Saturday, January 26, 2008

Menu Planning 101: An Intro

Why Menu Planning? Well, I'll tell you, it has really been an asset to me, and I really think that anyone can benefit from even the smallest bit of menu planning. Planning out what you're going to eat during any given period of time is a benefit in so many ways. First of all, it's a money saver- you're not heading to the store every day of the week and buying much more than what you need. Secondly, it's far healthier for you. How many times do we look in the fridge, decide we don't feel like cooking, and either order in or head out for dinner. I'm not against dining out, but it's a quick way to drain a budget doing it over and over, and it's also almost a less healthier version than what you can make at home.

I am far from perfect at it, and there are still nights where I decide I don't want what I have planned for that night, but then I also know what else I have on hand, and I can decide accordingly. What I am going to try and do with this blog series is present menu-planning in a not-so scary light. Sometimes, it can be really overwhelming. I remember when I really first started doing it, being daunted by the empty calendar in front of me. And then further on, being daunted by the sheer volume of groceries and ingredients. I promise, I can help make it much easier. I've also decided to do this for now on this blog. However, if it takes off, and I end up with a volume of posts and eventually the interaction I'm thinking of, then I'll move it all over to a new blog specifically designed for it. Right now, though, it's a bit of an experiment.

So...the very first step in menu planning is to decide how long you would like to plan for at a time. This is a decision for what fits you best. For someone brand new to menu planning, perhaps starting small with just one or two days would be progress. Maybe you'd like to plan according to a pay day, resulting in planning for one week or maybe two. I know some people who get paid monthly and plan ahead for an entire month at a time. Personally, I range between one week and ten days. I plan for a week at a time according to when Andy gets paid, so for me, I plan for Friday through Thursday. And then, because life happens, and I never really know if I'll get to do my shopping when I want to, I often like to plan a cushion of an extra three days. But for this purpose, for Menu Planning 101, I'll stick with planning for a week to make it easier. Whatever you decide, make absolute certain it's manageable for you at this point. I would hate for someone to get overly ambitious and then give up before even getting started.

I should also mention, that when I do my menu planning, I don't do a full day at a time. We always have an assortment of breakfast foods and lunch foods on hand, plus leftovers for lunch on occasion, so also for Menu Planning 101, we'll be planning the dinner menu only- with occasional suggestions for leftover lunch or breakfast uses. You will also find that I'll be adding the Menu Planning 101 label to my postings. This way you'll have a handy way to reference all the wonderful tips we're going to explore together.

I think we'll do Menu Planning 101 twice a week for now- on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We'll do it one step at a time, and take our time as well. My goal is that by the end of this series, anyone will be able to go through the series step by step and learn how to menu plan. And as always, comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcome.

So step one is actually a two-piece step. First, you need to choose your time frame for planning. And second, you need to choose your format for planning. I like to use a notebook myself, but maybe you'd prefer an electronic means. What I like about the notebook is that I can use the same notebook week after week and then look back at past weeks when I need inspiration. You could also use a calendar and write on each day if you prefer, or maybe a white board hung on your fridge or in the kitchen somewhere. You could use a day planner, or your blackberry, Microsoft Word, or maybe even start your own menu-planning blog. If you already blog- that would make an excellent weekly post. Maybe you could share your preferred format here in the comment section.

Be sure to come back next time with a manageable time frame in mind, as well as your preferred format. And then we'll start tackling the menu planning process.


JEP said...

I like your ideas on beginning the menu planning...I'll go with a notebook, plan 2 days at a time (because I'm single & can easily shop for just a few fresh ingredients every couple of days after having some of the basics on hand plus call me picky, but I REALLY dislike leftovers!). Question, am I going to be a difficult participant? There's always one--right?

Erika W. said...

No such thing as a difficult participant for this one, I think. There's always an opportunity here to learn something and make the process easier and better.