Meal Planning How-To

I got quite a few comments regarding planning my meals out six to eight weeks in advance on my Home Organization post.  First of all, I prefer to plan this way to keep myself organized.  If I only plan a week or two in advance, I feel like I'm always scrambling around for some reason or another. 

Although I shop grocery sales and use coupons, I do not plan my menu around the sales.  I buy whatever is on sale (that we eat anyway, I'm no Extreme Couponer / Hoarder!) then plan our menu around what is in my pantry.  I typically just plan our entrees and buy the freshest fruits and veggies for our side dishes and snacks.

I rarely cook the same thing twice, so I keep a running list of recipes I want to try, whether they are from blogs, websites, magazines or friends.  It's nothing fancy, just a piece of notebook paper where I jot down the recipe and source.  I keep this in my Home Organization Binder behind my monthly schedule.  Occasionally I tear out a recipe from a magazine and stash it in a page protector until I'm ready to use it. 

Here are my menu planning steps.
  1. I have a calendar page printed for each month.  I write in any commitments that will impact our dinners - trips out of town, nights when I have Junior League meetings, and days when Georgia or I have late doctor appointments when I would use a freezer meal or something really quick.
  2. I look through my freezer, noting which frozen meals we have and which meats I need to stock up on.  I try to always have quite a bit of chicken breasts and ground turkey.  I really only keep basics in my pantry (canned tomatoes and black beans, cereal, stuff like that), but if I've bought something special that I need to use soon, I also make note of that.
  3. Fill in my calendar in pencil with the meals we need to use from the freezer. 
  4. Go through my list of recipes to try and just start penciling in what I'm going to make for dinner that night.  Obviously, I use pencil so I can change and rearrange if things come up.
  5. Each week I try to make one meal with extra to keep in the freezer (I try to do this on weekends, usually Sunday...for example, meatballs for a quick spaghetti, lasagna or another freezable pasta, and soups in the winter); one super easy meal with minimal prep and cook time, like salad; and a couple of recipes we've never tried.  I try to cook four or five days a week; we eat leftovers maybe once, sometimes twice.  David eats lunches out at work and I usually have something easy, like a boiled egg sandwich or pasta and jarred sauce.
  6. Every weekend I just shop for the extras we need for the upcoming week.  Since I used my freezer and pantry to plan what we're having, my time at the grocery is minimal.  I buzz through the produce section and pick out some fresh fruits and veggies, grab the snack food we always have on hand like hummus and yogurt, then pick up anything else we are out of.  I rarely spend over $65 per week on our groceries.  I think the obsessive planning really helps with this!
Although I do have our meals planned out for the next two months, they are always subject to change.  Like today...we will be having sandwiches or "every man for himself" since Miss Georgia wanted to play all night.  I only got a few hours of sleep and we had an early doctor appointment this morning.  I'll just adjust this week's/month's menu by working it in somewhere else since I already have the ingredients.  Pretty easy to work with!