However, as a soon-to-be-married gal, I happened to be in the home of a busy young Christian couple and saw a handwritten menu for the week posted on the fridge. Right then and there, I decided that I would also menu plan. It sure helped as a very poor newlywed on an extremely tight budget. When we started out, we determined to spend $15 per week for groceries. It never would have happened without a detailed plan, and without paying close attention to what was on sale in a particular week.
Saving money is still one of the main reasons I make a menu plan every week. I usually start, just as I did over 40 years ago, by looking at the supermarket flyer for the week to see what's on sale. Then I plan my meals around what's on sale and what I have in the freezer and refrigerator.
Another reason for menu planning is to save time and frustration. If I look at my menu plan the night before or even the morning of, it helps a lot. I know what's for supper and can plan accordingly. If meat or a freezer meal needs to thaw overnight, it can happen. If it's a slow cooker meal, I can be sure the ingredients get into the cooker in plenty of time.
Okay, so now to the nuts and bolts of how I actually plan my menus. I have a printed grocery list that I use each week. I can just write down specifics as to how many, what items, etc. on the lines provided. It saves a ton of time. If you want to make a list like this, you will of course personalize it according to items that you regularly purchase. Mine really needs updating as there are items on here (like beef, for instance) that I simply don't buy anymore.
I fold the paper in half, blank side out, and then I jot down the days of the week from Thursday (my usual grocery shopping day) to Thursday. Then I begin to fill in menus for each day.
When planning menus, I also take into account what my week is going to look like. This usually saves a trip to the store or a restaurant for take-out on exceedingly busy days. If I take time to think about it ahead, I will plan an easy meal for those nights, or leave something in the crock pot.
Obviously, the meal for each day varies with the activities the particular day or evening will hold. For many years, Wednesday night's supper was always pizza along with either soup or salad. Our granddaughters went to Patch the Pirate Club at church that evening and usually got off the school bus at our house. Pizza was a favorite and they enjoyed different varieties of soups, in particular. So pizza and soup was always a given on Wednesdays as I planned.
Sunday has often meant a potluck lunch at church, so my menu for Sunday has usually included a slow cooker meal or something that will stay hot on a warming tray. On a potluck day, it will also include some sort of salad and some sort of dessert. If there is no potluck at church, I will either plan on leftovers from a previous day or make a slow cooker meal on Sundays.
If we are having company for supper on a particular evening, then of course my menu plan will reflect that.
I try to plan seasonally, too -- lots of main-dish soups or stews in fall and winter, lots of main-dish salads in summer -- and use in-season produce in my menus.
Slow cooker meals are a blessing in any busy season. I'll plan on making one anytime I want or need to be busy with something else -- be that cleaning, blogging, crafting, or some sort of ministry. It's just good to have meals that will cook themselves while the cook has to be busy elsewhere. I've even taken my slow cooker on vacation if we are staying in a cabin or cottage.
In general, I plan to serve several -- usually around four -- meatless meals each week, with chicken and fish or seafood making up the rest of the choices. I will have pasta or rice once or twice during that time. I try to vary the flavors -- Italian, Mexican, etc. Usually I will plan one "breakfast for dinner" type meal based on eggs. In hot weather, main-dish salads are a mainstay for us.
One thing I've been trying to be mindful of this summer is to pay attention to what I serve as a side with main-dish salads. Often my tendency is just to serve some sort of bread -- corn muffins, or French or Italian bread, or biscuits. I've been trying to serve lighter sides like a cooked vegetable (zucchini or summer squash) or a side salad or just sliced tomatoes and/or cucumbers. This Smashed Cucumber Salad is one quick and tasty option.
Invariably there are some menus that don't get used in a particular week. We might eat out or be invited to someone's home for supper. We might have enough leftovers to stretch for another meal or two. (Good thing we both like leftovers!) When this happens -- when there's a menu that doesn't get used -- I just move it to an appropriate day when I plan the next week's menus.
I feel as if this is just a haphazard list of tips and suggestions, but hopefully it will be helpful to someone. One final thought: Years ago I often participated in Menu Plan Monday with Laura over at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Although I've gotten away from posting my plans here on the blog, Menu Plan Monday is still going strong. Click the link and you will also find links to Laura's informative pages as to how she menu plans and why she menu plans. She considers this practice to be life-changing. Maybe you will too!