Is Menu Planning a Chore For You?
I have a love-hate relationship with menu planning and grocery shopping. Sometimes I am excited to try new recipes I have found, or we have special events planned and I get to do some special cooking. Other times, it feels like I’m trudging out the same tired old recipes, the stress of trying to reduce our grocery budget is exhausting, and I just can’t imagine dragging myself and the kids to the grocery store!
If you share any of those feelings, I’m sure you can relate! These are the best tips I have found to help bring mindfulness and stress reduction into my grocery and cooking habits.
Tip 1: Make a List of “Backup” Meals
This was yet another tip from the amazingess that was the Budget Boot Camp. But it’s really, really helpful. You just make a short list of meals that you pretty much always have the supplies/energy to make. The quickest, easiest dinners at your fingertips. My family uses something off this list about once a week; my husband comes home late from work, I’ve been too tired and busy with the kids to bother cooking, we’re in a time crunch before bedtime and we need to get a meal on the table. We take a deep breath, and we consult our Backup List. To give you some inspiration for yours, here is ours:
- Hot Dogs
- Chicken breasts, a vegetable and a starch (bread, potato, rice, etc.)
- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Chicken Parmesan
- Macaroni and Cheese (from a box)
- Homemade Pizza
- Soup and bread, salad or sandwiches
- Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and fruit
- Eggs and Toast
- Breakfast for Dinner
(Obviously I need to make sure that I stock up on the ingredients for these meals when we are running low, so I have this list on the fridge so I can reference it when I’m preparing to go grocery shopping)
Tip 2: Search for Ingredients for New Ideas
Right now, in my cupboard, I have not one but two bags of quinoa. Presumably, I bought it for a recipe I never made, then forgot I had it and bought another bag the next time I decided to make a dish involving quinoa. I make unfortunate mistakes like this on a relatively frequent basis. The first and easiest solution to this problem is to keep a good inventory of your pantry and cupboards somewhere that you can reference when you’re making your grocery list. I still need to do this! Let me know if you have a good system already in place, I would love some tips!
There’s an easy way to solve this problem of too much quinoa, however, and that is to search a recipe website for quinoa. A bunch of interesting recipes will pop up involving quinoa and I can pick something new to add to my menu planning that will use up my extra ingredients! You can do this with anything in your cupboard, and sometimes some really unexpected things will come up! I have a terrific recipe for a dessert made with garbanzo beans that I never would have found if I hadn’t had an extra can of garbanzo beans in my cupboard and decided I needed to use them up! You can use any recipe website you like, really, and don’t be afraid to go looking for new recipe sources. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about that, too!
Tip 3: PepperPlate (or something like it)
One of the best investments of time I have ever made was to manually upload my recipe collection to an app called “PepperPlate“. It’s really easy to use and it has a built-in menu planning Calendar. You can also add ingredients from your recipes right to the built-in shopping list in the app. It’s been a really big time-saver, because all of a sudden, all my recipes are in one place. Building a menu is only a couple of scrolls and clicks!
Plus, if I happen to be out and about, and decide to pick something up for dinner, I have the recipe and ingredients list right on my phone, so I know I won’t accidentally forget something. It took a long time to set it up initially, but it has been completely worth it. It helps me rotate through a much larger selection of recipes. This helps prevent us from getting bored with eating the same foods over and over again. It also helps me avoid some of the pitfalls of menu planning: over-planning and over-buying (hence, overspending).
There are probably a few different apps like this one, so pick the one you like the best and take the time to get all your recipes in one place. You won’t regret it! Plus, then you can store your cookbooks wherever you want (and they don’t have to take up space in your kitchen if you don’t have the room!).
Tip 4: You can be a little under-prepared
You don’t need to plan a meal for dinner for every night of the week. Especially if you are well-stocked with items from your backup menu. Things happen- we get invited to eat dinner with our in-laws, maybe a conflict comes up or the kids don’t want what we planned to eat and we need to improvise a little. I usually plan about five meals (for dinner) in a week. Those extra two nights can be taken care of in lots of different ways, including eating leftovers, as well. It saves money on our grocery budget, it allows for flexibility and improvisation and it keeps me from buying too much food.
Remember your backup list- it’s important to stick to it, especially if you are like us and you have a very slim budget for eating out or ordering in. It takes a little bit of extra willpower sometimes, but sticking to a strict grocery budget is a major contributor to our monthly financial discipline and planning, so we make it a priority, my husband and I talk about it a lot, and we strategize how to keep everything running smoothly.