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Running a Frugal Household, part 4: Menu Planning

Posted on: October 28, 2010

So far we’ve looked into laundry issues and inventorying our freezers, then moved to keeping an inventory of the pantry. In last week’s post I shared how I keep track of our shopping lists.

Now it’s time for what some of you might consider a real challenge: menu planning.

The year my husband and I got married, I was working for some friends of mine helping out the wife, who could not drive due to health issues. At the time, all six of the couple’s children were still living at home, and it was a busy household. In addition, the wife is a fantastic cook. What resulted was that I got paid to learn some great household management skills! Pretty nice, eh? (In all fairness, I must add that most of what I learned that year reinforced, rather than reinvented, what my mom had demonstrated all my growing-up years. πŸ™‚ )

Probably the single greatest skill I acquired that year was menu planning. In addition, my employer/mentor/friend used a program called Cook’n to digitize her recipes, plan menus and make shopping lists. Often she had me enter recipes, which gave me a great chance to familiarize myself with the program. Then she gave me my very own copy of the software for my birthday, and I’ve been using it since! There are several other menu planning programs out there, but Cook’n is one of the better-known ones…and the only one I’ve used and can speak to from personal experience.

Regardless of how you do it, I believe creating and following a menu plan is one of the most important ways you can control your grocery spending. It is enormously important.

Here are some things I’ve learned about menu planning:

  • Schedule time into my week to plan the menu, preferably after the sale fliers for the week are out and a day or two before I plan to shop.
  • Consult my pantry inventory, food in my refrigerator and kitchen shelves, and my freezer inventory if I’m not sure what I have on hand.
  • If I’ve made a list of items I need to use, such as those nearing an expiration date, I’ll keep this list handy while making my menu.
  • Look over at least a couple different sales fliers and make note of the items I’m interested in.
  • This is also a good time to consult a coupon match-up for the sales fliers.
  • Mentally or actually check my calendar for the coming week to note any times we’ll be away from home at meals, or if we plan to have company.
  • Sit down to plan the menu, using items on sale for the week or that I have on hand as much as possible.
  • I have found that for a normal week, planning dinner is enough for us. We just make sure to have breakfast foods (green smoothies and hard-boiled eggs for us almost every morning) on hand, as well as a few “filler” lunch foods in cast we run out of leftovers. Some people love to put all three meals on their menu plan though. Just find out what works for you.
  • Realize I have the freedom to rearrange the order of the menu as needed. To keep track of this, I simply check off the meal after I’ve made it so I can see at a glance on my printed menu what I have available still to make.
  • Make a shopping list straight from my menu, and add other items off my running grocery list as needed. Cook’n generates a shopping list for me from my menu. I love this feature! Once the list is generated, I can check off items I have on hand to remove them from the list before I print it.

And now for a little blurb about Cook’n. Which, by the way, I am doing only because I use and enjoy the product. There is nothing in this financially for me. πŸ™‚ :

After the somewhat laborious task of entering my recipes, I’ve found Cook’n to be easy to use and such a help in planning my menus! My recipes are right there for me to browse on my computer, search based on ingredients, and add to my menu. In addition, I can buy cookbooks from Cook’n to add to my collection if I desire, or I can import a friend’s personal cookbook if she uses Cook’n. My friend who started me on the program blessed me by giving me a copy of all of her recipes, and I was able to do the same for her.

How about you? Do you menu plan? Why or why not?

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