Author Topic: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?  (Read 3669 times)

olu

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Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« on: February 15, 2017, 04:13:31 PM »
Hi guys, I'm new here. Have spent the last two days just reading endless MMM posts. I have some questions for you about menu planning and grocery shopping. A lot of you seem to have this figured out.

We are a family of 5 with 3 young kids in the Seattle area and I struggle with the grocery budget. I eat super healthy as a result of an autoimmune disease but still have to figure out things to cook that the kids will eat.

I've tried menu planning but always seem to fall off the wagon. Recently I've been really into incorporating more vegetarian meals and that's been working well. I still feel like I'm poking around in the dark though, I really want to get away from impulse grocery shopping and I feel like I need to meal plan to do that. I just can't seem to find a meal plan I like or stick to it.

Anyone have links, ideas, examples? What do you guys do that works?
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WinterSkies

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2017, 08:52:08 AM »
We keep it pretty simple.  We sit down once a week (usually Saturday morning) and plan out our meals for the next 6-7 days.  This includes lunches and suppers, as I like to cook enough at supper to have leftovers for lunch the next day.  We write the menu down on a piece of paper, and also use that paper for our shopping list (having the menu right there helps remind us to check which ingredients we need for each meal).  I've done this as long as I've been living on my own, and grew up with my parents doing this (4 kids and one income made it a necessity).  We also do a check for pantry staples that we may be running low on (cereal, soup, etc). 

To make impulse buying less likely at the store, I try to create our shopping list such that all like items (e.g. dairy, meats, breads) are grouped together in the list.  That way, we only hit each section of the store once.  If I have to start wandering back and forth between sections, I find it much more likely that I will grab items not on my list. 

It's not fancy, but it works for us most of the time.  The beauty of the meals being planned out is that we can always substitute them in and out if plans change over the week.  There no last minute "what's for dinner" panicking :)

ketchup

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2017, 08:58:53 AM »
I usually plan out and shop for 3-4 days at a time, with at least 1-2 meals being an idiotproof simple one that can be moved forward if something comes up and blows up our schedule (or if we choose ourselves to blow up our schedule).

iowajes

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2017, 09:57:33 AM »
One silly trick that I learned for menu planning (and maybe it is obvious to some- but for a lot of people it isn't) to save money is
Don't decide what you are eating, and then go shopping for the things to make it.  Yes, this will likely save you money over going out to eat, but it isn't going to reduce your grocery bills.

Instead, sit down with the sale mailer from the stores your shop at and decide what you can make with the things that are at great prices.

For instance, this week, pork loin is on sale for $1.49/lb. If I sat down and wrote out menus of what I want to eat, pork loin probably wouldn't have made the list.  At that price- it is going to!  I'll save beef for a week that IT is on sale.

We also tend to only cook dinner 2-3 times a week and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner the rest of the days.

jkitiara

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2017, 11:08:21 AM »
Following. I struggle to stay on that wagon too.

Though I often employ the strategy iowajes mentioned--whatever is on sale is what's for dinner. However, that often seems to include a scramble for sides and such.

And I hate cooking. So I'm trying to make this all less painful...

ysette9

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2017, 11:34:58 AM »
We are currently on a crock pot freezer meals kick. There are several websites for this idea, so I browse through and note recipes I would like to try. I pick 8-10 and then draw up a grocery list from that. We then spend 2 hours on a weekend when the kiddo is balling to prepare everything. Then I have lunches/dinners for the next few weeks and all I have to do is grab a random bag out of the freezer.
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spooky105

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2017, 01:07:22 PM »
We control the costs through where we shop, how often we shop, and minimizing waste.

We do the bulk of our shopping at Sam's Club (family of four), with one-offs purchased from the "fancy" grocery store. I am in the military, and we have access to the on-base Commissary, which is basically a non-profit grocery store. I find Sam's prices to be comparable (I price checked ~90% of what we buy on a regular basis and it was equal or cheaper, almost without exception). The produce and meats also tend to be better at Sam's. Costco would be another option if you have it.

Wife and I share a shopping list on our phones for each store and align purchases with already scheduled trips -- almost never do we just drive to the store to get something. If we're planning X for dinner and realize we forgot to grab something we generally just roll that meal to another day vs. going to the store (unless spoilage is a factor).

Rather than taking a menu approach, we pretty much buy the same stuff from week to week. It consists of mostly staples -- tomatoes, lettuce/spinach, cucumbers, potatoes, bananas, berries, eggs, milk, plain frozen broccoli, plain frozen chicken breasts, ground beef, some good cheese, etc. What we cook on any given night is a function of mood and what needs to be consumed. Tomatoes getting soft? Roast 'em. Bananas turning brown? Time for muffins/bread. Spinach getting mushy? Saute the whole container with Olive Oil and a little salt/garlic.

