The Benefits of Menu Planning (And How It’s Changed Our Lives)

The Benefits of Menu Planning (And How It’s Changed Our Lives)

Hello, happy Monday, friends! I spent the weekend with a puppy recovering from spay surgery and a husband sick with a cold or flu. Ooph. So let’s talk about housekeeping now, ok? We’ve talked before about cleaning schedules and budgeting, and here’s what’s next in our housekeeping series: menu planning. You guys, I don’t want to be dramatic (ok, maybe I do a little), but menu planning has literally changed our lives.

When we decided that I could quit my full-time job, we also decided that it made sense for me to take over grocery shopping. I mean, it’s only fair. But, uuuuggghhhh, I hate grocery shopping. I hate the crowds and the lines and the too many choices and the not knowing what to get and the wandering around looking for things and the lugging bags to my car… Then there’s the coming home from the store and realizing you still have nothing for dinner and that random cauliflower you bought is going to go bad before you figure out what to do with it, and we might as well just go out to dinner anyway since we don’t know what to make…

You know what I mean, right?

When our kitchen was under construction a year ago, I learned about menu planning. I’ve always been a list maker, but what good is a list of random things if you don’t start with a plan?! Lightbulb moment.

We use and really like this menu planner from Real Simple. Someday I want to get around to designing and making my own that has all seven days of the week, but this planner is the best one I’ve found yet for our needs. I keep a stack of them printed out, and once a week or so we sit down, sometimes together sometimes just me, and decide what we want to eat that week (this is the hardest part). Then I take the filled-out planner with me to the store and cross everything off as I go. My plan for grocery shopping is to shop for about 4-5 days at a time. That’s about how long fresh vegetables, meat or fish will last in the fridge. Then I try to pick up one or two sort of “extra” meals that won’t go bad as fast, like pasta, so if we run out of fresh meals on a Saturday, we maybe have enough backup foods to avoid the grocery store crowds until Monday.

1. SAVE TIME. Since I hate grocery shopping so much, this is huge for me. I love that the Real Simple menu planner organizes everything by section of the store because it means I don’t have to wander back and forth to get everything on my list. Plus, I only need to go down the aisles where I need something. I can see right away exactly what I’ll need in the produce section, dairy section, etc. and I can get in and out of the store in sometimes 15 minutes or less! It’s become a game for me… how fast can I get everything on my list?! Ok, sometimes I rush too much and forget something important, like sandwich bread (sorry, Andy), but I love how much time I can save even when I don’t rush, just by knowing what I need where.

2. SAVE MONEY. This is probably the single biggest benefit for us overall. Having a plan for the week means we only buy what we need. We don’t end up wasting money on a whole bunch of extra stuff that we don’t need and, most of all, we eat out a lot less. In 2011 our New Year’s Resolution was to eat at home 52 times, haha, because for us that was a huge challenge. Hilarious! Now we go out to dinner maybe once a week, but sometimes not at all, because we we always plan ahead to have food at home.

3. WASTE LESS. This goes along with saving money, but it used to be that we would throw away a TON of food that would go bad before we got around to eating it. When we didn’t have a plan, we’d pick up random things, get home and not know what to do with them, so then they’d sit, go bad, and get thrown out. I always felt so horrible throwing away perfectly good food! What about the starving children in Africa! Now, while we’re not perfect and aren’t eating every scrap or leftover every time, we do so so so much better at not wasting good food.

4. EAT HEALTHIER. This is a two parter — 1) we eat out way less and 2) we make healthier choices. Like I said, we used to eat out at least 4 or 5 times a week, because we didn’t know what to make and never had food at home, which is both super expensive and super unhealthy. I love restaurants and I still love going out to dinner, but I also love that when we eat at home we have so much more control over things like how much butter we add or how much salt we put in, and, most of all, how big our portions are. Plus, using a menu planner means I don’t have to go down the aisles with too many temptations. Cake mix aisle? Skip it! Bakery aisle? Stay away! We’ve both lost 10+ pounds in the last year and all we changed was eating at home more!

5. EXPERIMENT MORE. When we used to go to the store without a plan, we’d end up eating the same things all the time because that’s all we could think of. For me, when I was single, it was Minute Rice and ravioli. Like, every day. Now, we have a lot of fun trying new recipes that we find in magazines and on Pinterest. It really makes eating at home so much more fun when you’re not just eating rice every day (though, honestly, I still really love rice).

You can download the menu planner we use HERE. (This isn’t sponsored, just the one we’ve tried and liked best!)

What do you think? Do you use a menu planner or would you be interested in giving it a try? Do you have any tips or tricks that work for you? Do you actually like to grocery shop? We’d love to hear what works (or doesn’t) for you!

— Kerry

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