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Frugalities – Menu Planning

11 January, 2008

Menu planning can save you a fortune on your grocery bill. People on Simple Savings testify to saving thousands of dollars each year simply by planning their menus.

Menu planning is simple. It is basically planning out the week’s meals in advance and then buying only the ingredients you need for those meals. It also helps prevent the 5pm “What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” dilemma.

There are some steps you can take, however, to make menu planning more cost effective.

Step One: Clean Out Your Fridge
Apart from the fact that it will prevent the discovery of “science experiments” in the back of the fridge, it also allows you to see what you have left from the previous week that needs to be used. For example, if you find half a pumpkin in the fridge you may plan a pumpkin curry to use it up. It also prevents you from buying another pumpkin for whatever you may have planned anyway, only to discover you already have one. It also allows you to gauge what foods aren’t getting eaten. If you bought six plums last week, amd five are still there a week later, then you know that they just aren’t getting eaten and it is pointless buying more this week.

Step Two: Look At Your Pantry
If you check your pantry before you menu plan you can ensure you use ingredients before their use by or best before dates. It also lessens the chance of doubling up on ingredients. How many times have you purchased an ingredient you need for a dish you’d like to cook, only to discover that you have four of them already in the cupboard! It also allows you to see what pantry staples you are getting low on. For example, when I am menu planning, I don’t write “rice” on my list every time a dish I am cooking needs rice because I know that I always have it in the cupboard. When I run out of it I write it on the list. I may not have it on the list if I am just running low on it, however, and if I have planned six dinners that week that require rice, I might be in trouble if I don’t check the pantry first.

Step Three: Check Your Calendar
Checking your calendar before you menu plan is also essential! It allows you to plan in advance for events that require you to bring a plate of food to share. It means that if there are only going to be three people at home for dinner one night instead of the usual six, you can plan a smaller meal. It means that you are not trying to cook a dish that requires a lot of preparation on your busiest day. Plan your meals around what you already have booked in on the calendar.

Step Four: Sit Down With Your Shopping List and Your Cookbooks
Now is the fun part! You have acquired the knowledge you need. Now sit down in a comfy chair with a favourite beverage. Get your favourite recipe books out and plan what you would like to eat in the coming week. Remember to write down the ingredients you need to buy on your shopping list as you go! I like to write my menu on the back of my shopping list. That way, if I have “beef mince” (ground beef or hamburger in other countries) on my menu and come across some chicken or turkey mince that is on special, I can check my menu to see if I can replace the beef with chicken in that particular dish.

You may like to plan several dishes incorporating the same ingredient, so that you don’t buy a whole pumpkin (for example) and then have half of it go to waste. Others like to plan their dinners in themes – either “Mexican week”, “Curry week” or “Italian week” or have a weekly routine of Monday: Italian, Tuesday (busy night with people going to different events): Hamburgers, Wednesday: Vegetarian night, Thursday: Fish, Friday: Curry, Saturday: Roast Dinner, Sunday: Mexican.

When you are planning your menus, don’t forget to plan for breakfasts, lunches, drinks and snacks. Snacks here are a standard fruit, yoghurt, nuts and usually one home-baked treat. I don’t plan which snacks will be eaten each day, I just make sure we have a supply of fresh, tinned and dried fruit, sachets for making our own yoghurt, a variety of nuts and a good supply of my baking staples. You might do this with breakfasts and lunches also, having the same sort of thing each day and just keeping up a supply of the necessary ingredients.

Step Five: Other Necessities
While it doesn’t strictly come under menu planning, it can be easy to get excited about your new menu and list that you forget those other non-food necessities. Make sure you have a supply of toilet paper, tissues, cling wrap, batteries and whatever other non-food items your household regularly uses.

By following these five steps you should reduce food wastage, impulse purchases and extra trips to the grocery shop during the week. These three things enable you to save money, which you can spend on other things, save or use to buy better quality ingredients.

Happy Shopping!

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