Not sure how you're preparing your food, but another cost savings is making the upfront investment in seasonings (vs. packets/boxed mixes) and learning to make sauces/salsa from scratch (vs. the bottled stuff). Moreover, you can dial everything in to the way you and your family like it.

When it comes to our kids (4 & 5) they eat what we eat. No exceptions. We set that expectation early (as we were raised the same way). There were a few nights of going to bed hungry / eating last night's dinner for breakfast early on. But the early pain was worth the gain. Kids will reliably eat damn near anything now (olives are a particular favorite).

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2017, 02:02:47 PM »
I've got a little different approach to meals for our family, I don't meal plan per se, but I do meal PREP.

In my mind the biggest difference is that meal plans typically involve a recipe, with ingredients that you may or may not be able to use up in other recipes before they go bad. My approach to meal prepping is this:
- Make huge batch of rice and some sort of beans on Sunday.
- Wash & chop all veggies and salad on Sunday
- Cook a BIG piece of meat on Sunday. I cook another big piece on Wednesday or Thursday.

This way, all of my food is "prepped". We mostly eat simple things like a salad with meat on top, quesidallas with veggies and meat, etc. you get the picture. I cook from a recipe only once or twice a week (usually onthe weekend when I have more time). On weeknights dinner takes 10-15 minutes, and involves very little dirty dishes. We rotate which types of rice/beans/meat/veggies every week so we get variety.

I am actually just starting to write a blog about this so I only have a few posts but I always love sharing ideas, especially with other working moms!

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« Last Edit: February 16, 2017, 06:17:06 PM by Millennialworkerbee »

GizmoTX

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2017, 03:22:03 PM »
I learned about the Plan To Eat app on this forum & it has vastly improved our meal planning as well as providing a neat way to catalog & collect recipes. One of its features is to provide for tracking freezer meals -- you can do bulk buying & packaging multiple meals to be pulled out & cooked later, & PTE lets you easily track & drag them into your plan. Because it's browser based, you can run it on any device that has web access, which means you can tap 'check' an item off your list as you get it as an alternative to a printed list. Anyone in the family has access as well, if you want them to. There's a free 30 day trial to let you see if it will help. I'm not connected in any way with the developers but really love this.

pbkmaine

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2017, 03:48:42 PM »
Involve the kids in the cooking and meal planning, using the sale flyers from the food stores. They will learn so much!

Poundwise

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2017, 08:28:31 AM »
PTF.  I make the week's menu plan every Saturday night, and then do a grocery run on Sun morning. I don't coupon much, but usually I do have some store coupons that were sent to me. If I'm on top of things, I go through the fridge, throwing out food that has gone bad (still a problem in my household) and trying to figure out what needs using up.

When I make my menu plan, it goes at the top of a really long computer file that I have, with every menu plan I've done for years.  So if I can't think of anything we want to eat, I scroll down a bit and usually can find something we haven't had for a while that the kids like. I don't have it in me to cater to picky eaters, but if there is a meal that all three kids hate, I take it out of rotation for a while.

I usually re-sort my shopping list in order of how I walk through the store (i.e. vegetables first, then baking section, etc.)

 

gipsygrrl

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2017, 12:56:46 PM »
I have a routine now of sitting down on Monday morning and making a meal plan/grocery list. I'll pick 2-3 dishes for the week, and at least two of them will be big enough meals to make leftovers for another dinner and/or lunches. I don't worry about which we'll have on what night - I try to just keep it fluid, but at least have an IDEA of the few meals I want to make. I write down the grocery list right next to the meal plan (like someone else suggested), checking to see what we need. I also try to think about what I can use up in the pantry (hey, we have that salsa still from last week - I can use that up this week, etc.). We also do those freezer to crock pot meals that someone mentioned - so that's always an option for a spare or open night.

So I guess I don't think of it as a meal plan so much as a meal outline. Knowing that I for sure have ingredients for a few predetermined meals helps me feel somewhat organized. But also having the fluidity to mix up the days or do something different helps keep things adaptable for what's happening in our lives that week.

MayDay

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2017, 06:03:13 PM »
We tend to plan one or two "special" meals a week. By special I mean we look up an actual recipe and buy things for that meal.

It's always oatmeal or eggs for breakfast so we keep those stocked.

Lunch is leftovers or sandwich or salad, so we keep bread, peanut butter, and lettuce stocked.

