September 19, 2011

How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan, Part 3 of 4 | Make a Master List of Key Pantry and Freezer Ingredients

Over the four Mondays in September of 2011, I'm posting a four part series on How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan.

Menu planning is an easy way to save time and money - and stress!

If you missed the first two installments of this four part series, be sure to read them: Part 1: Make a Master List of Dinner Recipes, and Part 2: Build Your Menu Plan to Match Your Family Schedule.  

This week's topic: Create a Master List of Key Recipe Ingredients

If you've been following this series and taking the action steps I've outlined each week, you should have created your own master list of dinner recipes that you use time and time again in your kitchen and you should have also sat down with your family's schedule for the coming month and created a monthly menu plan that matches your family schedule by taking into account how much time you have each day to devote to cooking dinner. 

Make sure you have your master list of dinner recipes and a brief list of sides or vegetables that you plan on serving with those main dish recipes.

Keep your monthly menu plan handy as well because you'll need it toward the end of this week's task.

This week, our task at hand is to create a master list of key recipe ingredients.

But why?  you ask. 

Excellent question! As my answer, here's a few questions for you:

1.  Do you go to the grocery store without a list of what you need?  Once a week?  Twice a week?  Every other day of the week?  After all those trips to the store each week, do you still feel like you have nothing to make for dinner?

2.  Do you shop with a grocery list but still find yourself standing in your kitchen at dinner time realizing that you can't make XYZ recipe because you don't have ABC ingredient(s)?

3.  Do you make a grocery list based on a simple menu plan for the week without looking at the grocery store circulars to see what's on sale?  Is your grocery budget in need of some trimming as a result?

4.  Do you take advantage of sales at the grocery store and use coupons and find that you're buying items you don't really need just because they're a great deal?  And you still can't figure out what to make for dinner?

Ok, quiz time is over.  Put your pencils down, turn your papers over, and pass them to the front of the room.

{insert giggle}

In all seriousness, if one of those questions rings true (and I'd say all of those questions have rung true for me over the different seasons of my life as Mom/Head Chef/Home Manager, just so you know), then I hope this week and next week (when I will talk about saving strategies), Parts 3 & 4 of TNFM Monthly Menu Planning Series, are especially helpful to you.

It's important to realize that a critical part of building a monthly menu plan is discovering what key ingredients you need to cook dinner each night.  This is why the first week, I focused on the importance of building a Master Dinner Recipe List

Your master dinner recipe doesn't need to be filled with recipes from Julia Child's cookbook.  For example, let's say your dinner list is super simple, something like this:

:: Grilled Chicken Breasts, Rice, Steamed Broccoli

:: Hamburgers, Oven Fries, Carrot Sticks

:: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Salad

That list above (which is simple, nutritious, and a brief part of my own master dinner recipe list) gives me a starting point for building a grocery list of key ingredients, like:

:: BLSL Chicken Breasts
:: Rice
:: Broccoli
:: Ground Beef
:: Potatoes
:: Baby Carrots
:: Pasta Sauce
:: Pasta
:: Lettuce
:: Etc. (to include various pantry/fridge staples like eggs, breadcrumbs, oil, condiments)

When you menu plan on a weekly basis and you know what you'll be cooking for dinner in a given week, you can use those recipes to create your weekly grocery list. 

How this changes when you create a monthly menu plan is quantity and timing.

For example, if in a given month, I plan a Thomas Family Taco Tuesday every Tuesday night (we take our Tex-Mex pretty seriously, peeps), I know I'm going to need about (4) lbs of ground beef, (2-3) packs of taco shells, (2) lbs of shredded cheddar cheese, (2-4) packets of taco seasoning, and various condiments and fresh produce items over the course of the month.

If I then look at the rest of my monthly menu plan and see that I'm planning on cooking a doubled batch of Mini Cheeseburgers as well as Meatloaf in the same month, I know I'll need an additional (3-4) lbs of ground beef during the month to make those meals as well.

