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Menu planning at home


hjshorter
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I've searched for a previous thread and couldn't find one so here goes....

Does anyone plan menus in advance? If you do, are you successful at it?

We try to, but something always screws it up. We forget to defrost the pork chops, something rots before we can eat it, we blow off the menu and go out, etc. I keep thinking it's going to make life easier and reduce the (ridiculous) amount we spend on groceries but it doesn't.

Any tips, or should I just give it up? I'm trying to reduce the number of times a week that I have to load both kids in the car and hit the grocery store at 3:30pm.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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A few tips:

1. Make a list of everything that you have in stock, and a list of everything that needs to be bought. This way you can't go wrong in at least one respect -- getting the ingredients you need to ensure that what you're preparing doesn't get lost in the shuffle because someone forgot to get the garlic (or whatever).

2. Prepare, subject to your time availability and keeping in mind the freshness factor, as much as possible in advance. This way, you won't screw up due to time constraints because you will have things on hand at your fingertips whenever you need them.

3. I would imagine Mr. Hjshorter can lend a hand as far as #1 or #2 is concerned, if things are in a pinch.

And then, there is always takeout. :blink:

I frequently do (menu planning at home, that is), but then again, I'm single with no dependents and too much time on my hands...when I'm not working.

Soba

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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I plan a menu each week, then do the shopping for the week in one run - I go to three stores (produce, grocery store, and Trader Joe's), but that's it until the next week.

It took a while for me to get the hang of planning out what to eat ahead of time, but now it's pretty simple. I look at what's in season in terms of produce as well as what looks good meat wise. Then I figure out whether there are any nights that need dinner made quickly for one reason or another - do I have an homeowner's board meeting this week, does my husband have classes? I toss in at least one new idea or recipe a week to keep things interesting, and a few old favorites as well. Almost always a meal of dal somewhere in there because we really love it. I leave a lot of lattitude with most of it - sides I make up as I cook them, same with many main dishes.

I assemble 5-7 main dishes, then figure what they would pair with in terms of produce or sides and add those in. I don't specify which day each should be made - it's flexible, except for meals that are made from part of a previous meal (roast chicken first, *then* chicken and black bean enchiladas with leftover meat). I keep a dry erase board on the refrigerator, with the menu on one side and room for anything needed at the store on the other (helps to write down "cayenne" when I'm almost out, instead of trying to remember to replace it).

This has really helped reduce the amount of spoiled food, and it's especially nice to have ideas and ingredients staring me in the face instead of having to figure out what to make as I'm hungry for dinner. It has also saved a lot of money, which is nice as we're on a pretty low budget.

Here's this week's menu (nothing exciting here, pretty simple foods this week):

Herb roasted chicken, green beans, rice pilaf

Spicy sesame chicken over bean threads, nappa cabbage

Lobel's steak (YUM!), baked potato, salad

Channa dal, basmati rice, cauliflower

Roasted vegetable sandwiches, cucumber salad

Chicken and black bean enchiladas, pan roasted corn

Gado Gado

Edited by tejon (log)

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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My mother would come up with a complete menu every weekend and we'd shop accordingly, but I think that only works when you aren't spontaneous. We were home to eat those meals every night. We did not deviate from the set menu. Period. Once I was on my own, it took me years to break that habit. I would come up with some menus, buy all the ingredients, then something unexpected would pop up most every single evening and I'd be forced to chuck all perishable aspects a week or more later. I think it only works if you're regimented. I wish I were.

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Can't say I ever plan menus much more than a day or so ahead. But a few months ago, I did prepare a list of about 50 or so dishes--everything from pizza to paella, vegetarian to roasts--and got my wife and son to rank them all according to how often they'd like to see them served.

Their responses, as you might expect, were quite different, but useful in terms of knowing for certain how much of a particular dish to prepare, and when.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I just can't plan ahead on the menu. My taste for a particular day is just too fickle. If the plan called for me to have baked chicken on a Tuesday, when Tuesday came around I would develp a sudden aversion to chicken bordering on nausea. But then, I am also only cooking for me.

