After reading a couple great articles on menu planning a few weeks ago by Laurie at The Frugal Farmer (see here and here), I finally decided to get better at menu planning and give this a try. I have to admit, it took a long time for me to come around the idea that this was something important for our finances and we needed to do it. Why?
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Well, for starters I am just not a planner by nature. Seriously, in the past I have taken whole trips- to Europe- for a couple weeks at a time without planning a thing in advance prior to departure (except booking a flight of course!) No hotel rooms booked, no firm itinerary, nothing. At least in terms of travel, I’ve always liked to just show up and do whatever sounds interesting in the moment (this was also in my less frugal days :-) ). And I suppose I’ve always been sort of like that with meals as well- I’m not a very picky eater, and I think I’ve just never seen the utility in menu planning before.
However, over the past few years or so I have definitely noticed that Mr. CMF and I could stand to do a lot better in the meal department. We have succumb to all the same traps as probably a lot of other busy people. We’ve both come home after busy days at work to find nothing in the fridge that looks good and said the heck with it let’s go to a restaurant. Or we’ve let celery or mangos or cilantro go bad in the fridge because no one is paying attention to how long it’s been in there and making a conscious effort to use it. And I swear that Mr. CMF suffers from some sort of eye disease that causes leftovers to appear invisible to him. 🙂
How to Create a Family Menu Plan
So when I read Laurie’s posts and got motivated for this (thanks Laurie!), the first thing I did was dig out a wipe off board/calendar to post on the wall in the kitchen. It’s important that the menu plan be placed in an easily-viewed place in the kitchen so that both Mr. CMF and I have easy access to it.
That’s especially important right now, because even though I’m the one doing the meal planning, Mr. CMF does most of the cooking at this time of year since we cook on the grill a LOT, and the grill is his baby. With the menu plan right there on the wall he always knows what’s on the agenda for dinner and he can go ahead and get started on it without having to hunt me down to check what I’ve got planned for dinner. This also saves us from having the EXACT SAME conversation every single night, which usually goes something like this:
What do you want for dinner?
I don’t know. What do you want?
The Benefits of Menu Planning
It sounds silly, but not having to have that conversation every night has been great. In addition to less repetitive conversation, we have been eating out less (having a newborn baby at home has contributed to this as well 🙂 ).
We’ve been able to better use leftovers since someone (me) is paying attention to what’s leftover in the fridge and making sure that it somehow goes into the weekly menu plan to get used up. I’ve been making far fewer trips to the grocery store, since we are planning meals days in advance. Also, when we did not menu plan it made it hard to utilize frozen items like meats, since we rarely planned enough in advance to pull something out of the freezer. We are now using frozen items much better, which is great.
Now a few weeks into our life as menu planners, I cannot for the life of me figure out why we did not do this sooner! All it takes is a little bit of organization- and for me, just having the calendar on the wall helps a ton with that. And the cool thing about the wipe off board is that when the month changes I can just erase all the date numbers, write in new numbers for the dates, and the meals are all still written there. I can choose to just make the exact same meals or maybe switch out a few if we feel like something different. It’s easy and immensely helpful.
If you are thinking that even just the thought of meal planning makes your brain hurt, never fear! There is actually a cool service called $5 Meal Plan that you can sign up for. Yes, you can actually spend a few bucks a month to have someone create a yummy and healthy menu plan for you! They even have a free trial period so that if you decide after a few days/weeks that you don’t like their recipes, you can cancel.
Update: These days we are still menu planning! But we’ve gotten more technical 🙂 I’ve actually recently started using an app called Plan to Eat, which allows me to import my own recipes and meal plan/grocery shop using my smartphone. Winning!
Do you menu plan? If so, have you found it to be helpful?
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