Menu planning is extremely important if you are trying to keep a budget. And since most of the people I talk to are on a budget, I figured talking about it being a part of my home binder would be important.
I have talked about meal planning before. Just like planning your day, making a menu for the week – or meal plan – can be done a variety of ways. Mine is a two step process for the most part. The first step is to make a list of meals that my family likes, and that have ingredients I typically have on hand. I came up with a list of about 30-35 meals that are pretty easy to make, and can have different things switched out, depending on what is in my pantry.
I am not great with recipes. I like to make things my own. Plus, it is easier for me to just throw things together, rather than measure out a bunch of different ingredients. I know that a lot of people can’t do this, but I feel like I make my meals basic enough that anyone could do it. Of course this means that I do not make elaborate gourmet meals every day. And the fact that I try to make everything from scratch really does not allow me the time to make super fancy meals!
The second step is to go through my list of meals at the beginning of the week, and to also look at what I have on hand in order to make a grocery list. A lot of my meals are centered around beans and rice. Whether it be the traditional black beans and rice dish; spanish rice beside sauteed veggies; baked beans; refried beans and rice with salad. Depending on the spices you use, you can have the same old beans and rice a variety of ways all week. Of course, if you aren’t vegetarian, you could add any meat that you like.
Once I have a handle on what is available in my pantry (and freezer) I will pick a few meals for the week. I haven’t mastered the art of making one meal for 4 people. Instead, I typically make a meal, and it is enough for us to have for two dinners and most likely a lunch – and sometimes enough to put some in the freezer. I use a lot of frozen veggies. I find them very easy to throw into a stir fry, to saute, to just heat up and pair with the rest of the meal; and they are extremely economical. Plus, frozen veggies are picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen.
After I pick my meals, I just write them down on either a sticky note and put it at the front of my binder, or I will put it on a piece of loose leaf paper if I am trying to plan more than dinner. Then each day I simply write whatever meal I want in my daily planner sheet for the day.
It isn’t the most deliberate form of meal planning out there, but I have found that if I list out every single meal for the week, I don’t stick to it. I end up having too much food at the end of the week. Not that that is a big problem, but I prefer to use up all the fresh produce we have, and keep things simple. Food is expensive and I don’t want to waste it.
I also try to cook things in bulk once every couple of weeks. It makes it easier to throw meals together in a short amount of time. You can find out more about my cooking beans in bulk here. Overall, it has worked for me to meal plan this way. I also have a folder in my binder that holds pictures and recipes of meals that I would like to make, or if I am looking for some creative inspiration in the kitchen. I love cooking, but I prefer to keep it simple.
How do you meal plan? Do you end up with a lot of leftovers? Do you try out a lot of new recipes each week, or do you mainly stick to the same recipes time and time again?