~ MENU PLANNING ~There is more to menu planning than just deciding what to make for dinner, at least for the average family. We're a military family used to getting paid once a month and trying to make it last. So for me, menu planning also encompasses recipe scouring, coupon clipping (we love to read the Sunday papers and have coffee. One of the things I always go for first is the coupons to see what I can save for us - hubby always laughs when I get excited at a large coupon for something already on the grocery list - LOL), sale ad reading and logical common sense planning. I do participate in Menu Plan Monday, but I actually prepare my menu for the entire month all at once and then just break it up for posting.
I start the last week of the previous month with checking out what I already have in the freezer inventory and then the ads for my local markets for the upcoming week. I see what meats will be going on sale and then scour my recipe file for recipes to match. One of the biggest things I do to help not only with cost of ingredients, but also waste is to make sure to back up recipes to each other that use similar ingredients that I can buy in bulk. For example if a recipe calls for 1/2 an onion for Monday night's recipe, I make sure Tuesday night's recipe uses the other 1/2. I also know which meals we'll probably have leftovers for so I plan to either freeze part of it for a future meal or plan a C.O.R.N. (clean out refrigerator night) within my plan if there is only going to be a little of this and that leftover. I write my list and then I match up the coupons for whatever staples (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc...) I need and then the luxuries if there is room within the budget. If there is a really good sale I buy in super bulk for the following month also. Now I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the whole process takes less than an hour and then it's done for the month.
I have every scrap of a recipe I ever saved as well as many of my grandma's too. It's like an obsession with me. If a recipe sounds good in a magazine, I figure I can make it better based on my family's likes and dislikes and tuck it away to try and manipulate at a later date. I recently decided it was time to clean-up this mess.
I found an old metal LP file box at a garage sale for 50 cents and dressed it up a bit so it didn't look like a trash bin on my kitchen counter. (it was a beat up lime green with stickers everywhere). I have written 2 family reunion cook books in the past which helped some with eliminating the scraps of paper and I'm also in the midst of writing another Tastebook to use as family Christmas gifts that is helping to clean up this mess on a permanent basis. When you couple this with my blog recipe list at 3 Sides of Crazy and at OuR KrAzY KiTcHeN it makes it easy to reference. Truth be told I need 3 more of these boxes!
I have a perpetual list on the counter and every time we use something or run out of something, everyone is trained (finally) to list whatever they used or ran out of on an ongoing basis.
We keep a pretty concise calendar with everyone's activities, appointments, meetings and such on it. I also write what we will be eating on each day so they'll know what to expect. If for some reason we have to cancel a night I will rearrange the week so that the meal actually canceled is one using something from the freezer, not the fresh ingredients I've already purchased. When I do the shopping I buy in bulk to cut the cost and since I have my menu plan ahead of time, I break down the bulk package into meal appropriate sizes before freezing when I get home.