Ease the pressure with planned menus

Published 8:38 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012

By Dana Zeliff

It’s 5 o’clock. What’s for dinner?

If you find yourself struggling for dinner ideas at the last minute or heading through the drive-through after work, consider creating a menu plan to help take the stress out of mealtime.

Email newsletter signup

Menu planning is preparing a written calendar of meals in advance. It can be as simple as writing down a dinner schedule for the week or as complex as including breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire month.

Whichever route you take, menu planning helps take the guesswork out of meals, which can be a huge time- and money-saver.

Why should you plan a menu?

  • Eliminates the 5 p.m. “What’s for dinner?” question
  • Offers more variety
  • Helps save money
  • Less food waste by focusing on items you already have

Following are a few tips to help you plan a weekly menu:

  • Use what you have on hand in the pantry and refrigerator as a basis for your meal plan. Expiration dates can help prioritize what ingredients should be used.
  • Once you know what you have on hand, check out the weekly sales flyers to see what’s on sale. You can combine those ingredients to help keep your food budget under control. If you have pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles in your pantry and ground beef is on sale, you can have spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner one night.
  • Post the plan, so you won’t forget to take something out of the freezer, and your family knows what to expect without having to ask.
  • Keep the menu simple. Think about your schedule and family favorites, and include a weekly leftover or “easy” night.
  • Be flexible with your menu plan. You don’t have to follow the menu exactly. You may walk into the grocery store and see beef marked down that is a much better price than the chicken on sale. There also will be nights when the kids have an unexpected practice or you have to work late.

Don’t get discouraged if you break the plan. Remember that the goal of menu planning is to help and encourage meals at home, but it is a tool, not a rule.

Dana Zeliff lives in Chesapeake and writes a blog full of money-saving tips, coupons and advice. Visit her blog at www.thecouponchallenge.com.