Meal Planning- This is How Mama Frog Does it (Part Two)- In which the Work Begins

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So, you have your recipes, and you have fit them into a monthly menu, right?  If not, see Meal Planning Part One- here.  You will no doubt have filled your menu with family favorites, new recipes to try and fun treats.  And if your meal plan looks like this:

Monday- Meatless Monday

Tuesday- Tacos

Wednesday- Spaghetti

Thursday- Chicken Bake

Friday- Meatloaf

Saturday- Breakfast for Dinner

Sunday- Leftovers

Well that is fine too.  Whatever menu your family is happy with.  I would suggest making sure you have actual copies of the recipes on hand.  Also make sure your menu has an extras section for any other items you make regularly, be they bread, cookies, lunches, or that church potluck every 3rd Sunday (Yep I grew up Baptist.  We potlucked).  You don’t have to have exact recipes, but you will want to list what ingredients each recipe uses.  I actually do this with recipes like my foil-wrapped chicken and potstickers.  I don’t use an actual recipe, since I have made them enough that I have evolved my own recipes.  Now here is how I like to do things, because this blog post is about my way.  You will no doubt find your own way 🙂

I like to have actual printouts of the recipes I am making.  Some of these are from month to month, some of these are new to this meal plan.  (At the end of the year I go back through the recipes we have made all year and make a book out of our favortites.  This year I plan to have one bound for my kitche.  These make great family gifts.  When my kids are old enough to move out I plan to send a copy of our family recipes with each of them).

I copy all the recipes text-only and paste them in a Word document, then I print them off.  Each recipe gets its own page.  Then they go into a three-ring binder with page protectors.  This month I need to replace my page-protectors.  They are several years old and are hard to read through anymore.  My calendar of meals gets printed as well and put in the front of the notebook.  (Don’t worry there will be pictures of this after I get my new page protectors).

Now comes the work.  I label 4 sheets of notebook paper thusly:  PRODUCE, DRY GOODS, MEATS/DELI, FRIDGE/FREEZER.  If you are new to meal planning, I suggest you also label a fifth sheet: PANTRY STAPLES.  I have been doing this long enough that pantry staples that I know I am out of go on the dry goods page automatically.  Before I even start I can add things like flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla, oil, oats, brown sugar, and other staples that I know I buy monthly.  Don’t worry if you can’t make a list like this off the top off your head.  Just add the pantry staples, that a recipe calls for, to the PANTRY STAPLES list.  Then you can check that list against what is actually in your cupboard.  If you are increasing the amount you are cooking, then you may have a couple of months that require you to purchase a lot of pantry staples while you build up a good base stash.

One by one, I go through the recipes, adding ingredients to the proper page.  Tomorrow I will post my shopping lists for you to see in their rough form.  If more than one recipe calls for the same ingredients, you can use hashmarks to indicate that you need more than one item.   Let me give you a couple of examples:  If I am making scones and biscuits in a month, I know they will both need baking powder.  One jar of baking poweder is likely plenty.  But if I am making fajitas and stuffed bell peppers, I know I will need 2-3 peppers for the fajitas and 8 additional peppers for the stuffed peppers.  So while baking powder will be there singularly, bell peppers will have XI after it.   As I continue through I will keep adding ingredients, so I may end up needing 15 bell peppers for the month.  That gives me a very concise number as a base when shopping.  If I find bell peppers on sale, I may buy extras for the freezer, knowing that we will eat them in fried potatoes or a few to keep fresh knowing that the kids love bell peppers and dressing for a snack.  But at least I know what I NEED.

I also like to have the store flyer handy when making my list.  If I need ground chicken or turkey but I see that leg quarters on sale for cheaper than I can buy already ground (and they usually are), I will get legs and quarters to take home and grind myself.  If this is not an option for you that is fine, but keep in mind that if hamburger for burgers is $5.99 a lb and ground turkey is  $3.99 a lb, you can easily sub in and make turkey burgers.  Alternatively, instead of making burgers for everyone, you can also change your meal plan to include those legs and thighs, making half burgers and half grilled chicken legs.  The key to shopping within a monthly budget for me is flexibility.  It means thinking outside the box.

Many months, because of what is on sale, you will notice that our meals are heavy on chicken or heavy on meals that don’t use much meat.  That is because I am shopping within my local sales, and planning accordingly.  My budget doesn’t change just because the food  I prefer to cook is not on sale.   Another trick is to shop two or three different stores, time permitting.  You can often find different items on sale different places, making it easier to round out your month with different options.

So send the kids out to play in the spring sunshine, take your notebook and recipes outside and get your lists roughed out.  If they are messy or you make a mistake and put an item on there more than once, don’t sweat it.  We will get there.  Consider sides you might like to make, treats and snacks.  You are halfway there!

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