Leave me voice mail feedback at: 971-208-5493Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kitchencounterpodcastTwitter: @TKCpodcastEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org Kitchen Essentials: Menu Planning This kitchen essentials is about menu planning. This was a request from a friend and listener, BJ. She wanted to start getting back into the kitchen but was looking for some insight on menu planning. Here you go BJ, thanks for the suggestion! My philosophy on menu planning: I don't want to give you a template or a routine to follow. I want you to put some thought into your goals, and what kinds of methods work best for you. From there you will be able to adapt my basic menu planning process to suit your style. So why is menu planning so important? Menu planning will bring you the following benefits: Save time (fewer trips to the store, fewer impulse buys, fewer trips for takeout) Save money (buy only what you need that week, less wasted food) Eat more nutritious food (you can plan in advance what you are eating and rely less on spur of the moment decisions that may be less healthy) Have more success in the kitchen (yay!) Before you start a menu planning process, you need to figure out what your goals are. Do you want to try to make every meal at home during the week? Are you only planning for dinner? Are you looking to ease into home cooking by maybe making three dinners at home per week? Do you already cook a lot at home and are looking for ways to make your meals go farther, or save money each week? Chances are it's a combination of things, but it's important to understand what you want before you sit down to do meal planning. Think of menu planning as a process that you'll start out slowly and build up week after week, until it really becomes part of your routine and you are fulfilling the goals you've set for yourself. I would encourage you to skip fancy apps and programs and start with good old fashioned pencil and paper. By doing this you'll really start to understand what goes into your meals. Start with Brainstorming If you are starting from scratch, I'd first start by doing some "brainstorming" work. Take a blank sheet of paper, and make two columns. In the first column list out all of the dishes you know how to make and might want to include in a menu plan. In the other column, list dishes you don't know how to make (but would like to learn), and might want to put on your menu plan. Unless you are planning to make every meal at home from scratch, you should also include those meals you prepare at home but aren't entirely "homemade," e.g mac and cheese from a box, spaghetti with jarred sauce, etc. Remember the goal here is to help plan a menu, not just list out those things you'll make at home from scratch. As tome goes on you may find yourself wanting to make mac and cheese from scratch, and you can start to make that instead of the boxed stuff. Step by step is the way to a successful menu planning process. After you do some brainstorming, I recommend building the list over the coming weeks so you really start to put together a big list of dishes to inspire you each week when you plan. These are your "stable" of dishes to pull from and put in the rotation, which you can then supplement with new or experimental dishes as you see fit. When you start to think about what to put on your menu, start thinking about the ingredients that can be used for more than one meal. Pork roast can do double duty with potatoes and carrots one night, and then go into pork tacos another. That amazing tomato sauce you made is great with spaghetti, and will also be a great base for Spanish rice. Throw some chicken breasts in the crockpot and make pulled-chicken sandwiches one night, and use it as a topping for BBQ'ed chicken pizza another. I think you get the idea. Another good one: get a salad spinner and always have some green/red leaf lettuce on hand for an easy and quick side salad (once you wash and spin it, store it in the fridge for a week and it's ready to go)! Time to Menu Plan! Ok, so now that you have a list of dishes from which to draw from, let's make a menu plan for a period of time you'd like. In our house, we generally make a plan that starts with Sunday, and ends with Friday (Saturday is usually an open day where we are free to do whatever we want). Following this model, write down each day of the week with some space for you to put down the meals for that day. Think about what you have going on that week that will affect your menu. Do you have a late night on Wednesday and you won't be home to cook? Well then be sure not to plan a meal at home for that day. Do you have a day where there will be fewer (or more) people for dinner? Be sure to take that into account. There are times where I won't be home until later in the evening, so we only plan a meal that is enough for my wife and son. Start writing down the meals you plan on having for those days, including those meals you don't plan on making yourself (eating out, etc), and note which dishes or items will be used for multiple meals. Menu Plan Grid Shopping & Lists Then after you have those meals listed, you can start to build a shopping list based upon the dishes you'll be preparing. Be sure to check your pantry for items you may already have so you don't buy more than you need. We try to do all of our shopping for the week on one day so we don't have to run out to get things during the week. It maximizes our at-home time in the evenings so we can spend more time with the family. The exception as I noted before is if we need to pick up any items that day for dinner for freshness reasons (e.g. fish). Keep in mind when shopping to be flexible; if the peppers you planned for your veg side don't look fresh, but the broccoli right next to them looks delicious, don't be afraid to switch it up and sub in the broccoli. Also be aware that when you menu plan and shop, try to use the more perishable items earlier in the week, and in some cases, you may not want to buy a certain item until the day you plan to make it. A good example: you want to make a nice baked salmon dish on Friday, it would be a good idea to make a quick stop at the fishmonger's or grocery store to pick up the salmon that day, rather than say, buying it on Monday and leaving it in your fridge for four days before you make it. Great resource for shopping lists! Tips: -Build a list of the items you regularly need for dinners in a word processor or spreadsheet, and you can print off multiple copies to use throughout the year without recreating a list each time. -Checking out ads for what is one sale at the grocery store can help give you ideas and inspiration for what to put on your menu for the week. -Make sure you keep your menu visible throughout the week (perhaps put it on the fridge or family bulletin board) so you can refer to it and remember what you are making that week! -Leave some flexibility in your menu plan (e.g. maybe leave an "open" night for whatever you feel like doing; getting a pizza or takeout, or throwing something together from whatever is leftover in your pantry at the end of the week). -If you need a little more strucure to guide you, try designating certain nights for certain types of meals (e.g meatless Mondays, pasta Wednesdays, fish Fridays, etc).