Beyond the two "special" dinners a week, we buy a regular rotation of common dinner foods and make standard stuff.  This basically looks like keeping the following on hand:

Beans
Salsa
Corn tortillas
Pasta
Tomato sauce
Pesto
Potatoes
Tofu (we are vegetarian)
Various frozen veggies
Various random veggies like carrots, avocado, onion, cucumbers

Then a week of dinners on the regular nights might be:

Tacos or taco salad or quesadillas or nachos
Rice and beans
Pasta with tomato or pesto sauce
Baked or stir fried tofu with rice and a frozen vegetable
Potatoes cooked some way (baked or french fries) with vegetables
Soup made in crock pot with beans and whatever veggies we have around
Stir fry

And I loosely plan some of those things, but since we always have beans and rice and salsa, I can wing it if needed.
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chaskavitch

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2017, 08:49:17 AM »
I'm going to re-endorse planning your meals from your store's weekly sales list.  That's been my most reliable money-saver, since buying meat that is on sale saves a lot of money for me.  For example, this week grass fed ground beef was like $3.50/lb at Sprouts, so I bought 3 lbs, and we're having tacos, burgers, and I made meatballs from the leftovers and froze them to use next week.  Otherwise we'd have 5 meals with ground beef this week, and DH isn't fond of so much repetition. 

I'm also trying to do more planning ahead/leftovers, because cleaning the kitchen every day is a point of contention for us, and occasionally leads to ordered pizza rather than cooked at home meals.  I made chicken enchiladas, but made extra filling and made an extra small pan to put straight in the freezer.  I put all of our meals on Google Calendar, so I can see what I've made in the past, and so I can move things around if we change our minds about what to eat on any given day.

The last thing that is helping most recently is to write out my weekly grocery list based on the meals we're having every day, so if I miss something, it is more obvious.  "Oh, Monday we're having tacos, but we don't have any tortillas on this list, guess I forgot to write that down!"  That cuts down on last minute trips to the store, which almost always end up with ice cream or peanut butter or some superfluous dessert. 
« Last Edit: February 20, 2017, 11:22:12 AM by chaskavitch »

soccerluvof4

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2017, 09:33:24 AM »
Shop Mondays and Fridays and always start with buying meats first on Sale. Then I buy the staples we need (family of 6) in order of priority. So i pretty much go Meats to dairy to produce to dry products, usually the guy going backward in the store but it works! I keep a running total in my head as I put it into the cart and always stay below the number I need to be at. By having a constant inventory of pretty much everything in the house as far as condiments, spices etc... My DW then just makes the meals with what I bring home. Our family is very well fed, healthy fed and we keep our shopping $ down by 95% coming from Aldi's.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2017, 09:35:40 AM by soccerluvof4 »
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meerkat

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2017, 12:21:04 PM »
I have a Google spreadsheet I maintain with meal ideas and an ongoing meal plan. For a while I even had tabs for each month with what we had for dinner each day (well, most days, if I remembered to record it on days I didn't do the cooking) including recipe links. After that spreadsheet had been maintained long enough it was a treasure trove of ideas to borrow from. It also gave me a central spot to put recipes I wanted to try out.

Now that I've been doing meal planning for years I try to do multiple weeks at a time. Right now that hasn't been successful, I only did one week of planning in advance of this week's grocery shopping, but that still makes my life easier this week. I have a good feel for what's on sale at what time of year for seasonal produce and try to accommodate that when I'm working ahead of the sale flyer information. The advantage is that if I see a good sale on chicken thighs (or whatever ingredient) I know to stock up on five packs because I have five recipes using it coming up. Once I have five weeks of meals planned I repeat the cycle over again before moving on to more meals, so I get twice the work out of one plan. Some recipes that didn't turn out great get swapped out for something similar that's less work (e.g. I did a "cowboy skillet" thing once that was meh so I just did fajitas the next time because it was the same end result for a lot less work and time).

I meal plan for four nights per week. One night is a crock pot meal. I try to do at least one vegetarian meal. I try to avoid duplicating meats or cuisines within a week. If I realize that a meal idea is too similar I just bump it out to the following week instead of throwing out the idea all together.

Overall meal planning gets easier the more you do it. You find websites or other resources you like with great recipes, you can quickly figure out what will work and what won't for your family, etc.

I just can't seem to find a meal plan I like or stick to it.

Can you get more specific on this? Do you mean you just don't like the meals or that when you get home after work and you think about cooking you end up ordering out? Or something else?
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koshtra

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #16 on: February 20, 2017, 01:28:32 PM »
Possibly tangential, or possibly not: I really like Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: especially her rule that the parents decide when and what will be eaten, and the kids decide whether and how much. (You generally put a staple out there that you're reasonably confident they'll eat, bread or rice or whatever.) Saves a lot of conflict. You put the meal or the snack on the table, and they can eat it or not, but that's all they're getting till next time. I'm not interested in coaxing or threatening my kids into eating stuff -- who has that kind of time & patience? -- but I've found that eventually they'll eat most anything, if you just put it in front of them, and if there aren't any other options. (This also has the desirable Mustachian side-effect of teaching them that their food doesn't always have to be wonderfully appealing. It's just food: you eat it because you're hungry. Get real.)

