This Week’s Menu: Creating a Menu

Pork, rice & bean burritos

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’ve lately been thinking again how differently we shop now, and how differently I menu plan these days.

I’ve been a menu planner for as long as I can remember. Even when Brett and I were just starting out, and we had just $72/month for groceries (Really! Military pay was not all that much back then), I was planning – I had to. I planned meals for our son and myself when Brett was out at sea for long periods of time. I can’t imagine not planning anymore.

Before we moved to Kaua’i, I used to menu plan for two weeks but sometimes for a month, and then shop (the “list method”). I worked to keep costs down and stick with low-cost, frugal meals and it worked out most of the time, but I still sometimes found myself back in the store throughout the week or month picking up items here or there that I forgotten we were out of or didn’t have when I planned.  Our food budget was often out of whack each month. With higher food prices here on Kaua’i, I figured out pretty quickly that sort of planning and spending wasn’t going to work at all, and I pretty quickly found myself buying “basics” every month and then planning strictly from what we had on hand. (“the pantry method”). This change has helped to lower our monthly food expense by nearly half of what it was when we arrived (although we initially way over-budgeted for food costs).

These day we buy basic food items (i.e. very little prepared or processed food) every month on our Big Shop. When I plan now I look at what we have in the fridge, freezer or pantry and think what sort of meal I could make from those items, keeping in mind food preferences and that we like variety. I check very carefully these days to make sure we already have the necessary items to make a dish so there’s no going back to the store (except for eggs). It also helps me to use items that might spoil or be wasted otherwise. The only weekly list I make these days is for the farmers’ market.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Burritos with slow-cooker Mexican pulled pork, rice and beans; sliced tomatoes; cucumbers (just pork, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled chicken & vegetable skewers; pilaf (no pilaf for me)
  • Thursday: Homemade fish cake sandwiches; coleslaw (I’m skipping the bread)
  • Friday: Mabo dofu; steamed rice; cucumber salad (no rice for me)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Scotch eggs; toast; fruit (just eggs and fruit for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker Thai-style pork stew; steamed rice; Asian-y coleslaw (once again, skipping the rice)

We’ll be getting cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, green onions, bananas, papayas and dragonfruit at the farmers’ market this week, but otherwise we’re in good shape for produce.

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2 thoughts on “This Week’s Menu: Creating a Menu

  1. M'Shell says:

    That’s an interesting way to look at meal planning. I’ve always been “a list method” person myself and have never really thought of trying the “pantry method”. Although I buy foods to make certain meals per week, I won’t schedule what days we eat that meal. I’ve found that if I say we are going to do soup on Monday and tacos on Tuesday that I won’t want tacos on Tuesday and then feel restricted and want to rebel by going out to eat. I’ve also found that by the end of the week I won’t want to make something big, so I plan for something easy to eat on Fridays to help avoid take-out.

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    • Laura says:

      I admit to it being difficult for me to switch from one planning method to the other, but now that I’m using the “pantry method” I’m actually finding it easier, both for planning and on our budget.

      I don’t post it, but we often change nights around with the menu, depending on what’s happening during the day. If I know we’re going to be busy I know I’m not going to feel like cooking something complicated, so I switch things up. But, we still stick to the menu! I always schedule a leftovers night now (YOYO – You’re On Your Own) to give myself a break during the week.

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