The more I learn to cook and bake, the more I see the need to be organized with my meals. When I first started living with my husband (then, fiance), I noticed how easily it was for both of us to say "let's go out tonight!" Sure, a date night, but every night? And slowly I noticed how little I was paying attention to finances and what I was consuming. Pastas, burgers, and ethic cuisines were becoming our staple foods. Yes I did cook, once in a while, but after coming home from work I really did not feel the need to make anything on some nights.
However, that all started to change about a year ago, when I committed myself to organizing, planning and executing a weekly menu. I read many great articles on menu planning online that really helped to motivate me. I stuck to this and noticed how much I was saving on my groceries and take-out. It helped with our finances, helped me be more in control of what I am eating, and helped me gain my cooking and baking skills. Yes we still eat out, but this has cut down from 2-3 times a week to 2-3 times a month. With what I have learned I wanted to share this knowledge with you all.
1. Do a Kitchen Check
First you need to see what you have already on hand so you don't end up spending more money than you need to. If you have a pack of bell peppers, maybe you can make stuffed peppers one night, or fry some sliced peppers and top your chicken fajitas another night. If you have some chicken breasts in the freezer, incorporate some chicken recipes instead of buying pork chops and steak to eat this week. You should always start with what you have.
2. Scan for Recipes
After seeing what ingredients you have, scan either your recipe books or the internet for some ideas. You might even come across some recipes that you are interested in trying in the near future. Print them out! I always make sure to print off any recipes I come across. I stick them in a folder that I have that is dedicated to only meal planning. This way I have all the recipes I plan to make in the near future. When I am done with the recipe, I stick it with my other cookbooks until next time.
3. Make a List
Make sure you make a list of items you need to buy from the store. This way, when you do your grocery shopping you stick to your list and don't end up buying items just because you might cook with it. I did this at the beginning - buying things I thought of making but by the time I came to actually making it the product was expired in my pantry. A waste of money and time!
4. Make your Plan
Using the free downloadable meal planner I made, you can easily fill in what meals you plan to make. If I find a recipe online, I write down the name of the recipe and in brackets the website or cookbook it came from.
5. Search the Flyers
Once you have your list of things you need to buy, make sure to check and see if they are on sale. Why buy at regular price when you can save and buy on sale? That is what I always do. Yes there are items that never come on sale, so I buy them when I need to. But if you know broccoli comes on sale every three weeks at the stores then hold off on your recipe and wait for it to go on sale.
6. Go Shopping
Make sure you bring your list and you stick to it! Buy the ingredients you will need for the entire week, to avoid having to go out every day to buy them. Make sure to always have a back-up recipe in case you don't find all the ingredients you were looking for.
Hope these steps help you in your menu planning!