You go to the grocery store and you can’t resist the crisp lettuces, crunchy apples and gleaming eggplants, so you fill your basket with all of nature’s goodness. You stroll down the grocery aisles. You become tempted by the labels and novelty found in each section. You kick yourself for wasting food and money...
Has this ever happened in your household?
Before you know it, your cart is filled with canned kale, coconut milk and extra-lean turkey burgers. Fast forward a week. You’re throwing out blackened limp lettuce, the once gleaming eggplant is now covered in brownish blemishes and your pantry is filled with oddities you don’t know what to do with.
Don’t despair. This is a common malady in most busy households. You can easily rectify this situation with a little preplanning and organization. The answer to this nightmare lies in a menu plan. A menu plan saves you money, time and energy. Here’s how to do it.
Write the days of the week on a sheet of paper or, if you are truly gifted, use chart software on your computer or Blackberry. Go through the grocery flyers the day they come to your door and jot down dinner ideas inspired by what’s on sale under each day of the week. Don’t forget to plan quick dinner ideas for the nights when your son has soccer and your daughter has piano and hockey all in the same night. Check your pantry and fridge and see if you can incorporate what is in them in the week’s menu. Check your recipes and see what you’ll need for the week.
Now make your grocery list. Go to your grocery store and stick to the list. You may be skeptical but this little exercise has saved my family over $300 a month in groceries for our family of four over the past year – not to mention saved my sanity on more than one occasion. And guess what? Not a single head of lettuce has lost its life in our crisper since we’ve been menu-planning!
After you’ve been at this for a while, you’re ready for intermediate menu-planning and grocery-list making. There are many ways to keep track of food items needed for your family and what works for one may not work for another. Feel free to try out some of these ideas and find what works for you. For instance, use a magnetic shopping list posted on your fridge or hung inside your pantry and record needed items as you think of them or use them up. Train your family, “If you eat the last of the yogurt, write it on the list!” If you’re ready to get really fancy, use a computer program to list all of the food items your family consumes on a regular basis and leave some blanks at the bottom. Write these items in categories as the grocery store displays them, i.e.: Produce, Dairy, Frozen. Print it off and stick it on the fridge. When you run out of an item, circle it on the master list and voila – you’re saving time and energy. (Note to all wives, this one works really well when sending hubby to the grocery store; this way, he won’t be wandering aimlessly in the aisles!)
To ramp up your menu-planning, keep track of your dinner menus for a month. Write each complete menu on the front of an index card and the ingredients needed on the back. At the end of the month, you’ll have 28 dinner ideas to choose from when your creativity wanes.
And exactly what do you do with canned kale and coconut milk? Look for websites that offer recipes searchable by ingredient. Be brave and creative and soon your pantry will be functional and productive. Happy menu-planning!
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