Continuing with this example, by determining how much of ground beef I'll need (approximately 7-8 lbs) that month, I can do two things:

1. Take stock of what I have on hand in my freezer and note how much more I'll need for the month.

2.  Keep an eye out for weekly sales on ground beef and/or any markdowns/manager's specials on ground beef when I'm in the stores.

To finish this example, if I'm in-store one week where I have no ground beef recipes on my menu plan but I  see a great deal/sale on ground beef, I'll stock up on it so that I have it on hand during a week I will need it based on my monthly menu plan. 

It's time to look back at my little quiz above and see if I can answer those questions.  ;-)

By taking the time to sit down with my master dinner recipe list and make a master grocery list of what key ingredients I need to make those dinners, and then by comparing that master grocery list of key ingredients to my monthly menu plan so I can estimate the quantity of those key ingredients I'll need, I will:

Q1.  Need fewer trips to the store each week to buy the items I need that week for what I'll be cooking as detailed in my monthly menu plan and on my key recipe ingredients list.

Q2.  Have what I have for each recipe/dinner on hand in my kitchen.

Q3.  Save money on key ingredients like meat, dairy, canned goods, etc, by paying attention to the weekly grocery circulars and noticing when my key ingredients are on sale for their lowest prices and then stocking up on the estimated quantity needed for the month.

Q4.  Know which grocery store sales/deals are *stellar* sales/deals for my family/household based upon my key recipe ingredient list and which sales/deals are ones I can simply pass up (and not waste any money on).

Ok, time to get your pencils sharpened (or your spreadsheet started - whatever level of technology floats your boat) and create your Key Pantry and Freezer Ingredients list by using your Master Dinner Recipe List as your source. 

Here are some ideas to help you with that task:

:: Think digital.  I love All Recipes for this task!  A basic membership is FREE.  If you're willing to invest 30 minutes or so, you can create a menu plan by dropping and dragging recipes into the days of the week (or two weeks or longer - you just have to add extra days after you reach day 7) and then generate a shopping list based on the recipes.  Easy! You can also look at the menus posted by users at All Recipes for inspiration and use those recipes/lists.  If you become a supporting member (for an annual fee), you can publish your menus for other users and create your own foodie blog, too. 

:: Think document.  No matter how you create your Master Dinner Recipe List, your Monthly Menu Plan, and your Master Ingredients list - whether online, a spreadsheet, or pencil & paper format - make sure you either print a copy, save a copy, or create a binder for your monthly menu plan, your recipe list, and your key ingredients list.  (Or you can be like yours truly who does some version of all three of those!)  When it comes time to plan a new monthly menu plan, you can use all three as a reference and avoid reinventing the wheel.  Over time, you may find that you have only a few different monthly menu plans that are based on seasonal ingredients; this can and will be a great time-saving resource for you!

:: Think flexible.  Maybe you'll luck into a great deal on zucchini or avocados.  Maybe your family size will change.  Maybe those picky toddlers will decide to grow up to be ravenous grade-schoolers (my hubs and I refer to our three kiddos at the dinner table as "The Locusts").  As always, your dinner recipe list, your monthly menu plan, and your key ingredients list (and the quantity needed of thsose ingredients) should be a tool that can be tailored to the needs of your family and to take advantage of great deals you find in-store. 

Now that you know what you'll need for your menu plan, it's time to get ready to save! 

Next week's topic: How to Save Money on Your Menu Plan Recipe Ingredients.

:: Need to read the first two installments of this four part series?  Here they are:

Part 1: Make a Master List of Dinner Recipes

Part 2: Build Your Menu Plan to Match Your Family's Schedule

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie - a GREAT weekly resource for menu plans from hundreds of bloggers!


Blondie said...

These ideas are great! Thanks for breakingthem down into baby steps.Iagree that an organized pantry is key for meal prep/

Marianne Thomas said...

Blondie: Thanks for your kind comment!

Yes, having a good inventory of your pantry & freezer is critical for meal planning/prep, even if you only plan a week at advance. A little organization really can go a long way to save time & money!

Best to you!