I wish when I was a much younger woman that I had more self confidence in my cooking skills. As my favorite chef, Jacques Pepin has said, "no one is born a chef". Truth is, skills only get better with practice. As I finally decided to TRY to teach myself how to cook different things, I needed to be more specific with my shopping lists for the week. So, my menu planning began. Oh the money and time I would have saved if I had done this when all the kids were home! But, better late than never seems to be a mantra of mine so... Maybe some of you can learn from some of my mistakes.
Planning with Purpose - For me, the start of the menu planning was because I wanted to try a new recipe every couple of weeks at first, so I knew I needed to do this on a day that I wasn't going to be knee deep in anything else. I wanted to allow time to get things right. No stress. So, I looked at a calendar for the next two weeks and picked the day(s) I would try the new recipes. I wrote these in those days. Then, the other days I added my same old things that I would usually cook. Putting super simple meals on busy days and then adding days that we might eat out as well. I tried doing a month of menus, which didn't work for me because life is unpredictable and it was harder to keep things to the menus. For me, it's worked best just planning a week in advance, two weeks tops.
Planning for Ease - After a while, I had so many new recipes that I loved that I made a spreadsheet of meals with the names, where they were located (cookbook, magazine or a notebook I put together) and the date we had it last. This way I could always make different things and not have the same thing too often. Needless to say, planning a menu is super easy now. I can look at a list and plug things in the right days and boom, I have a menu! Also, when you have a week of meals and the supplies for those meals, you can switch them up if something comes up. Less stress, more easy meals. Now that I am working, even though it's remotely, I am so glad I took the time to do this before. I am still adjusting to being able to really cook on the fly, but, the menu plan helps so much more. *It's awesome to have a menu plan when you have special meals, too. You can shop ahead and special desserts or other things that can be prepared ahead, you will have all the items for!
Planning to Save - I also have learned to plan the menu around things that are on sale or in season as well. I shop once a week normally. I am careful that if there is special produce needed for a meal, that it is closer to the time I purchased the food. (Less chance of spoiling). Also, sometimes I have a lot in the freezer and I need to plan around what is in there to save money. Helps keep me from purchasing too much and forgetting what I have buried in there! Sticking to the the list for the menu and other items you may need helps keep the spontaneous spending under control, too. You HAVE to go through your pantry/fridge to see what you have when you are looking for a certain meal to see if you have everything you need. Therefore you don't purchase another bottle of ketchup, because one is already in the pantry!
Nothing is perfect...and I still make mistakes. I have forgotten items (even those that are written on the list), things have spoiled when I didn't think they would and I have bought that extra bottle of ketchup even though I looked and didn't see it right in front of me in the pantry. But, there are less "have to" do things a certain way due to lack of planning. I am not trying as many new things as I was before I was working, but, I also have just a hubby to cook for these days and sometimes we just want to have Taco Bell and that's ok too!