With new changes in our family budget, it has become even more essential that I plan out our meals. This simple practice cuts down on buying prepackaged foods on impulse when shopping at the store. Here are a few tips for menu planning:
1. Check the ads. Look for items that are on sale or that you have coupons for. Plan your meals around these items.
2. Keep the "basics" in stock. These items can be: cream soups, pasta, beans, canned veggies, and flour, sugar, salt, etc. Having these items on hand can enhance any meal and add variety to your diet.
3. Plan multi-meals. I am all for cheap and easy meals. To help with this, I often cook more than I need of an item and use it on more than one day. For example: I will cook a pork roast on Monday and serve with potatoes, carrots, etc. I then take the leftovers, shred them and make sweet pork salads the next day. This gives us variety to our meals, but half of the work!
4. Stick to your menu plan. This is perhaps the hardest thing for me. My moods change almost daily and this can change how I feel about cooking. I have learned that I need to stick to the plan and follow through with our menu to stay within our budget.
5. Organize your menu list. I found a free pdf file for writing down your menus for the week. It can be found here or you can make your own.
6. Make your shopping list for the week of meals you have planned. If you prefer to shop twice a month or even once a month, make sure that you have planned out meals for the entire time. For fresh produce, make a note on your shopping list and plan to pick up ONLY the items that are perishable at the store during the week that you are going to use them.
7. Review old recipe books. I find that I get in a "recipe rut" when cooking. I tend to stick to the same 5 or 6 meals that I am confident in making. You'd be surprised how many great recipes you can find when looking through your cook books. Also, be adventurous and try a new recipe once or twice a month. You might find a new favorite!
Anyway you look at it, menu planning can enhance your dinner experience. Try a few different ways and plan what works for you. Good Luck!