Hi… my name is Erin.
I’m a menu planner.
Whew, glad I got that off my chest. When someone says they menu plan, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Be honest. Is it that I must have 5 kids at home and I’m one of those crazy people with a HUGE deep freeze full of a month’s worth of groceries including gallons of milk?
It’s okay if that is what first came to mind.
No really, it’s fine! If I were to be honest, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind too. However, it really couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t have 5 kids. In fact, I don’t even have 1. It’s just me and the sweet boy… well, and the Schmoo cat, but she doesn’t count.
So why do I plan? Is it to save money? No. Is it to save time? No. Then why?
Simply put, it’s because I was tired of eating out. The sweet boy and I both work in the entertainment industry (performing arts, people, get your mind out of the gutter) and that is a taxing profession. We work long hours, hard hours, exhausting hours. If I don’t have a dinner plan when I get home, I’m most likely going to order Chinese, pizza or make a run through the dreaded Taco-Bell (uh, gross). Sure, that might not sound too bad, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret…
those places and that food makes you FAT.
There, I said it. They make you fat.
When I cook at home, I lose weight. Huh, amazing! What an easy diet. I’d like to call it the “don’t go out to eat and instantly lose pounds” diet. I wouldn’t call it that if it weren’t the truth.
Also, I have about eleventy-billion cook books so I might as well use them on a regular basis.
I thought I’d share with all of you my process. I start off with a quick inventory of my pantry, fridge and freezer. I like to try and use a lot of what I have stored away. I used to think I had to stock pile my food supply but then I realized it’s much more freeing to not have a year’s worth of ground beef stashed in the freezer.
I’m not a doomsday prepper, I shouldn’t hoard food like one.
After getting a good idea of what’s on hand, I start my menu. I start with the thaw and go food (like leftover spaghetti sauce, frozen Swiss steak or leftover beans and ham). Those are easy and I slot those into nights when I know I’ll either be exhausted when I get home or I’ll be home late. Then I try to find recipes or meal options that can use up the other stuff on hand. I have a TON of pumpkin in my pantry so I’ve (unsuccessfully, mind you) tried to use it for some savory options. Maybe a soup? Perhaps some black bean and pumpkin burritos? I also seem to have more pasta or polenta than any one person needs, so dishes using those supplies up get added quite often. The same goes for any frozen meat. If I have smoked sausage, I’ll probably do some black beans and rice. If there is a ham bone in the freezer, I’ll do some bean soup. The goal is to buy as little as possible at the grocery store.
And before you ask, no, I never seem to completely empty the pantry of freezer. It’s like an episode of the Twilight Zone. It never seems to run dry. There are always leftovers to put in the freezer and I always seem to find something on sale to stick in the pantry. I’m good, but I’m not that good.
I typically plan for 2 weeks at a time. Pay day to pay day. I also slot in dinners to go out or hang with friends. This past pay period was a bit strange as I did some traveling which always throws planning for a loop… as in, I didn’t do it for the past week. I made up for it over the weekend, though, and plotted out the rest of the pay period.
It went something like this:
Saturday – Steak and Chicken fajita nachos with homemade salsa (had to have a reason to use my fresh salsa). To be fair, this dish really didn’t use a single thing I had on hand except cheese. So it didn’t fit my plan but it sounded good. And it was good.
Sunday – Grilled chicken legs with corn on the cob, baked beans and swiss chard from my sister’s CSA bag that she let me have. I’m using up some BBQ sauce and the chard with this. I bought a HUGE thing of chicken legs so we’ll have some in the freezer for later. Never buy a small thing of chicken legs. That’s a waste of money. The large is always a better deal.
Monday – Beans and ham and corn bread. What kind of beans you ask? Not sure, but one of my Rancho Gordo beans. We’re fancy like that. All I had to get for this was corn bread mix (Jiffy, ’cause it’s a good company and you should support good companies).
Tuesday – Pasta with leftover spaghetti sauce and a salad using CSA lettuce. I did buy some garlic toast to go with this because that’s a must in our house. I don’t have spaghetti in the pantry, so I’ll use ziti or something on hand. Pasta is pasta, after all.
Wednesday – Black beans and rice with smoked sausage with a salad using CSA lettuce. These beans are SO different than the beans from Monday that I don’t feel bad for robbing my taste buds of variety. Actually, these beans are from a box. I don’t feel bad about that either, not one bit.
Thursday – Pay day, I’ll figure something out then
See, menu planning is a breeze. Sometimes I pull from recipes, sometimes it’s in my brain and I don’t need recipes. Easy, peasy and a pound reducer.
Do you menu plan? If so, how successful are you at it? Most of the time I follow my plans but every now and then the pizza delivery guy shows up and that’s okay too.
Did you actually read my shopping list in the picture above and you’re thinking I’m a crazy liar right now because none of the dishes on my menu use roasted red peppers? The updated version of that list had a strike through over those delicious peppers. I’ll make the roasted red pepper sauce next time. Carry on.