SilveradoBojangles

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #17 on: February 20, 2017, 01:29:10 PM »
This is more about how I meal plan, less about children. I plan my meals around my CSA box. This is similar to what others have suggested regarding shopping sales. When I get the email that says what we'll be getting, I plan 6 dinners around the vegetables in the box and what we have on hand, and make a shopping list for the rest (my husband does the shopping in our house). I only plan 6 because invariably something comes up, and I don't want to waste food. I have some back up meals I can throw together from on hand things in the event we are home. I save all the recipes I'm going to make so that on the day of I just have to follow it. I also do some prep to get things ready when I first get the veggie box. This includes roasting veggies ahead of time, cutting things up, etc, so that during the week cooking is quick. Meal planning takes ~1-2 hours depending on how much prep there is (plus the ~30-60 min it takes my husband to go shopping). We eat left-overs for lunches.

Our meals are mostly vegetarian, but we may have ~2 meals a week with some kind of meat or seafood (if it's meat it's often more as a flavoring than the main event). We have a "meat is the main event meal" about twice a month. We eat lots of beans, whole grains, nuts, eggs, soy based protein (tempeh or tofu) and vegetables. Some yogurt and cheese as well, but not a lot. Sample recipes from this week have included: veggie burgers with roasted potatoes, chard and lentil soup, thai yellow curry, a quinoa - tempeh - roasted vegetable salad with a scallion-ginger dressing, pasta with sausage and rapini, and a white beans and kale stew.

I buy staples at Costco (canned goods, dry goods, nuts, oils, some things to stick in the freezer) every couple of months. So our weekly grocery shopping is usually composed of dairy products, things we've run out of, and the few special things required to make this week's recipes.

We may or may not have children soon, so I've thought about how to vary my approach for little ones. We tend to have 1 pot meals rather than a more traditional main + 2 sides, but I might try to delay assembly so that kids have some control over what they want to put in their dinner (and can opt out of something they don't like). Of course it depends on how picky your kids are, but from things I've read about the topic I would try an plan meals that include at least one thing that the kids will like (they don't have to like everything), everyone eating together so they are encouraged to try new things, serving vegetable courses first when they are hungry (could be as simple as carrot sticks with hummus, or a super quick pureed soup). Also, if you provide some info on what your kids like, I am happy to send you some recipes (I have many, many recipes).

skp

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2017, 01:35:47 PM »
We try to keep a full panty, buying in bulk when things go on sale- example 10 pounds of butter at a time when it is under $2.50.
I pay attention to when things go low and try to restock when the price is right.
I have a general idea of some meals, but we have a freezer full of meat that we can "shop" from.  I like the flexibility of changing my mind if I just don't want what I have on my general list.
Weekly shopping is restocking whatever is appropriately on sale and then buying perishables.
We do a lot of scratch cooking. We make our own tortillas, ketchup, bread, etc.  Cooking/ baking is a hobby. 

 I don't coupon. They don't coupon most of the stuff I buy.

rebecca527

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #19 on: February 20, 2017, 01:45:12 PM »
Thekitchn.com is going to be doing a series of articles on meal planning and budgeting soon, in the form of having real people who do this keep a diary of their planning, spending, etc. (I know this because I'm one of the "real people" who's going to be contributing.) Maybe worth following.

mm1970

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #20 on: February 21, 2017, 09:05:13 AM »
This is more about how I meal plan, less about children. I plan my meals around my CSA box. This is similar to what others have suggested regarding shopping sales. When I get the email that says what we'll be getting, I plan 6 dinners around the vegetables in the box and what we have on hand, and make a shopping list for the rest (my husband does the shopping in our house). I only plan 6 because invariably something comes up, and I don't want to waste food. I have some back up meals I can throw together from on hand things in the event we are home. I save all the recipes I'm going to make so that on the day of I just have to follow it. I also do some prep to get things ready when I first get the veggie box. This includes roasting veggies ahead of time, cutting things up, etc, so that during the week cooking is quick. Meal planning takes ~1-2 hours depending on how much prep there is (plus the ~30-60 min it takes my husband to go shopping). We eat left-overs for lunches.

Our meals are mostly vegetarian, but we may have ~2 meals a week with some kind of meat or seafood (if it's meat it's often more as a flavoring than the main event). We have a "meat is the main event meal" about twice a month. We eat lots of beans, whole grains, nuts, eggs, soy based protein (tempeh or tofu) and vegetables. Some yogurt and cheese as well, but not a lot. Sample recipes from this week have included: veggie burgers with roasted potatoes, chard and lentil soup, thai yellow curry, a quinoa - tempeh - roasted vegetable salad with a scallion-ginger dressing, pasta with sausage and rapini, and a white beans and kale stew.

I buy staples at Costco (canned goods, dry goods, nuts, oils, some things to stick in the freezer) every couple of months. So our weekly grocery shopping is usually composed of dairy products, things we've run out of, and the few special things required to make this week's recipes.

