Menu Planning is an important part of saving money by cooking more at home. While cooking at home without planning ahead can still save you money, cooking with a menu will save you much more, by keeping you from buying unnecessary ingredients, and by making sure you have what you need to make your meals. Just sit down with your recipes and a notebook or calendar, plan your menu, and use your menu to make your grocery list. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- It's easiest to start with a one-week menu, assuming you do your grocery shopping once a week. Eventually, you may find that you prefer to plan a month's worth of menus at a time. (Some people actually have all of their recipes and menus in a computerized database and do a once-a-month grocery shopping, but I'm not one of them so I'm not qualified to tell you how to do that.)
- Pick one or two new recipes a week to keep your meals exciting - my personal favorite source for new recipes is Cooking Light. (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about experimenting.)
- To save the most money, pick meals that will leave leftovers for lunch (or plan to double your recipe). Alternatively, you could add sandwich fixings to your grocery list so you can have a sandwich if when you don't have leftovers.
- You may also wish to double meals that freeze well. That way, you can make enough for two meals, eat one portion the night that you make it, and freeze the other for a time when you're too busy to cook.
- Plan ahead. Anything that can be done ahead of time should be done ahead of time, like the night before, or even on Sunday - measure out dry ingredients into a zip-top bag, prep vegetables, saute ground meat, or fill a pot for cooking pasta and leave it on the stove so that all you have to do is turn the heat on. You'll be much less likely to decide you're too tired to cook if half of the work is already done.