Menu-ing? Menu-ing is something I have done my entire adult life. Our tradition was to sit down to dinner every night as a family but, of course, as kids got older and jobs, activities, and commitments changed, that also changed. The only standing tradition has been Sunday / Family Day. It has evolved over the years – sometimes we went to church and then we didn’t, sometimes we got up early and went to breakfast or brunch or we slept in and went to lunch. Now, it is lunch out, then grocery shopping and back to one of our apartments for laundry, family time, Sunday Dinner (now called Sunday Roast because my Heart is British and that is what he has traditionally called it), TV shows (we often pick a tv show that we all enjoy and watch it together – Amazing Race is one of them), sometimes games, etc. I should say, my kids are both grown (one is 28 and one is 32) and they have their own apartments and my son lives with his girlfriend. That said, we still all go to lunch and grocery shop together. It always gives me joy to watch them talk about Their menus for the week – watching them plan out what they are cooking and how many lunches will come out of each meal and what’s on sale. There are conversations about monthly / weekly budgets, etc.
So why menu-ing? It is apparent that I love to cook and for years I collected cookbooks but what is the use of having cookbooks if you don’t actually use them? So years ago, I made the decision that I would make two-to-three new recipes each week. After making the recipe I would make notes and also ask the family if they wanted to have that dish again, “is it a do-again?” One day my kids said, “Mom, why do you ask that? We never see recipes again, even the ones we loved.” (smile)
Also, menu-ing saves money. Before my grocery trip, I look at the circular for the grocery store I shop at and make my menu based on what’s on sale. I also don’t make any extra trips to the grocery store during the week – you know that you go to the store for one or two things and always leave with more. At times over the years I also used coupons to save even more – now I look for digital coupons.
Menu-ing also saves money because you are far less likely to decide to eat out or get take-away. If you are leaving work or driving home and thinking – “What am I going to make for dinner?” Oh, that sounds good but it is frozen… There is nothing in the fridge… We had that a couple days ago… Oh, I want to make that but I don’t have… etc. etc. So pizza (or Chinese or fast food) wins. If you know what to take out of the freezer, if you have a plan – it is much easier to be not be tempted, especially if you are trying to eat healthier and / or are on a budget.
- First I look at our calendar – What’s on schedule for the week? Is one of us late one night? Out of town? Evening commitment? Then I know how many days I am cooking and it also lets me look at where my daily lunches are coming from. I have also set “theme” dinners (like Fish Mondays) to help keep on track with improving our health, etc.
- For my menus, instead of pen to paper, I now use Evernote. I love Evernote and use it all the time for both home and work. The best part is that it syncs easily with all my devices so I know that if I update something on my laptop, it is updated on my phone, PC at work, and iPad. LOVE.IT!
- As you can see above, I also keep notes about different things in my menu page, including things in the fridge and freezer and ideas I don’t want to forget.
- Once our calendar is set, it is time to look at the weekly sale circular and coupons.
Coupons and Circular:
- The store that we usually shop at, Martin’s Foods, has a bonus card that is tied to a login. They offer “coupons” that I can load onto my card online – it is very convenient.
- Most grocery stores have their circulars also online, so you can plan recipes based on what’s on sale.
- There are also websites that offer coupons.
- I usually start with the meat / fish / poultry section and then start thinking about recipes. I also look at the vegetable section for side dishes. We don’t use a lot of processed foods, but I do take advantage of sales in things like canned broth and side dishes like couscous.
At one point in my life I owned more than 200 cookbooks. (And many of them are still around but my kids have them.) I would read cookbooks like novels, putting post-it notes on recipes I wanted to make. That meant I could write notes when I actually made the recipe including dates, changes, etc. What changed? Space and the World Wide Web. First, the apartment where I live with my Heart is 800 sq. ft., which means there isn’t a whole lot of space but my quest for recipes didn’t quit and the Internet basically opened up the world. Besides online food sites and digital food magazines, there are thousands of food bloggers out there. You can Google any dish and get hundreds of suggested pages. It is fantastic. For a long time I would just copy them and put them in Word documents but that took up space and wasn’t easy to index, etc. Then PINTEREST happened and voila a digital “binder” with an easy way to “grab” recipes I am interested in making. Still not easy to index but I can create Boards that are based on some specific theme and that helps. I LOVE my Pinterest boards and it gives me an outlet for the recipe collector / hoarder in me.
I Pin recipes I am interested in and when I decide to make a recipe I then copy the recipe to a Note in my Recipe Notebook in Evernote. Everyone makes it easy for me to search for recipes I’ve made based on tags and a robust search capability and also let’s me make notes, like I used to on those post-it notes in cookbooks, including when I first made the recipe, what the family thought, and any notes based on my own process. (I am not good at following recipes exactly, which is why I also post the “inspirational” recipe – there are tweaks just based on our taste, available ingredients, absent-mindedness, etc.)
A quick note about creating a grocery list – I use Grocery IQ. It is an app that is cross platform, which is what I like about it. It is a little glitchy when using it across platforms because it can create duplicate favorites, etc. but, in the long run, it is worth it. I love being able to have my recipe open on my laptop and just creating the shopping list and knowing that it is on my phone and my iPad once I get to the grocery store. Also, I can open it wherever I am, i.e. at work, if something I need pops into my head.
So that is how “I” menu. Of course, things happen and things “move” to the next week and things change and I make something different from the ingredients but it gives the week a plan. I will be posting menus including recipes during this coming year including “here’s what I planned and here’s what happened”. I hope that it inspires you to try menu-ing. If you are cooking for a family, try including them in your planning – I’ve had friends who did a Kids Cook night, etc. Engaging children in meal planning teaches them about cooking, nutrition, budgeting, and more. I look at my adult kids and am glad that I shared all this with them over the years.