"What's for dinner?" The eternal question.

Meal planning can seem like a huge chore, but not compared with the daily stress of trying to decide what to cook at the last minute.

Making a Menu plan can not only save time in the kitchen but it can also save you money, cut down on food waste, save time, cut down on trips to the supermarket... The benefits are virtually endless!

Daunting? Yes, but we all already know that sticking to a list cuts down your spending and means you save time and money. Planning a menu needn't be a huge and all consuming task. Start small. follow the K.I.S.S. principle, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Don't start by building a huge database of all your recipes, cross-linked with ingredient lists. Baby steps. Start with just 1 week.

Time Management

Seven meals, one trip to the supermarket. Slow and steady wins the race. don't make plans for the full year, you'll fail. 1 week, just 7 days. Okay? Good.

But... Where do you start?

Confusion

Menu Planning Basics

Okay, it's planning day. Time to rough out a simple menu plan.

The goal is two-fold: shop efficiently to obtain food required for seven dinner meals, while minimizing expenditure, cooking, shopping and cleaning time. Here's the overview of the process:

  • Scan the food ads (newspaper or online) for specials and sales. Rough out a draft menu plan: seven dinner entrees that can be made from weekly specials, side dishes and salads.
  • Wander to pantry and refrigerator to check for any of last week's purchases that are languishing beneath wilting lettuce or hardening tortillas. Check for draft recipe ingredients. Review your shopping list and note needed items.
  • Ready, set, shop--but shop with an open mind. Be ready to substitute if you find a great deal.
  • Return from shopping. As you put away groceries, flesh out the menu plan. Match it up with the family's calendar, saving the oven roast for a lazy Sunday afternoon, the quick-fix pizza for footy night.
  • Post the menu plan on the refrigerator door. Refer to it during the coming week as you prepare meals.

That's it! The bare bones of menu planning.

You've made a draft plan, shopped from a list, retained flexibility in the marketplace, firmed up your plan and held yourself accountable.

Stay Flexible

Menu plans aren't written in stone. So you're dodging cramps on the "big" cooking day? Swap it out with Pizza Night and go to bed early with a cup of herbal tea.

With meals planned and ingredients on hand, it's easy to juggle your menu plan when circumstances require. Staying flexible--while being prepared--brings calm to the kitchen!

Make It A Habit

Simple or not, a menu plan won't help you if you don't make one. Weekly menu planning is a good candidate for a new habit: an action on "auto-pilot" that you engage in without thinking.

Get into the habit of planning menus before you shop, and you'll get hooked on the ease and convenience--an addiction of great value!

Recycle Menu Plans

After you've made menu plans for a few weeks, the beauty of the activity shines through: recycle them! Organised by main ingredient--chicken breasts, say, or steak--completed menu plans make it even simpler to plan and shop for a week's meals.

Tuck completed menu plans in a file folder or page protector in your household notebook. Next time chickens are on offer at the supermarket, pull out the plan you made this week. Done!

Group Plans by Season

Over time, weekly menu plans will setting into two major groups: menus for warm weather, and fall/winter menus. Try to assemble six to eight plans for each menu "season"; most families do well with that much variety--and no more.

For instance, a great special on minced beef signals grilled burgers and burrito bar during warm-weather months; spaghetti during the cold season.

Include both variations in your menu stash for re-use next time you spot minced beef at a bargain price--whatever the weather!

Make the Move to Monthly Menu Plans

Once you've flexed your menu planning muscles with a few weekly plans, consider moving from weekly to monthly menu plans. It takes only a few more minutes to add the additional three weeks to your plan; doing so saves time all month long.

Longer-term menu plans are slightly more complex, relying as they do on freezer and pantry. But by reducing trips to the store--and maximising use of food on hand--they bring superior savings and convenience.

That's about it.

GET PLANNING!

(Heavily plagiarised from OrganizedHome.com click for original)