Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Real Simple Menu Planning & Grocery Shopping

I love to cook, watch Food Network, read food magazines, and try new recipes. So, it was inevitable that I would become a menu planning and grocery shopping expert. In fact, funny story - last year Brent and I were in a "growth group" at church. As a culminating activity, we did a survey and helped each other find our spiritual gifts. One person in my group insisted that "domestic planning" was my gift and that I should teach classes on the topic! Pretty sure that's not a spiritual gift, but I was flattered anyway. But don't wasn't always that way! Just ask Brent.

I remember when Brent and I were dating and both living in Houston. I would make dinner for him some nights at his apartment. I had NO IDEA what to make him or how to make it. I grew up eating home cooked meals, but my mom always made it look easy, and I had no idea what I was doing. I remember one particularly desperate night where I actually went to Barnes and Noble and bought a cookbook at like 6:30 pm to figure out what to make that night! That was back when I thought cookbooks were the only places to get recipes. Thankfully, I've come a long way since then. Now, I really don't use cookbooks at all. They are bulky and not user-friendly. There are tons of recipes in there that you will never cook, yet you have to lug that book around and search forever to find the recipe you're looking for. So, I made up my own system of recipe collecting, menu planning, and grocery shopping.

Recipe Collecting:
I get most of my recipes from the three food magazines I subscribe to: Cooking Light, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and Everyday Food. Occasionally I also get recipes from blogs or online. Food magazines are great for recipes, but only if you have a pretty clear system for getting the recipes out of the magazine and on to your plate. At first, I let magazines stack up in my living room. Then I was like, "Oh... there was that chicken dish I wanted to try. What magazine was that in? What month? And where is it?" Not exactly efficient. So... enter the binders. I have three binders with dividers for each recipe category. One binder has chicken, beef, pork, and turkey. Another binder has seafood, pasta, and vegetarian. The last binder has appetizers and desserts. These binders contain everything I make and want to make. Every month, I go through my magazines and rip out all the pages I want to try. Then I throw away the rest of the magazine. I file the pages in the divider categories where they belong, and then I have a collection of old favorites and new ideas that is ever-growing. A few times a year, I clean out the binders and throw out all the recipes that are not good or that I know I will never make.

Menu Planning:
Once you have a recipe collection going, you need to make a weekly plan. I used to do the "what are we having tonight?" routine and go to the grocery store almost every day. Miserable. I forced myself to get on a Sunday plan, and it is heaven once you get it going. On Sunday, I sit down with my binders and a notebook. I then flip through my recipes and decide what I want to make.

On the left side of the page, I plan out dinners for all nights we will be eating at home. I try to have a balance in the week: Usually one chicken, one seafood, one pasta, and maybe one vegetarian or soup. Once I plug in my dinners, I plan my lunches. If I'm planning to make something like a pot of soup that I know will have leftovers, I pencil it in for lunch for the next one or two days. Finally, I think about my breakfasts.

After I've got my weekly plan made, I get out the recipes and make my grocery list right away. My grocery list is always on the page opposite the menu plan, and it's always on the grocery store matrix. I give ultimate credit to my mom for the grocery store matrix which she has used forever. The grocery store matrix divides your list into the sections of the grocery store which makes shopping quick and easy. The top left box is produce, top right is dairy, bottom left is pantry or middle aisles, and bottom right is meat, frozen, and drugstore items. If you try the matrix, you will never go back. I also include a little section for things I need to buy later, like at Whole Foods. Brent picks those items up for me during the week. I always like my produce box to be the fullest box, which indicates that I've planned a healthy menu with plenty of fruit and veggies. Success. Then, on Sunday afternoon, I go to Kroger and pick up everything I need for the week so that I do not have to return until the next Sunday! It is so nice to come home from work every day and already know what I'm going to make and that the ingredients are purchased and ready to go.

Although it takes a little pre-planning and some commitment, this recipe collection / menu planning / grocery shopping system WORKS!! It saves time, helps you eat healthier, and helps you save money because you're not eating out or going to the store every day to buy random things.

If you want to check out menu planning on steroids, check out my friend from college, Shayla over at design finch. She has seriously one-upped me with her menu planning. Granted, she is a graphic designer, but wow... check out this weekly menu! My system might be real simple, but hers is simply amazing! Be sure to scroll down and see the menu in all of its beautiful glory.

Tomorrow: Real simple ways to arrive at work in a spiritually peaceful state of mind.



Shayla said...

Thanks for the shout out (as I blush)! Man, I want to go grocery shopping with YOU. When I first read the word "matrix" it brought back horrible flashbacks from math class, but what a genius grocery list idea. I certainly agree that you are gifted in the domestic planning category and I would totally sign up for your class!

Julia said...

Bahaha the "matrix" - you made that name up! It's famous now. Is Mom going to get royalties?

I prefer the "run through the store as fast as you can matrix-free" method because I love the cooking, but hate the shopping. I literally do drive-by grabbing of things off the shelves without stopping the cart. Little old ladies, watch out!

PS - you put Martha Stewart to shame...

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