Monday, January 25, 2010

Menu planning

One of the key steps to eating frugally is menu planning. "I don't have time to sleep," I hear you saying. "How am I supposed to plan a menu?"

It's not complicated, I promise.
Step 1: Look in your refrigerator. What's there already? What needs to be used up? What's about to go bad? Are there leftovers?
Step 2: Look in your cabinets/pantry. What's there? I find I can go weeks at a time without buying groceries, as long as I have a fully stocked pantry. Beans, rice, pasta, these are all pantry staples that can provide an endless variety of meals.
Step 3: If you really do have to buy groceries, gather up all the flyers. What's on sale this week? Start there. Try not to buy anything that's not on sale if you can help it. If zucchini is on sale this week, buy some and plan to use it in a meal. If ground beef is on sale, buy a lot and freeze some. And so on.

So, for example, yesterday I created this particular menu for the week. It took about five minutes total, and that includes the time to find the particular recipes I wanted. I've already done all my grocery shopping for the next few weeks, so it was just a matter of apportioning resources.

Breakfasts and lunches for two people: Mostly already done. Leftover lasagna and white bean-chicken chili. Two heads of lettuce = plenty of salads. Had some oranges and yogurt that needed to be eaten up; I sliced up all the oranges and had the yogurt for breakfast this morning. Tonight I'll put some oatmeal in the crockpot and that will provide breakfast for the rest of the week, reheated at work.

Dinner tonight: A crockpot Indian dish with chickpeas, lentils, canned tomatoes, and harissa. Last night I took out a handful of dried chickpeas to soak.
Dinner Tuesday: Crockpot chicken vindaloo. Took out some frozen chicken thighs this morning to thaw.
Dinner Wednesday: Crockpot French onion soup with cheese and croutons. Croutons are already made; there's plenty of cheese.
Dinner Thursday: Use up the last of the lettuce for a salad; there's some boudin (Cajun sausage) in the fridge that needs to be used up, so I'll have that, the salad, and maybe some cheese grits.
Dinner Friday: Quinoa with corn, cilantro and tomatoes. I'll use up the cilantro, the last of the cherry tomatoes, and some frozen corn. If I need the protein, I can add some frozen edamame.

So that's the workweek taken care of. There's also still plenty of cheese and charcuterie in the fridge. For next week, I'll tackle the greenery still left at that point: kale, broccoli, carrots, and fresh peas. Those will easily keep until next week.

The weekend gets a little trickier because there will be a picky child involved; but I foresee elk burgers (I have some ground elk in the freezer) with home fries; mac and cheese, because by then there will be lots of leftover bits of stinky cheese that will need to be used up; and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, because the milk will need to be used up. On Thursday I'll need to take the elk and the breakfast sausage out of the freezer to thaw, and I've already made a note of that on my dayplanner. In fact, I wrote down all the dinners on my dayplanner once they'd been decided.

Next weekend I'll stick my head back in the fridge/pantry and start the process over again. Repeat until you run out of food.

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