I do plan to keep my "pantry" complete, however. I have lists for Sam's, the asian grocery, the latin grocery, etc. On a run to pick up coffee or whatever, I may cruise through the produce or meat section to see what looks good or is on sale that I might want to cook up on the weekend. I consider the freezer part of my "pantry"... it has packets of smoked chicken, pork invarious forms, cooked brisket, soups, stews, etc. Rice, pasta, tortillas, dairy products complete the picture.

Now I can improvise and fix pretty much whatever strikes my fancy. You might say that I plan my pantry, not my menus.

When the kids are going to be here for a few days or for other guests and cooking events, it is a different story. I plan and shop very carefully.

Edited by fifi (log)

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I just can't plan ahead on the menu. My taste for a particular day is just too fickle. If the plan called for me to have baked chicken on a Tuesday, when Tuesday came around I would develp a sudden aversion to chicken bordering on nausea. When the kids are going to be here for a few days or for other guests and cooking events, it is a different story. I plan and shop very carefully.

Don't think it is just you. One reason I don't do menu planning is a pretty strong suspicion that people around this household would tire of it very quickly--myself include. Posting a menu a week in advance would be a lot like going to a restaurant knowing they only offer one choice. Even if you really like that particular dish, you resent the lack of choice.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I menu plan out of necessity, so as not to waste money. Where I live most of the supermarket flyers come out on Thursday, so I plan my meals with the sales. If the cabbage is really cheap that week then I try to plan 1 to 3 meals in which I can use up the whole head. Earlier in the week I go through magazines/books and get ideas of what I want to cook and then choose according to what is on sale. Not including rice (which is a given at almost every meal) I try to plan a main and at least 2 sides. I try to leave a couple sides open in case I run across a good deal that I can't pass up during the aboput 3 times a week I go shopping. Most of my meats are frozen so if I run a cross a good meat/fish deal then I just don't defrost it.

We rarely go out to eat because are finances don't allow it, so it really isn't an option for us and menu planning helps me avoid that 5:00 pm panic when I realize I have 3 hungry kids and a husband on the way home! :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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We rarely go out to eat because are finances don't allow it, so it really isn't an option for us and menu planning helps me avoid that 5:00 pm panic when I realize I have 3 hungry kids and a husband on the way home! :biggrin:

I admire your menu creativity, Kris! And Soba, part of the problem is that our pantries are a mess. I am forever thinking we have something when we don't, or stocking up on X when we already have X in the pantry. And I don't even want to talk about the freezer. I've been too embarrassed to chime in on the freezer thread because ours is such a mess.

Our budget can't really take the number of times a month that we get takeout. The idea of making a list of all the meals we enjoy sounds like a good idea, Fresco.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Yes, absolutely I do menu planning. In my job, I make decisions all day. At the end of the day, I don't want to make any more decisions. When I know what I'm going to cook, I can come home, put my brain on automatic pilot and just relax into the enjoyment of cooking.

Two things about planning vs. spontaneity:

1. Sitting down on Saturday morning to sketch out a menu plan (and it really is just a sketch that changes depending on what's at the store and what mood I'm in) and make my shopping list only takes about 15 minutes, and it gives me a chance to stop and think about the week ahead. It saves me money and keeps me from wasting food, but it's also become a brain oasis, a chance to just think about what's going on in my life for a minute.

2. To keep from getting complacent with my cooking skills, I include a "pantry night," when I have to come home and make something out of what's in the freezer and the cabinets. It makes me use up all those things I buy and toss in the deep freeze, and it keeps me on my toes.

I'm the anal type, though -- I got sick of forgetting to use great stuff I bought at the farmer's market, so I often sketch a list of what I bought and stick it on the refrigerator, too. It helps me remember to use the baby squashes and fresh garlic I bought on a whim.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I have good menu-planning intentions, but they never work out.

