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Planning a weekly Menu can seem a bit overwhelming at first, after all, that's 3 meals a day, 21 meals per week, 1,092 meals per year and if you have a family of 4- that's a whopping 4,368 meals! There are numerous ways to plan menus, the evening before, a week in advance, 2 weeks in advance, or monthly.
What kind of Menu?:
Planning Weekly Menus - This method allows you to take advantage of weekly loss leaders at your favorite grocery stores. It is the best method to use if you have a very limited budget as it allows you to take advantage of seasonal offerings.
Loss Leaders are items that stores sell (at a loss) in order to draw consumers into the store. The premise is that the consumer will be so overwhelmed with the great store layout and offerings that they'll fill their baskets with impulse items while they're there.
Planning Monthly Menus: This is a bit more difficult (unless you use a rotating menu) and requires a bit more pre-planning as the menu is not based on the weekly sales, but bulk purchases. If you have a garden that produces well and you home-can or freeze your own vegetables and fruits, then this style of menu may be the easiest for your family.
Rotating Menus- This is the least time consuming method of menu planning, but also the most boring. Generally speaking, a rotating menu consists of 15-20 meals that are within the family's budget. These same meals are eaten and over again (hence "rotating" menu). This type of menu works well for families with very picky eaters.
How to Plan a Menu:
Start by taking an inventory of what you have on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer. (I'm not talking about a physical list, just a general overview so you know what you have available to use). This serves several purposes, first, you may be surprised that you have more food on hand then you thought.
If you have a fully stocked pantry of basic items, Congratulations, the battle is nearly won!
Make a list of what your family absolutely WON'T eat. I know that lots of menu planning articles like to focus on what you will eat or want to eat. I feel its imperative to have an idea of what they won't eat. Generally this list is considerably smaller. For us, I have a 2 choice option on our menu, take it or leave it. I've always been this way with my family and my children are not picky eaters by any stretch of the imagination. I've found that this is quite helpful when it comes to trying to figure out what to feed the family.
Scan through the sales ads of your favorite grocery stores, and jot down several meal ideas based on those specials. Since you already know what you have on hand in your freezer, fridge and pantry, you know what items you have to accompany the meals or to create main dishes.
Why to Plan a Menu:
Planning a menu saves money by reducing impromptu visits to the grocery store, which often result in impulse spending.
Menu planning also improves your family's nutritional intake as it forces you to be more aware of what you are serving, rather than staring into your fridge or pantry at the end of a long day and grabbing the first thing that will fill the gnawing hole in your belly.
Time Saver- as mentioned above, despite the fact that it takes a few minutes of time to plan a menu, it's also a considerable time saver. How many times have you stood staring into the fridge after work wondering what to serve your family?