Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My 4 Qualms with Monthly Menu Planning (+ A Download)

I've hit a snag in my housewifery.

Monthly Menu Planning.

AAGH!! While I used to feel so on top of it when I finished making a monthly menu, those words which used to bring a creative explosion of delight at the endless possibilities now strike dread and terror into my innermost being.

Once a month grocery shopping, while great for my budget, just isn't cutting it for me anymore, for four reasons.

 #1. Planning 90 meals in one sitting requires brain surgeon-like concentration. I don't know about you, but it's really hard to anticipate our cravings a whole month in advance, plus add variety, new recipes, and flexibility into the mix. On the occasions when I've actually done this, it takes a really long time to plan out a month of dinners (even figuring toast and eggs for breakfast and leftovers for lunch) and write down all of the ingredients for the shopping trip. I lose interest an hour into the venture.

#2. When I inevitably stray very far from the plan, I feel like a failure. Flexibility is necessary with any plan, but I get ambitious when crafting the menu plan and think I'll actually wake up 45 minutes early to make blueberry muffins on a Tuesday three weeks from now. When I sleep in on that Tuesday, I realize I've set myself up for failure.

#3. I miss some really great sales. Chickens: $0.79 lb. Two pounds of sharp cheddar cheese: $3.99. Avocados: 4 for $1. It invariably happens that after I've spent our grocery budget, there'll be a great sale like this. "Do I buy it for next month?" Once or twice this would be fine, I suppose, but it happens just about every week which leads me to #4.

#4. Mammoth waste. I started monthly menu planning last Summer when I was getting most of our produce from the garden. But now that I'm getting a lot of produce from the store, the amount of waste as the month draws to an end is disgusting! It seems like such a "duh" thing (did I really think a head of lettuce would last indefinitely? or a gallon of milk would never expire?) but it still surprises me anew each time my wilty soggy fuzzy green dripping cauliflower hidden in the back of the crisper drawer needs to be tossed onto the compost pile.

The obvious solution would be to buy the bulk of the food once a month, and then do weekly or bi-weekly trips to the store for perishables. But I'm just not controlled enough to stick to a budget with that many trips to the grocery store ("but the Shitake mushrooms and imported Dijon mustard were on sale, darling!").

It's been said that a man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs, but a woman will pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn't need. Amen to that!

So I'm experimenting with a new method. Bi-weekly menu planning. 

By cutting my budget in half and allowing myself to spend it in full every two weeks, I seem to have reached a compromise. It's not nearly as overwhelming to plan two weeks. I don't dream quite so big when the deadline for the meal isn't so far away. I can take advantage of the loss-leader grocery ads. My broccoli stays crisp until the next shopping trip. Voila, works for me!

One tool that's always really helped me with meal planning is this simple Weekly Meal Plan PDF.

So, I know there are as many ways to meal plan as there are women to do it, but how do you do it in your home? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Freezer cooking? Skin of your teeth?

This post is linked to: We are THAT Family.


Jen & Eric said...

We shop two or three times a week -- or I should say my husband & our toddler do it because I can't remember the last time I set foot in a grocery store. Grocery shopping quickly became "daddy / daughter time" in my family (gives them something to *do* together). So I make a list every Saturday morning with meal plans for the week, they do the shopping, and then at some point during the week they usually pick up more "perishables" (we go through an amazing number of bananas...) Not being the one to do the shopping works great for me -- it forces me to stick to my origional meal plan (because if I want to change my mind we simply don't have the ingredients on hand!) It also saves us a LOT of money. My husband buys only what's on the list. I, not so much. We trimmed 25% off our grocery spending when I stopped doing the shopping!

Masha said...

We've been using the snow for the most part right now, which keeps everything cold - sometimes too cold. The stream is a bit of a walk, and frozen solid for the most part right now, and in the summer, because it's so far, we tend only to use it for bathing. My much-anticipated propane fridge is coming in the spring though, along with a wood-oven, and a kitchen building! I'm so excited.

Farmer's City Wife said...

Do you have a blog?? This is too totally awesome not to be shared with the
world! I'd love to see how you're doing all of this stuff! It wouldn't be to
practicable in our little house here, but I'd like to incorporate some of that
into our "dream house" :).

Farmer's City Wife said...

That's incredible, Justice.
I hate grocery shopping (I don't know why, 'cause I love cooking!), but
when my husband goes with me it's a date and I love it :).

I might have to start typing up my grocery list, though ;).

Farmer's City Wife said...

Cash shopping is a sure way not to go over budget! We use the envelope system
for it now.

I love your two week rotating meal plan! My husband would be perfectly happy to
do something like that. I go on different kicks (Chinese, Mexican, Indian,
Greek, German), though, and have to try at least one new recipe every week or I
feel antsy (I had no idea I was like this until I start articulating it).

Yeah, about every four weeks I do the no-shopping kitchen purge, too. Even with
careful planning we have leftover ingredients and I like to hold out for better
sales ;).

Thanks for sharing, Kathryn! I think you've just planned out my next two weeks

Farmer's City Wife said...

Yeah, a well-stocked pantry is a must!

Farmer's City Wife said...

The pork curry sounds totally intriguing. Could you please share that recipe?

Farmer's City Wife said...

Yum! Thank you!! My current curry recipe requires equal parts mayo and yogurt. I
like the coconut milk idea a lot better.

Farmer's City Wife said...

You will not win me back over to the monthly side :-p! But I like a ton
of your ideas and can easily implement them into my two week plan :).

One particularly bad plan-less afternoon, I wondered what a time-lapse video of
me wandering around the kitchen would look like. It was bad. We finally ordered
pizza, and I resolved to get back on the meal planning bandwagon :).

Farmer's City Wife said...

I must admit that I rely very heavily upon the 1/2 beef in our freezer ;).
"What? No meal planned for tonight? Hm... you want hamburgers, steak, or
fajitas?" hehe

Farmer's City Wife said...

Bulk meat is so much cheaper, and when I can get a good source of meat I love to
stock up :).

Farmer's City Wife said...

Smack! Ouch!! I don't know if I could've taken that standing up.
LOL, "grade-A cheapo" :-D. Me too! I love the "a good wife" quote on the left
sidebar here where it says, "her economy his safest steward." I take that
mandate very seriously :).

Farmer's City Wife said...

Ya know, Jen? That has loads of promise. As much as I relish our grocery dates,
I invariably tank up on all sorts of things that aren't on the list. I don't go
over-budget, usually, but I bet we'd be a lot further under budget if I let my
husband go solo.

Farmer's City Wife said...

I'm glad I tried monthly menu planning but it's so not for me, either! I
love scanning the ads each week, and I hated missing out on great deals.


Farmer's City Wife said...

I love that site! I haven't plumbed its full depths, yet, but she's got some
great ideas (like making breakfast when you're making dinner, 'cause you're
cooking and making a mess anyway).

LOL, there was a time in my life when I was eating PB&J 2 or 3 times a day.
After a few weeks of that, I started getting gout! hehehe

Farmer's City Wife said...

Holy cow -- life without a fridge would be pretty intense! Do you have a stream
or something you can use?

Farmer's City Wife said...

Excellent. Thank you for sharing! :)

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