Menu Planning 101

A few weeks back I bought a muffin mix because I’m not as domestic as my mother. I poured my mix into my bowl along with the eggs and other ingredients. Then I swung around to the fridge to grab the milk. Wait! What?!? There was no milk. I pulled on my hoodie and my flip flops and grabbed the keys. Let me tell you, 7-Eleven in East Oakland is not a fun place to be at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night, but then again, who makes muffins at 10:00 p.m.? Needless to say, these wise words will resonate with you when you reach for the milk and realize it’s still at the store.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Mrs. Hacker should be giving classes on menu planning. It’s serious business. I remember when I lived at home and she’d be preparing her menus. She would read the recipes and ask me to check if we had this or that ingredient. I’d be running all over the kitchen, but it was all very organized. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen besides snack was alphabetizing the spices. Everything is well thought out and orchestrated to be very efficient and cost-effective. With that said, I warn you that her strategy is a bit “extreme” in that it plans a two-week menu and involves a lot of time shopping at different stores, so use what parts work for you. It works for Mrs. Hacker because she lives in a rural area, so stores are not that easily accessible.

First Mrs. Hacker gets the sales papers (like the things you usually throw out if you are like me), and she sees what type of meat or main dish items are on sale. Then she looks up recipes in cookbooks and online that include that sale item. For instance, if chicken is on sale, perhaps she would choose chicken tacos and one or two others, depending on the price. Next she reads the recipes while making her shopping list to make sure she gets all the ingredients. She takes an inventory of what she already has based on the menu and recipes to ensure that she doesn’t buy more than she needs. She also lists side dishes that go well with each of the main dishes. Hint: Choosing one theme or cultural cuisine helps instead of trying to make up combinations.

When making the grocery list itself, she uses “x”s and circles to distinguish between where she will buy specific items. In the past I’ve also seen her use different colored ink pens. You could also use highlighter to color code your list. She also marks down items for which she has coupons. Mrs. Hacker shops at about seven different stores in about four to five hours one day every two weeks, so all this color coding helps her to be most efficient in each store. Aside from color coding, she lists meats first along with other cold items that would be found near the meat section, and brings insulated bags and blue ice to keep these items cold in the car while she shops. Not only does she buy her ingredients for dinners at this time, she also purchases her breakfast and lunch foods as well as household items like toiletries and pet food to avoid additional trips to town.

After developing her menu and grocery list, she posts her two-week menu on the refrigerator. Each morning she chooses from those meals on the menu, so she can thaw what she needs to prepare dinner later in the day. After she prepares it, she just marks it off her list so she knows she’s already made that meal.

By taking about a full day to plan and shop, you can save a lot of money and time that would be spent running to the store for missing ingredients. Instead you get the health of home cooked meals, and the joy of eating (and sharing) something you made yourself.

We hope you have enjoyed Mrs. Hacker’s tips, and that you will use these tips in whatever way works best for you. Let us know what you think, like and share us with your friends and family. We look forward to hearing from you.