We may or may not have children soon, so I've thought about how to vary my approach for little ones. We tend to have 1 pot meals rather than a more traditional main + 2 sides, but I might try to delay assembly so that kids have some control over what they want to put in their dinner (and can opt out of something they don't like). Of course it depends on how picky your kids are, but from things I've read about the topic I would try an plan meals that include at least one thing that the kids will like (they don't have to like everything), everyone eating together so they are encouraged to try new things, serving vegetable courses first when they are hungry (could be as simple as carrot sticks with hummus, or a super quick pureed soup). Also, if you provide some info on what your kids like, I am happy to send you some recipes (I have many, many recipes).

This is a little similar to what I do now.

But I'd like to point out that what I've done has changed over time, for the last 15 years of meal planning on a budget.  In that time I've lost a bunch of weight, had a couple of babies, changed jobs, bought a house...

We used to have a CSA with pickup on Thursday, and so Friday night I'd plan meals and Saturday I'd get the rest of the groceries.  Adding one kid, and 6 years later another - changed things a bit because of the time constraints.  Our CSA closed about a year ago and we switched to a produce delivery box.

What I'd *like* to do is get the produce box on Saturday (I already know what's in it), and plan meals for the next week. 
- Look at our schedules - who works late on what day (I try to have leftovers or easier meals on my hubby's cooking nights), if there is baseball practice, etc.
- Look at the grocery flyers and see what's on sale that week
- Plan a few meals based on these ingredients.
- Look through cookbooks to try a new recipe now and again

What has *actually* been happening, because I'm super tired and over worked lately, is a lot of "winging it".  Plus I pack 3 lunches.

Rather than make recipes with the stuff that we get, I just cook and prep the stuff that we get.  This time of year:
- lettuce and greens.  I eat salad for lunch every day
- Dinner veggies: cauliflower, carrots, kale, celery, onion, broccoli

So, Monday night is always the kale chip night, because it's my hubby's cooking night, and he's good at making them.  With leftovers.
Then I just cook whatever is going to go bad first. 
Kale chips, roasted cauliflower, steamed broccoli, sauteed onions/celery/carrots, and soup or stew

So every week, these or similar veggies are rotated, and they are almost always the same.
The roasted cauliflower is really good with Mexican beans & rice, or Indian curry
The celery/carrots end up in fried rice a lot of the time
Steamed broccoli is a good side for fish or pasta.  One-pot pasta is our go-to Thursday meal (hubby cook night).

Most of the things I make are from staples like dried beans and rice.  I buy frozen fish and frozen pizza at Costco, and frozen chicken at Trader Joe's.
I admit it's a bit boring, but I'm tired.


In the past I've used other methods:
- Basing the food on the night - taco Tuesday, pasta Wednesday, stir fry Thursday, etc
- Planning meals a month in advance - sounds hard but really worked at the time, because I took stock of everything in my freezer and pantry
- Cooking 2 big meals on Sat/ Sun, making 1 extra thing for lunch for the week, and having Weds be "crockpot day"


I like reading about all the other ways to meal plan, but you just need to figure out what works for you.  And it might change.  I'm a big fan of Jules at Stone Soup.  I like reading the ideas, but generally don't use her "straight up" meal plans, just the general outline, because of the produce box.

jeninco

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #21 on: February 21, 2017, 10:27:51 AM »
Like others here, I plan a week's worth of meals with the sales flyer and input from the family. I try to plan several "can be cooked ahead of time" meals for days when we have soccer practices that end at 6, or meetings, or whatever. This time of year that means crockpots or programming the oven. (The day I realized how to program my oven for a delayed start was a big, big day.) In warmer weather it generally means main-course salads: grains and veg and possibly meat or fish. (Honestly, my brain is still on winter food -- I can't think of a single example. Oh -- peanut/sesame noodle salad with tofu and vegetables. Good at room temperature!)

I work at home, so can do some prep during the day... The menu planning means I absolutely do not wind up in a position of "oh, this really needs cilantro so I guess I'll run and get some", because the cilantro got on the list on Saturday. Or I decided to skip it. Also, the thinking part is done on the weekend, when I have some spare brain cycles. During the week, it's just execution, which is easier.

asauer

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #22 on: March 06, 2017, 01:29:42 PM »
We do something fairly simple- we do a meat CSA (community supported agriculture) where we get a box of meats delivered 1x/ month and a produce box delivered weekly (also local farm).  Here's why that's easy- all I have to do for the week is look up recipes with those ingredients and order other stuff online (beans, pasta, bread etc) though most produce boxes now have partners where you can put those things in your delivery too.  Big plus is I don't go to the store.  Like, ever.  Bottom line- no store, healthy food and limited choices make planning SO easy.