**Either someone has to work late, in which case the menu gets deferred a night, or

**We're too tired to cook, or

**One of the ingredients goes bad, or

**We wait until the last minute to shop to avoid ingredients going bad but a key ingredient has sold out, or is unavailable.

take-out is key in my life.

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Making and keeping an inventory of pantry, freezers, etc is fundamental to professional cooking. We do a full inventory at least four nights a week with checks on particular areas more frequently. This includes shopping lists.

It's sent as a Word file and transferred to a note file in Outlook and loaded to my PalmPilot. When foraging at suppliers and stores we sometimes actually beam the list back and forth as we update it just for fun.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I have trouble planning 2 days ahead because things change. If I buy scallops, my wife gets home, says she ate sushi for lunch and doesn't want scallops....ughhh. With 2 kids and a husband I guess you can't ask opinions, you just need to serve. But what I do find helpful is to have a couple items I can cook quickly without having to go to the store or worry about long defrost times (on meat items). I always try to keep good ravioli in the freezer, and then cook it with butter and sage. You need to keep fresh herbs in the garden. Another is to keep some frozen tomato sauce (I hate ragu or prego) in the freezer....defrost in microwave and toss with pasta. Another is to keep good Italian tuna in the pantry, toss with white beans, lettuce or arugala and some cherry tomatoes.

Ed McAniff

A Taster's Journey

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We do three things

1) Large grocery store trip once a week for staples that aren't bought in bulk

2) Discount shopping once a month (Sam's) for non perishables and bulk cheese (believe it or not they have good to great bulk cheese cheap, especially hard cheese )

3) Main meat menu items (mostly fish, shrimp, crabs, pork, and chicken, beef rarely) three or four times a week. I like going to the grocery store and we usually go to the Farmers market twice a week (whole unhomogenized milk and creole cream cheese, peas, butterbeans, watermelons, tomatoes, etc.)

After writing this I think I spend way too much time thinking about, acquiring, cooking, and eating food. I need to lighten up

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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creole cream cheese

What is this Food of the Gods? It sounds delicious! :smile:

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I only manage to plan menus for special dinners, but map out the prep and shopping a few days in advance. The rest of the week, I try to find time to stop at the stores (military commissary, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, the meat counter at the Mexi-mart up the street...) and grab 2-3 days of meat, come home, freeze it and pull it out as I have time each morning. Sadly we are not as much of a veggie house as might be good for us.

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http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ark/creolecream...reamcheese.com/

Toliver,

Creole Cream CHeese is something that used to be common here in SOuth Louisiana. It is really great on toast. ALot of people put it in Lasagna (weird but stunningly delicious. Search on Google and you will get lots more info, but it is strictly a South LA thing.

The first site explains it and the second sight tells you where to get it. Mauthe's dairy is my local source (ten miles from my house) for my whole cream and unhomogenized milk. Yes I know it is full of delicious fat, but like anything else, in moderation it is delicious. People who do not know the joys of working with whole, unhomogenized milk in baking and cooking and drinking are missing one of the great joys of life. While fast food gets a bad wrap for the dumbing down of America, big dairy deserves at least as bad a whack for fobbing off tasteless white water as milk. Superpateurized heavy cream is just as bad. Pasteurization is a needed and great thing, but just as with beer, it can be overdone to the point that it cooks all flavor and texture out of milk. Bring on the craftsmen and women, say I!

Order some creole cream cheese.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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This is a standard joke in our house. Every night before my son goes to bed he'll ask me what's for dinner the next night. Every night I say I have no idea. It drives him nuts :smile:

The most I plan ahead is one night and that's only if I have to take a roast out to defrost :blink:

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Mrs. TJ and I only really plan menus when we're having folks over for one of our events. For just us, we generally buy some standby meal ideas that are quick and simple. For the weekends, we often pick out new recipes to test or spend the day making some of our time consuming repertoire recipes in bulk for later consumption (bolognese, especially).

As to what to make that night? Whatever we feel like and that we have ready to go.

