Menu planning 101

beef dishYou know the linchpin of frugal success is planning, right? This is especially true when it comes to feeding your family.

One of the biggest (and most variable) cost centres, grocery shopping is an area where a little planning can go a long way to stretch your dollars. The fine art of menu planning can not only help you balance your budget, it can keep mealtime interesting.

Menu planning is not the sole domain of the Executive Chef. You too can employ some of these same skills to run your own kitchen as effectively.

Shop at home

Before you sit down to plan your menu for the week, take a few minutes to take stock of what you already have on hand. There may be inspiration lurking on your shelves and you don’t even know it!

Not only does this help you in coming up with ideas, it will also help you use up any food items before they expire (waste not, want not!).

Cruise the flyers

What’s for sale this week? Jot down staples (meat, soups, veggies). See if you have any coupons or other savings strategy that will work to save you money.

Once you’ve determined some of the main staples that will be at your disposal, along with what you may already have in your stash, move forward to plan meals for the week.

Recipe time

I’m one of those cooks who use recipes as “guidelines” (except for baking. You can’t really freestyle it with baking. It’s science). This is handy when you are putting together a menu because it allows you to flexible, but successful when you are planning meals. It’s helpful if you can think outside the recipe box.

Get familiar with some recipe sites that are family friendly, and will help you build recipes from one or two ingredients.  Kraft is one of my favourites (you don’t necessarily need to use their products, but it gives you an idea). Jamie Oliver has some good ingredient-based search stuff too.

Wherever possible, try to make food that can be used as leftovers the next day too- double duty!