Secretly Saving

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #23 on: March 08, 2017, 11:21:30 AM »
We really struggle with this.  I'm looking forward to reading all the ideas.

kimmarg

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #24 on: March 08, 2017, 11:52:53 AM »
I like to make a big batch of freezer meals once a month or so. That way there is something to grab all made up. I use the website www.onceamonthmeals.com  There is some free stuff but most is membership. I find the membership $10/month (or one time use and cancel) worth it. Mostly because the website create teh grocery and prep lists for you. Also if you go with one of their meals plans you'll use up a lot of the ingredients with them appearing in multiple meals so you use up everything equally.

Then I just grab from the freezer and go but I have a stash to pick from.

Laura33

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #25 on: March 08, 2017, 10:51:19 PM »
When my kids were little, there was only one thing that worked for me:  lowering the bar on what I considered an acceptable "meal."  I cook, so I like to think of a "meal" as a well-balanced selection of foods that complement each other, like, say, a pork chop with sautéed apples and sweet potatoes and maybe a light salad.  When it was just me, I'd make a big pot o' something and eat it all week.  Then I married a guy who hates leftovers and anything slow-cooked and insists on meat in every meal, so I changed to more grilled/sauteed meats with distinct sides.  Then I had two kids who are Jack and Mrs. Sprat -- the only things they would both eat were noodles and dairy.  (No, I am not exaggerating)  At which point, the temptation to throw up my hands and say "fuck this and your little dog too" was overwhelming.

So instead, I lowered the bar.  I decided that things don't have to complement each other, or even go together at all, and that a table containing a protein, a vegetable, a starch, and a fruit was more than sufficient.  Since I already knew who ate what, I tried to make sure there was one thing for everyone.  This meant that almost every night there was a potato or pasta (DS), berries or bananas (DD), and hunk o' meat (DH); in fact, there were weeks we had sliced apples every day, because it was the only fruit DS would eat. And then I rotated through whatever version of proteins I found, with whatever spices/sauces I decided to make, and added whatever veggies I found that at least one person would eat.  And, you know, if I periodically put something in the slow cooker because I felt like it, or served pasta without Italian sausage or bolognese, or pulled out chicken thighs three days in a row for DS, well, too bad, it's what's for dinner, go have a tortilla or a banana or something.

When the kids got older and I could start thinking about actual recipes and meals again, I started keeping a collection of interesting recipes in a binder, which I could page through for ideas.  I also at one point made a list of main dishes and sides that I like to make, including flagging the ones that are quick-cooks vs. require planning ahead -- this was helpful when DD was old enough to start helping, because she could go through the binder and the list for ideas.  I still use the binder today, btw, when I feel like we're in a rut. 

Finally, I always focus on options that can make more than one meal.  For ex., I can grill a bunch of chicken and onions and peppers on Sunday for fajitas, then eat the leftovers for my breakfast in omelets all week, and also come back on T or W with quesadillas.  Or a roast becomes cheesesteaks, or a chicken becomes soup.  Etc.  Because then you're back to "throw a salad and some apple slices on the table and it's dinner."  Which, you know, is always good to have in your back pocket.
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Poundwise

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #26 on: March 08, 2017, 11:18:27 PM »
So true, Laura33!  Today my daughter had for lunch and snack, a pint of raspberries and a third of a cantaloupe, three boiled eggs, a slice of raisin bread, and a Laughing Cow mini-cheese.  Not a  hot, sit-down meal by any means, but certainly balanced and nutritious, and completely ample for a tiny person.

Silkspin

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #27 on: March 22, 2017, 04:19:49 PM »
    I have a few things that work for us.

    I usually plan for the week, and shop on Fridays so no one is complaining over the weekend that there's no food/snacks

    I aim to shop at Costco once a month and the list doesn't vary much - meat, dairy, frozen veg, frozen berries, coffee, pasta, bread.

    I keep a list of favourite recipes. One site said to write down your family's 30 fave recipes. There, that's your monthly meal plan! I recycle favourites based on what's in the pantry, and ask my daughter what she'd like to see on the menu. That way she participates.

    I sometimes batch recipes together over 2 days. For example, I'll make a from scratch cheese sauce for mac and cheese, and double it. Day after I add mexican spices, and make an enchilada casserole smothered in sauce (yum). I may also do a double batch rice for a meal, then next day do a fried rice. I usually buy a pack of frozen whole chickens at Costco. Roast one on a Sunday night, with root veg and potatoes. Next day I pick out remains, and do a chicken pot pie (in pie shell or over rice). If there isn't much chicken I'll add more veg to bulk it up. Then, carcass goes into a pot to make a soup base. I'm doing this right now!!


