Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Frugal Christmas: Menu Plan

One of my most important tools for Christmas planning and frugality….

The Menu Plan.
Each October it is my goal to sit down with my menu plan folders and put together menus for every nite all the way to the end of the year. This year I am a bit behind…. I don’t have the last two weeks of the year completed yet…. But I think I have some wiggle room. My main goal is the main family meal- Dinner.
Then I fill in breakfasts for certain days…. Special family days and such. This time of year we have a pretty good pattern for breakfast…. Mondays and Thursdays are oatmeal with fruit, Tuesday is an egg dish, Friday is choice of cold cereal and Wednesday is whatever strikes my fancy that morn…. Perhaps muffins and fruit or yogurt parfaits or cinnamon rolls with gooey warm frosting…. I pencil in lunch ideas…. But this is just a jumping off point as we have found we often eat a mixture of leftovers for lunch [other fabulous often-eaten lunches here: grilled cheese sandwiches, soup and sandwiches, quesadillas, nachos, hot or cold sandwiches, salads….].
When making my menu plan I also have the family calendar by my elbow and I figure in the quick, no-to-low prep meals for the nights I know we are busiest. Crockpot meals are blessings for busy days that often flow into busy evenings.
With this busy season many families find themselves eating out or ordering take-out because they didn’t have the time or inclination to do the grocery shopping on top of everything else or they’re so tired nobody wants to cook…. Here on our homestead, our bank account and waistlines couldn’t take that. Our menu plan keeps us on track and on budget.
Once I’ve roughed out the plan, I take inventory- matching menus to ingredients and make a list of what I’m missing. This is my master grocery list. Knowing what we’re planning on eating for 6-8 weeks helps me to shop the sales- saving more money. Sometimes when I’m taking inventory, I find foodie items I had forgotten about so I tweak the menu plan a bit in order to make best use of what we have on hand. I find it always best to shop the pantry and freezer before running to the store.
As an added bonus- once you’ve done this for a couple of years, you’ll have a file of menu plans to pull from, which makes your menu planning a whole lot quicker.
[Another tidbit- during the holidays, when a friend shares a new recipe with you, file it in your holiday menu plan folder so you’ll know right where it is next year!]
If you’ve never menu planned before, I strongly urge you to give it a go now! When friends talk with me about budgets and ask how we cut costs, the very first thing I tell them they should do is start a menu plan.

Side Note:
In honor of my love of menu planning- I’ll be sharing my weekly menu plans right here for the next few weeks.
Added bonus- I’ve got some past menu plans posted here.

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