Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Planning Your Menus Will Save Time and Money

Karen at Thrifty Mommy writes that if you plan out your menus, you're more likely to cook and less likely to eat out.

She's so on the mark there, and I want to try to do better about planning menus in advance because I think that will help me save not only money, but time. I hate wrapping up a busy day at home or at work by walking into the kitchen and trying to figure out what I'm going to cook for the family.

It adds another layer of stress to my already busy and stressful life.

Today, for instance, I was really busy. And I didn't take the time yesterday to plan today's meals. We didn't have any meat thawed, and I was't in the mood for a frozen pizza, frozen lasagna or another convenience food. And I really didn't feel like cooking an involved ditch from scratch, so I ended up digging in the cupboards for something.

I finally settled on a shortcut version of chicken and dumplings, using a seasoning mix from Company's Comin'. A little chicken broth, a little butter, a can of chicken and some flour tortillas (cut in strips) and about 20 minutes cooking time, and you've got chicken and dumplings that taste almost homemade. I made a salad and steamed peas to round out the meal.

So, going forward, I'm going to try to plan our weeknight meals. This will enable me to cook from my stockpile, prep ahead of time and even assign some cooking duties to my husband. We'll also make better use of our leftovers, if we have a plan for when to use and eat them. I'll also know what and when to thaw certain meats, which is probably the thing that keeps us from eating at home more often than we do. Best of all, though, I think I'll feel less stressed about cooking because I'll have a plan and a to-do list all mapped out.

Though I'll be doing more meal planning, I don't want the process of planning to become another chore for me. My plan will be a quick blueprint of what I'd like to serve; I don't intend to spend a lot of time planning meals and scouring for new recipes. No thank you.

My husband likes to help with the cooking, and he certainly volunteers to prepare some of our weeknight meals. But that can often be hard to execute because he usually gets home later than I do and he's much less proficient in the kitchen than I am. (Read: he's slower than I am.) So, he really needs to have a dinner plan. And in some cases, it makes sense for him to do the prep work ahead of time in order to get the food on the table quicker. If we have a weekly meal plan, he can do that more easily and give me more help in the kitchen.

And believe you me, I'm going to make room in my plan for the occasional dinner out and for takeout nights. (Can't live without Chinese and Bojangles chicken every now and again!)

That said, here's my quick meal plan for the balance of the week:

Greek shrimp salad (recipe cribbed from the Green Valley Grill)
Crusty bread

Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas from Kraft Food & Family magazine
steamed corn

Grilled steak and chicken kebabs
green beans (from the inlaws' garden)
sauteed squash (also from the inlaws' garden)

This meal is thanks to last week's Lowes' Foods meal deal. I paid for the burgers, and got the buns and sides for free. We'll be inviting my parents and/or some friends to join us.

Bubba Burgers on the grill
potato salad
potato chips
Grandma Joyner's baked beans
Homemade ice cream (it's the weekend, so we'll have time to make a batch)

Cheddar Mac & Ham Casserole (also from Kraft Food & Family because my toddler loves mac and cheese, but we adults prefer something a little more upscale)
salad with homegrown and farmers' market veggies

Looking over my menu plan, I know that on Wednesday morning, I'll need to pull the shrimp out of the freezer to thaw. Once they're thawed, I'll devein them and throw them in a homemade marinade.

Also tonight or tomorrow, I'll need to pull some chicken out of the freezer for our enchiladas on Thursday. Ideally, I'd like to grill, bake or boil the meal tomorrow, so I can prepare the enchiladas quickly and throw them in the oven.

I'll thaw some more chicken and some steak beginning on Wednesday for our Friday night kebabs and get it all marinating Friday morning.

For Saturday's cookout, I don't have to worry about thawing the hamburgers because they can go straight from the freezer to the grill. But I will need to thaw some bacon for the baked beans.

Sunday's meal shouldn't require any advance prep work, which will be welcome at the end of busy weekend. And I'll be doing some grocery shopping and menu planning for next week on Sunday, so I want to minimize my time in the kitchen.

So far, I'm liking this meal planning. I generally find that when I have a plan, my life always runs so much more smoothly.

Tonight, for instance, I was able to hit three grocery stores and Aldi in about 90 minutes. I was able to dash in and out of each store relatively quickly because I left my husband and son at home and because I had lists printed out for each store and my coupons arranged in separate envelopes.

I'll let you know how well we stuck to the plan.


  1. Thanks for the link love. :)

    I saw the Bubba burgers special at Lowe's foods. I got a Hormel premade meal and some precooked chicken b/c they were bogo. These easy heat up meats will come in handy during our move.

    Those chicken enchiladas sound yummy. I'll have to give those a try.

  2. I'm certainly ready and willing (although not always able!) to help in the kitchen.

    I like your game plan -- it should allow me to help out more with the cooking. (Although I would like to point out that I already help by doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Don't want the Goo Goo Buy Buy readers to think I'm a total slacker!)