    Often when I cook, my daughter may not like the final put-together meal because there are onions or something else she doesn't like. One tip is that I used powdered onion and garlic sometimes, to avoid her picking at dinner. Also, sometimes I serve her the deconstructed version (i.e she prefers veggies raw, so I pull some out for her before I cook them for us), or I may pull something out before mixing with something she dislikes, like pasta. Then serve it with parmesan or some other acceptable substitute. I never make a different meal. I also try to have enough of her favourites so she doesn't feel like dinner time is not something to look forward to!
« Last Edit: March 22, 2017, 04:22:43 PM by Silkspin »

ChpBstrd

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #28 on: March 23, 2017, 01:44:44 PM »
We do most of the above behaviors, but the list seemed to take hours to put together. That's not acceptable when you have a toddler.

So I repurposed my old circa-2008 laptop and created a spreadsheet on the desktop called "recipie rotation". In that spreadsheet are 3-4 weeks or grocery runs worth of recipies we usually make. For each item, there is a link to the recipie blog where we found it.

Making a list involves clicking through the links for the current week's 5-6 recipies and seeing which ingredients we need. We also throw in a new one every once in a while, and throw out recipies that are a PITA or not tasty enough.

Then, when it's time to cook, we fire up the same laptop and go to the recipie.

Meals that make leftovers are sorted to the beginning of the week. We are heavy users of a crock pot with a timer and a pressure cooker with a timer. This summer, I plan to use those appliances under our back porch to save the AC!

I categorize my grocery list under the headings: "produce", "middle", "frozen", and "hippie". Crossing things off a list quickly speeds up the grocery run and discourages shopping.

SilveradoBojangles

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #29 on: April 06, 2017, 01:20:09 PM »

When the kids got older and I could start thinking about actual recipes and meals again, I started keeping a collection of interesting recipes in a binder, which I could page through for ideas.  I also at one point made a list of main dishes and sides that I like to make, including flagging the ones that are quick-cooks vs. require planning ahead -- this was helpful when DD was old enough to start helping, because she could go through the binder and the list for ideas.  I still use the binder today, btw, when I feel like we're in a rut. 


I also keep track of recipes that work. I keep it in a digital file, because I like to be able to search by keywords (for example, we are getting fennel in the CSA box, I search "fennel" and can see all the recipes I've liked before that include fennel). But when I have no ideas I just browse through it and it is really helpful for giving me ideas.

Also, Laura33, I really enjoyed reading about how your process changed with kids. I don't have kids, but we may decide to go for it soon, and everything you wrote was super helpful.

Goldielocks

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #30 on: April 11, 2017, 11:49:21 AM »
I am not good at planning menus in advance.   To save money, I found that I divided up my grocery shopping into two piles:

Pile one -- Items that do not come in a brightly box or container, or  are not expensive items from the bakery / produce section, or do not cost more than $x/lb from the meat department.

Pile two - everything else, including laundry soap and paper, snacks, drinks,etc.  (You choose what is your "basic" foods, and what is your "splurge foods").

I paid for the two piles separately at the till, using cash only for pile #2, to control the costs.  If I did not have enough, the item was put back, easily.  This cash was a budget set aside for that purpose every two weeks, and any savings could be rolled into the next week, or used for entertainment or anything.  Pile 2 was all the items bought at the super size grocery store, that we could live without for a couple of weeks if needed.



samusugiru

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #31 on: May 09, 2017, 05:15:59 AM »
I often fell off the bandwagon until I devised a looser meal plan.


Meatless mondays-usually soup,  quiche or omelette
Pasta/pizza Tuesdays- mostly vegetarian too
Curry/casserole /stir fry Wednesdays
Minced meat Thursdays -burritos,  burgers etc
Fish Fridays
Saturdays is a free day,  so often what's on special
Sunday roast.

Makes it easier for me to shop and without the menu set in stone,  I might make a casserole or a curry on Wednesday depending how I feel. 

Goldielocks

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #32 on: May 09, 2017, 11:42:14 AM »
I often fell off the bandwagon until I devised a looser meal plan.


Meatless mondays-usually soup,  quiche or omelette
Pasta/pizza Tuesdays- mostly vegetarian too
Curry/casserole /stir fry Wednesdays
Minced meat Thursdays -burritos,  burgers etc
Fish Fridays
Saturdays is a free day,  so often what's on special
Sunday roast.

Makes it easier for me to shop and without the menu set in stone,  I might make a casserole or a curry on Wednesday depending how I feel.
I like it.  Especially as the Sunday roast in my house can be the base for the next three days of food on your list.  (Soup broth, stir fry, pasta addition, and of course veggies to add to the Monday omlette!)

CloserToFree

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #33 on: June 08, 2017, 02:32:51 PM »
Posting to follow - I also struggle with meal planning and finding a system that works.  Getting a lot of great ideas on here, thanks folks!

LiveLean

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #34 on: June 08, 2017, 05:08:44 PM »
I follow the philosophy of cooking a lot of stuff at once and basically eating "leftovers" all week -- meat, veggies, etc.

