Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that not everyone lives (or cooks, or eats) like I do. Last week, I went out to lunch with Cynthia. During the course of our conversation, she mentioned to me that she wished she was as good at menu planning as I am. The comment surprised me, because I don’t think of my menu planning as that great or a big deal, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized that not everyone plans their dinners a week in advance like I do.
I realize this bit-by-bit menu planning process may not work for everyone, but this is how I do it. I like taking care of things (supermarket flyers, coupons, etc) as soon as they arrive. Here’s a snapshot of what my menu planning process looks like. Sometimes the days get shifted a little, depending on my schedule, but this is generally how it works. Of course, I’m always sort of thinking about what I might like to cook next
Everyday: Collect Recipes
As I (slowly, but surely) work my way through my Google reader, food magazines and other random sources, I copy and paste, highlight and bookmark recipes I want to keep. I may use the recipes this week, or next summer, but I save them nevertheless.
Tuesday: Read the CSA Email
Now that our winter CSA season has officially started, we get a list of available produce each pick up week. Since we’ve already paid for the food, it makes sense to start thinking about meal ideas in terms of what’s available at the farm.
Wednesday: Read Supermarket Fliers and Start Shopping List
Every week we receive circulars from 3 local grocery stores. We have savings cards at all of them. I look through the fliers and list the items I might be interested in getting on my shopping list. I don’t buy everything I list, but this helps me get a good picture of what’s available at a good price.
My shopping list is divided into 3 columns. The 2 side columns are for sale items at specific stores (2 stores share a column). The center column is for other items I need that aren’t store specific. This helps me keep track of what I’m buying where.
Friday/Saturday: Choose Recipes and Finish Shopping List
By this point, I’ve got a good idea of what ingredients I’ll have available this week. I know what’s available at our CSA and I know what’s on sale at the supermarket. A quick look through my coupons and pantry further clarifies my list. I go back to my collections of recipes and decide what I feel like making and/or what recipes will use the ingredients I have or can get at a reasonable price. I write my list of what dishes I plan to make on the back of my shopping list.
Friday and Saturday are also our CSA pick up days.
Saturday/Sunday: Buy Food
I don’t go to all 3 stores each week. Usually one of the stores doesn’t have much of interest on sale, though which store that is changes weekly. Lately I’ve been doing most of the food shopping alone, but Brian usually comes along if we go right from church.
Sunday: Clip Coupons
I am not one of those crazy coupon people, but I do look forward to clipping coupons from the Sunday papers. I clip, then add to my coupon organizer. The coupons will come in handy on Friday or Saturday.
Mapping it all out like this makes my menu planning look like a lot of work. It’s really not bad though and I can’t imagine not knowing what I was going to have for dinner on a given night.
Do you plan your meals in advance? What strategies do you use?