Ashley emailed in the following tip:
I love being a stay-at-home mom, but cooking is not my favorite part of the job. Menu planning has been difficult for me because I always had trouble figuring out what to make.
I decided I needed to make menu planning easier so that I could instead focus my attention on things that energize me. I started by going through all my cookbooks and making a comprehensive list of all the recipes that I have ever made and liked.
I ended up with 60 recipes. Then, I organized the recipes on the list so that there was good variety.
After that, I divided my completed list of recipes into three lists of about twenty recipes each. Since I don’t cook every day of the week (we typically have sandwiches and frozen pizza on the weekends), each list was enough to cover about a month of meals. After three months, I start over with the first list.
I decided to take things a step further and also put my grocery shopping on auto-pilot. I looked at each recipe and wrote down the needed ingredients. I then came up with a comprehensive shopping list to go with each of the three recipe lists.
I watch local store ads for sales on items that are on my shopping lists and stock up on whatever I can. Then, at the beginning of each month, I print off the appropriate list, cross off whatever ingredients I already have, and head to the store to buy the rest.
I get most of our groceries at Aldi, shop the sales at County Market, and get whatever else I need at Walmart. The rest of the month there are just a few basic staples we have to buy whenever we are running out, like bread, milk, and fruit.
I have a large calendar on our kitchen wall. Each week, I look at what we have going on and decide what days I am going to cook. I then fill out the calendar days with the recipes from my list. I like seeing it all on the calendar so I can keep track of how old leftovers are, and so my husband can look forward to supper.
My new system of menu planning has been really beneficial for me. I no longer have to decide what to cook; the list tells me what to cook, and I get to be surprised!
Also, I don’t have to write out long grocery lists anymore, and the pantry is tidier because I only buy things that I know I will be cooking with in the next few weeks. I am also done dealing with the guilt that comes when it’s noon and I haven’t decided yet what to make for supper!