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This is a standard joke in our house.  Every night before my son goes to bed he'll ask me what's for dinner the next night.  Every night I say I have no idea.  It drives him nuts

Everytime we asked, my mother would say 'food.' It stopped being funny very early. Of course years later, boyfriend asks the question.... Hate it when that happens. Like demonic possession.

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On the 14th August JAZ will present a course on menu planning in the eGullet Culinary Institute. If you would like to submit a menu to JAZ for online critique, send it to her before Aug 12. Include the main ingredients, method of preparation and ethnic origin of each dish or plate, as well as the order of courses. One menu per student -- exceptions made if time permits.

Edited by gsquared (log)

Gerhard Groenewald

www.mesamis.co.za

Wilderness

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  • 7 years later...

Menu planning is right up there with budgeting in my books - I have the greatest intentions - but like they say "the road to hell..."

So no, I don't menu plan - I struggle every day with "what will I make for dinner?"

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In our house, we don't so much menu plan as cook with what we have. We do a main grocery shop once a week, plus an additional trip midweek for more veg and milk. Once a month I make a trip to Bristol Sweetmart and stock up on store cupboard stuff like dal, rice, spices, tamarind, etc.

In the main grocery shop of the week, we tend to buy similar things each week. About 95% of my trolley is fruit and veg, for my parents it's about 75% (we share the cost by buying different things that we each use most, but we actually share the food). If there's something specific one of us fancies making during the week, then we do make sure we buy ingredients for it. We also look out of for anything particularly seasonal, so this changes what goes in the trolley. But mostly we just have a tonne of fruit and veg that's pretty much the same each week, plus a bit of dairy and a few pantry items. This combined with the staples we buy on a monthly basis gives us lots of ingredients that can be used in a huge number of recipes. Rather than planning all meals way in advance, we tend to just use what we have to make different dishes. I think experience helps here, we know what veg we like and we know how to cook it in many ways.

Weekends tend to be more planned. I tend to have more projects in mind, like pickling or making sweets. And of course there's more free time for cooking at the weekend, so I might make a special dish. My Dad also tends to do cooking projects at the weekend. For these things, we do plan what we buy to make sure we have the ingredients.

Personally, I tend to vaguely plan in my head a day in advance. This is mostly just because I like thinking about cooking and eating! If I actually think about it, I'd say I probably have an even vaguer plan stretching a few days futher. Usually I have one meal in mind, and then I plan the rest of the meals of the day around that. This is because I like to vary what veg I eat at each meal and not have the same thing three times a day. Then there will be other things that need prior preparations to be ready, so I'll plan around that. For instance I might soak some stuff tonight to grind to a batter tomorrow, so in a day or so there will be idli batter ready. So then the day after that I'll have it in my head that I should use up the batter by making utthappam. Or I might start sprouting some beans tomorrow, so I know in a few days time I'll plan a meal around them.

I can't imagine planning every meal down to the final side dish in advance! I would definitely change my mind about what I fancy. Far better, I think, to learn how to cook with what you have!

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I started doing weekly menu plans about a year ago. After I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly realized that I wanted to do most of my shopping at the Reading Terminal market, Italian market and the local farmer's market. As I could not go to any of those places on a weeknight to pick up any missing ingredients, I started menu planning every Friday. I have a long list of recipes that I have found online that I feel like trying and I keep all the recipes I have made in a database and between the two, I draw up the list pretty easily. Of course, it helps if what you feel like eating doesn't change significantly from day to day or moment to moment.

I don't consider the plan to be set in stone. I know things are going to come up or I won't feel like cooking so what I do is only plan 6 meals for 7 days. That seventh day we will eat leftovers, go out or just make something simple with the ingredients I have stockpiled. At the same time, just because bucatini al amatriciana is scheduled for Tuesday and roasted carrot fennel soup on Wednesday, I feel no compunctions about switching them if the desire so strikes me.

Overall, I think that it makes grocery shopping so much easier and it makes it easier to stay within budget than if I just went to the market and started buying things that looked tasty (very dangerous if you have been to the Reading Terminal Market before).

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