Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How To Make A Monthly Meal Plan, part 2

If you missed it yesterday, read part 1 here.

In the days before the first monthly trip I had come up with our menu. Our menu is a simple one, listing only the dinners that we will be having since Little Man and I eat leftovers for lunch and breakfast is either cold or hot cereal. After compiling the selections, going through all the recipes, and writing a comprehensive list of ingredients needed, I then checked the list against the contents of our fridge, freezer, and pantry. Various items were adjusted and the list was divided into two parts. After taking stock, I added to my portion of the list any household items that might run out in the next four weeks. We were ready.

While writing out my lists I tried to keep it as organized as possible by grouping like items together. The cold section (Dairy, Meats, and Freezer) I gave to Hey, Babe. It is a shorter list, covering a much smaller portion of the store, but it is nearly as time consuming since you need to check a lot of dates. I took the dry and canned goods as well as the household products. Starting at the farthest aisle first and working my was toward the registers, I got all the things on our list. The cart was very full, and quite heavy. I had strategically placed everything in to make sure it would all fit.

When I was done, I realized that it hadn’t taken me any more time than it normally would have. I still needed to walk down nearly every aisle, but while I was there I was taking several items, or several of the same item, rather than just one. Checkout took a little longer, (understandably so) but even that didn’t take nearly as much time as I had suspected it would. The whole trip (not including traveling, but including loading up the car) had taken about 45 minutes to an hour.

Upon arriving home again we found ourselves faced with the task of storing all the groceries. If it weren’t for our second fridge in the garage, this would have been much trickier. As it is our freezers ended up very full because we had to stow three 1-gallon jugs of milk and four loaves of bread in one (yes, we freeze our milk and bread). Everything else we tucked into place in our cabinets in as organized a fashion as possible and we were then done. For the next four weeks we had everything that we were going to need with the exception of produce.

We have been doing it since. We just shopped for our twentieth month’s plan and while there have been some forgotten items, extra items, nights we didn’t feel like any of the options on the plan, etc. it has made our lives so much easier. At 6 o’clock on any given night we have a fully loaded kitchen, ready to make any number of meals. It even has a convenient list of meal options still available clipped to the fridge.

It has gone so well that once after having written out the menu and corresponding grocery list we arrived at the store to discover we had forgotten the list at home. If we turned around and went home to get it, that meant a 40 minute round trip and losing our window of opportunity for shopping during a low traffic time, so we did our best to get what we thought we needed. We only forgot 5 things (though I think we had some extras of some others).

Are there nights we don’t want to eat the menu? Absolutely. Are there nights I don’t want to cook? Yup. Do we sometimes toss the plan to the side and order takeout? Don’t tell anyone, but yeah. Life happens. Kids interfere with your timetable and it becomes too late to start what had been on the plan, or you forget to defrost the roast that was supposed to be for dinner, or maybe you remembered to pull it out but the darn thing is for some reason still frozen solid. It happens, but because we know that it happens, I try to make sure that there are a couple of easy standbys in every month. Things like breakfast for dinner, or even just holding onto a couple of cans of soup for something quick and hot.

We don’t stick to our menu verbatim. If we are suppose to have Chicken Tacos on Tuesday, but I decide to make Thursday’s Beef Stew instead, it isn’t going to be the end of the world. I do, however, try to stick to the current week but that for the sake of the weekly produce more than anything else. For some families that kind of flexibility might backfire. I don’t have readers (yet) but if my kids were older and looked at the menu to see their favorite Spaghetti with Meatballs as tonight’s dinner they might balk at discovering we are instead having Vegetable Soup and no longer want dinner. It isn’t something I have experienced yet, but it is something to keep in mind for the future. Maybe by then I’ll be better at sticking exactly to the plan, but don’t hold your breath!

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