On the last day of the month, I like to take the day and rummage through all of my magazines that I have collected over the month, favorite cookbooks, and the internet to plan my dinner menu for the entire MONTH. Yes I said the entire month. I have found that menu planning this far in advance helps me use what I have in my freezer and cut my last minute pick-ups from the grocery store.
How I start: I have a wonderful month long dry erase board in my kitchen that I use to create my menu’s on so that everyone can see what we are having, (It helps stop that, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” whine). I write all the days down, fill in the special days that I already know, i.e. Birthdays, holidays and the occasional Date Night. Then I can build from there. I know my family has a handful of tried and true staples that I will add in here and there. I also block off my Mondays to dedicate them to Meatless Monday’s. Then, I start filling it in. I like to mix it up. I try and have a pasta dish one night, a sandwich or wrap another, maybe a rice based dish. I also try and use my slow cooker once a week, whether it is a soup or stew or a tough cut of meat simmered all day long. These are kind of my basic building menu strategies. I also like to make sure I have a beef, chicken, and pork every week, making sure to try and not put the same meat protein back to back.
When buying meat for menu planning, by the meat in the clearance or managers special case. You can often get great roasts and steaks for a great value. Bring them home a put them right in your freezer if you will not be using that night. Build your menus based off of your freezer and pantry staples. This will help you to not create a huge grocery list and use the restaurant FIFO (first in first out) rule of thumb. If you’ve got ground beef in the freezer, don’t go out and buy fresh for that night’s meal, use what’s in your freezer.
I also have my own little coding system. When using a new recipe, jot a little note next to your menu idea of where you found it so 3 weeks from now you won’t be scratching your head trying to find that Chicken Enchilada Casserole recipe. Also, use food short hand. You are writing 28-31 different dinners down, don’t try and write down chicken or ground beef on every one use Chx and Grd Beef.
Don’t forget to get a little creative try out a new recipe or two when you can. Have Fun!