out a cookbook that I haven't used in a while.
  4. New recipes seem to be going on the menu at least twice a week. I either print the recipe (jf it's trapped on my computer), or I note the cookbook and page so I can easily find it when I need it. Printing might seem silly since I could just pull it back up at dinner time, but my days don't always work in such a way that I can get online to read it just when I need it. I just clip the recipes to the fridge with the menu plan so I don't misplace them.
  5. As I'm adding recipes, I'm also making my shopping list and checking my pantry for ingredients on hand. If I know I'll need something fresh for a recipe later in the month, I add a note to the side to remind myself to pick up whatever fresh ingredient it is that I need.
  6. Then, once the month has begun, I remain flexible. This month I've started crossing out the meals when I make them since 3 recent nights in a row our plans changed in the afternoon. 
I've also discovered some ways to make this easier, if time allows. I've made some of the meals ahead of time while the girls were napping and then put them in the freezer. Not every recipe lends itself to this type of preparation, but some do and it helps me save time.

What works for you today?

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