Here is my step by step process for planning my weekly menu and grocery shopping. Ready?
I hate to waste food, so the first thing that I do is look in my fridge and cupboard to see what I need to use up. This is especially important with fruit & vegetables; I know if I don't eat or freeze this stuff it's going to go bad. If you are like me and belong to a CSA, or if you hit up your local farmer's market on Saturday morning, you probably already have a bunch of veggies in the fridge that you'll need to use.
When I took inventory this week, I had leftover tofu, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, cilantro, basil, bread, and potatoes. Whew! It might sound overwhelming to think of meals to make with a set ingredient list, but I actually find it easier. In the winter months when I don't have the supply of veggies in the fridge I am literally starting with a blank canvas- I could make anything! Knowing that I have certain ingredients I need to use really narrows things down.
Step Two: Think about what you feel like eating.
Maybe I saw a recipe from a fellow blogger I want to try. Or maybe I am really craving a particular type of food (hello, Mexican!). Or maybe a combination of ingredients I already have in the fridge is calling my name. For example, I saw that I had cherry tomatoes, basil, onions and bread in the fridge. That made me immediately think of Panzanella Salad, a delicious bread/tomato/onion combination.
Step Three: Write it all down.
I literally take a pen & paper and write out a list of what days I will be making dinner, and start filling it in. At the same time, I start making my grocery list and write down the ingredients I need to buy for those meals. When I am writing out my meal list for the week, I make sure to use up the ingredients first that will spoil first. For example, the fresh basil I had only lasts for a couple days, so I knew I needed to make my Panzanella Salad first.
Now we are at the point in the process where I take a glance at my grocery store circular and see what is on sale. Maybe there is a great price on one of my staple items so I want to stock up. Matt eats cereal every morning, so I like to see what brand has the best price. You get the idea.
At this point, I also take a look in my cupboard and see what I need. I make sure I have items like olive oil, eggs, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, peanut butter, and tuna on hand because I eat those foods all the time. If I see that something is running low, I'll add it to the list to replenish my stock. And yes, mom, I know I spelled mozzarella wrong on my shopping list. For some reason I have been misspelling that for years and haven't been able to break the habit. Help!!
I try to stick with my list at the grocery store, but I usually buy a small fun item for myself too. I don't want to feel like I'm in food jail. This week, I saw these Larabars were on sale that I've been wanting to try, so I grabbed a couple.
It's a great feeling to be done with your grocery shopping, and know that you now have the ingredients to make a week's worth of dinners. I am leaving for Charleston on Thursday to visit my sister (yay!), so I only planned meals through Wednesday. Here is my menu for this week:
Friday: Panzanella Salad with Tofu
Saturday: Tabbouleh (recipe coming later this week!)
Sunday: Burrito Bowls with homemade salsa
Monday: Zucchini Egg Bake with roasted potatoes
Tuesday: Eggplant Lasagna (experimenting with a new recipe)
Wednesday: no cooking- make a quick smoothie after yoga
And there you have it! I plan on posting my menu every few weeks so everyone can see what I have going on, or maybe you can use my weekly meal list to inspire your own. For some reason, this week I am making a lot of new dishes I haven't written about yet, but in the future I will link to the recipes for you.
What is your favorite meal planning strategy?