Where this becomes a problem is when my father or my in-laws visit. They come from a generation where people ate fresh, homemade, hot meals every night, never replicating the same thing for at least a week, possibly two, and eating leftovers only for lunch on weekends. They also expect you to lay out the place mats, serve alcohol, and linger over dinner for 90 minutes-plus. Who lives like this anymore?

My in-laws spent five weeks with us last year and my dad just left after an 11-day stay. I'm ready to go on a long fast.

On a related note, they scoff at places like Chipotle and Panera Bread as fast food but love piss-poor places like Outback because their have wait service to bring you overrated food.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2017, 05:10:36 PM by LiveLean »
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FINate

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #35 on: June 08, 2017, 08:58:45 PM »
We sorta menu plan in the sense that DW and I discuss ideas for dishes about once/week. We have a couple dozen different dinners we cycle through - we've done them enough that they're easy and familiar, and we have a sense for what can be substituted or left out if it's not on hand. This also means either of us can do the cooking as needed. We usually try to make enough to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Getting to this point in your cooking requires practice/experience, but it's so worth it as it saves a ton of time and money (avoid spending $5 on an ingredient that you're going to use a small amount once and the rest expires). This also gives us a good sense for what types of staple items to keep stocked in the pantry. Cooking like this becomes habit.

We use an app on our phones called Our Groceries that allows us to share our shopping lists across multiple devices. Our phones are almost always on or near us so it's easy to add items if we notice a staple item is getting low, or if there's an ingredient we want that we don't normally have. The list builds throughout the week until one of us decides to go shopping. This also means one person can add an item while the other is already shopping (saved us from a return trip on more than one occasion).

We've gotten good at sticking to our shopping list. Don't shop while hungry (eat at home before you go) and don't try the free samples. If in a grocery store you should generally be sticking to the perimeter of the store where the fruit, veggies, meat, dairy, etc. are located. Similar idea for Costco - go straight to where the foods are. The idea is to get in and out as quickly as possible and to stick to the list. Added bonus: also saves time.

But the number one things that reduced our food budget (and waists): stopped eating out and stopped buying packaged snack foods. If we're really hungry (rather than just eating out of boredom or whatever) then we eat fruit or take the time to prepare something.

RE kids, and especially toddlers: The deconstructed plate worked really well for us. Let's say we were having chicken fajitas. While preparing dinner we would set aside a small amount of plain, unseasoned chicken and uncooked sliced bell peppers (my kids love raw bell peppers). We would then give them a plate with separate NON TOUCHING servings of the plain chicken, bell peppers, and tortilla. They loved this approach, and it really wasn't additional work for us. We will usually make them at least try 1 bite of the real dish because we wanted them to broaden their palate, and a single bite was usually negotiable. This, too, has worked. Now that they're older they've started eating more of the regular meals with us.

I think there's a temptation to make this type of thing into an intricate process - something that feels very organized, like you're doing it the "right way". But the right way is really whatever works for you and your family, which will take some trial and error to figure out. There are lots of good ideas on this forum to pick and choose from, but I don't think you should feel compelled to use an app (or spreadsheet, or website, or whatever). Maybe try it if you think it looks promising, but drop it if it's not adding value and try something else. Keep trying different things until you find what works and it becomes habit.

Lepetitange3

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #36 on: June 09, 2017, 08:29:15 AM »
1) we have Aldis- amazing!  My parents have Costco, so I make a trip up with mom for staples maybe once or twice a year.
2) I only go to the grocery store 2x a month.  Once somewhere around the 1st and once near the 15th.
3)  I know what types of meals I will make for those 15-18 days between trips, but don't set out a specific day for each meal because you never know what will change or when you don't mind spending an hour cooking vs 15 min.
4) I keep a few bags of pre-cooked frozen meals in the freezer (spaghetti, chili, chicken Alfredo) to forestall any need to eat out because a day randomly just went to hell and I don't want to cook.  Pop the content in the crock pot or oven or stove and dinners done

aroberson77

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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #37 on: June 13, 2017, 08:46:58 AM »
Definitely look at discount stores like Aldi, Sams Club, Costco, or BJs.  Idk if you eat meat, but it is very affordable to get chicken breasts and ground beef in bulk and then separate and freeze.  I got lucky and DW loves to cook and try new things so she usually makes a nice seasoning or sauce to put on chicken.  It makes it so we can eat chicken a few days a week and not get burnt out on it.  We also do Tacos once a week and spaghetti as well.  We do occasionally splurge on a frozen meal as well.  Our daughter is at the age where she wants to eat whatever we are having, but also likes to snack and Aldi has great prices on healthy snacks.  We buy a lot of bannanas and apples as well.

Making a meal plan and sticking to a list and a budget really helps.  Don't go to the store hungry!  You'll spend more