Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Menu Planning: An Open Forum

Since I was a kid, one of the most fascinating phenomena to me has been grocery shopping.

Ah, the grocery store--sweet haven of Nutella, fresh bread, and the baking aisle. Is it shameful that I feel contented relief wash over me when I walk into a grocery store--like there's actually a reason to have hope in the world? Then again, this was one of my favorite shows growing up. I like to think I had no chance.

Come back, Supermarket Sweep! I have missed you greatly. And your conspicuous sweatshirt Peter Pan collars.

Recently, I have decided to keep my indulgent grocery shopping in check by keeping every receipt I get, and I have done this for a couple of reasons. For one, I can track the prices on frequently purchased items, noting when they go on sale, thus saving myself a bit of money. But also, I am attempting to cut down on my instances of: "How on earth did I justify spending FORTY extra dollars on groceries when I specifically went right after dinner so I wouldn't spend frivolously?!"
Receipt reviewing...those are dark times. I usually have some chocolate nearby to abate the pain.

I am consciously aware that I need to nip this irresponsible spending in the bud. Someday, I'm going to find myself in a family as the head of the kitchen, and it's imperative that I know how to spend our limited income wisely. And this is where I'm sure that menu planning would help me out.

I'm sure most of you are much more experienced than I am in everything that encompasses menu planning: things like dictating which recipes will show up when, re-creating leftovers, and filling up your pantry on a budget. Today, I offer no words of culinary wisdom. Today, I'm asking you for some much-needed help and advice.

What is your method of menu planning?

Do you do it at all? Why or why not? If so, what is your time frame for planning? What is your format for planning--spreadsheets or a good ol' fashioned laundry list? Do you use coupons, or do you think they are they a convenient excuse for wasting budget money? How often to you purchase "splurge" items? What convenience items are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of cost? How often do you utilize a farmer's market?

I'm so eager to hear from you! I know your answers are going to vary, depending on your lifestyle and family size. But that's the beauty of this discussion--there's no right or wrong way to do it...unless you're approaching your shopping the way I am!

Thanks for your thoughts, dear friends. I don't want to be thrust out into the murky waters of menu preparation without a flashlight. Just think--YOU could be my flashlight, and together we can escape the clutches of frivolous spending and find the path to culinary and familial greatness!

Too much metaphor? Perhaps. Hints at mental instability? You bet. Aren't you glad you stopped by?!

Praying earnestly for the return of Supermarket Sweep,


  1. Best show ever! I always swore I would win that show...I would head straight for the turkeys and the diapers/formula (that's where the big money items were) Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    I don't have lots of wisdom here except I do find I do better shopping and cooking with a menu. I write it on college-lined paper after inventory-ing my cupboards (usually on Sunday night which is also grocery shopping night). I use cupons if it's for an item on my list or something I really want to try otherwise I find I spend more money that way...although there are so many cupon-goddesses out there who I'm sure will disagree.


  2. hahahahahahahaha I used to watch that show everyday! I mean every day! but I find that if i make a menu and then the list from it, AND TAKE A CALCULATOR with me I tend to spend a whole lot less. I round up to the next dollar or .50 that way you can include approximate taxes! When I do this I spend about $50 less because I see how much money is going down the toilet and it hurts me!

  3. ugh, i hate menu planning. i seem to waste so much because i only cook for two. i have cookbooks/magazines that i use those sticky tabs on to mark recipes i want. i color code them based on main course, side, dessert, etc. and on the tab i write ingredients that i don't always have on hand like and will go bad if i don't use them soon, chipotle chile in adobo, fresh herbs, scallions, leeks, cilantro, kale etc then when i buy that ingredient, say leeks, i look at all my tabs that say leeks, so i have multiple recipes that use leeks so i don't waste them. i also print off recipes to try from the internet and put them in those clear sleeve pages and keep them in a three ring binder. i keep recipes with similar ingredients together, so that if i open a can of chipotle chiles, then i have multiple recipes to use them in before they go bad. i usually plan a rough menu on sunday and pull out all the pages from my binder of meal options and set them on the counter to use that week. i also keep a white board in the kitchen to write out the menu and shopping list. i also take note of items i buy regularly and price them at the grocery store, super target, and whole foods. often times target has name brand food cheaper than the grocery store. and whole foods tends to have cheaper prices on organic brands i buy than the grocery store. world market has spices really cheap; you can get two vanilla beans for $2. i could go on and on, but i don't want to bore you. hope this helps.

  4. I menu plan on Sunday Morning - after a week pouring over magazines. Then I go throught the pantry and make a list a of things I don't have (that's actually where we spend the most money...on those ingredients that you only need a pinch of...) and go shopping.

    Tip: We have a market where you can buy things in bulk (Central Market/HEB). I can actually buy a table spoon or two of spices. Which costs me like .18 cents instead of a whole jar for like $4-5. It also means that the spice won't loose flavor sitting in my spice rack for months.

  5. Since I live alone and have a schedule such that I never know exactly how many nights I'll have time to cook/actually make it home for dinner, I don't usually plan my weekly meals unless I know that I am having company for dinner.

    However, I have discovered that if I just buy things when they are on sale, especially things like meat, cheese, granola, nuts, and other more expensive grocery items, I eat a lot better and save a lot of money.

    I also try to frequent local farmers markets and a low-cost grocery store called Aldi's (there's one in Nashville on Nolensville Rd.).

    The one thing that I do splurge on is peanut butter. There's a wonderful brand called Peanut Butter and Company that is a little expensive, but totally worth it. It's delicious, better for you than most other brands of peanut butter, and actually makes you feel good when you eat it.

  6. I meal plan for every two weeks I make a menu and make my list...if something is on sale that we enjoy I do stock up..and if something on my menu is not reasonable I do changes..i try to keep my pantry stocked..helps me save a little


  7. Thank you so much for stopping by and giving such great advice, everyone! All three of us peas, as well as our readers, will benefit from all of your wisdom and suggestions.

    Kate, I bet having a set grocery shopping day AND looking through your pantry goes a long way with both planning a menu AND saving money.

    Elise, as my bestie, I can call you a dork and get away with it! But seriously, taking a calculator along is a great idea. That's just nipping over-spending in the bud--I can't make excuses when I get up to the register!

    Ms. Surly, I like that you group your recipes together by ingredient. That's gotta majorly cut down on waste--something I'm just terrible at doing, especially with fresh ingredients.

    Mrs. Justice, thanks for the tip about spices! I don't know if I've ever seen an HEB outside of Texas, so I don't think I could take advantage of that particular luxury. In fact, I didn't even know that ANY place distributed spices that way! I will be looking out for something like that here in Nashville. Thanks for the tip!

    Thea, I'm glad to know you aren't starving over there in North Carolina! I've always wanted to make it over to Aldi, but I never think about it when I get ready to grocery shop--my car goes autopilot to the Kroger. And I LOVE Peanut Butter & Company's cinnamon raisin swirl! Oh man...I eat that stuff out of the jar--it's SO good!

    Sweetlife, thanks for stopping by! It sounds like you're structured yet flexible. There's so much value to that as well.

    Thanks for the input, everybody! Happy planning ;)

  8. Hey! I just happened across your blog via Tasty Kitchen, and as a newly dedicated Meal Planner, I just had to comment. Meal Planning has literally revolutionalized my household! I am not stressed at dinner time, we save a buttload of money, we eat healthier, and I am finding I am way more creative in the kitchen! Check out my blog for my weekly meal plans and every day musings: http://delishliving.wordpress.com/. I will be surely checking in here,as I love your girls' concept! Very fun!
    Kristin J from Canada