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I finally took the plunge and planned out all of our meals for this month. I was really against this before because I felt like I was limiting myself somehow. But I finally realized that I have a full pantry and freezer and that I have to start using that food before it goes to waste. I love to grocery shop (with coupons) and I was starting to run out of space.

So I went ahead and planned our meals (I only have to plan from Sun-Thursday cause my step-kids go see their mom during the weekends). I make a crock pot meal for Sun and Monday and then make something like pasta, pizza or anything that I have in my freezer that I can put together easily. Plus I love coming home after work and look at the calendar and it tells me what to make! So easy! I'm already planning for next month.

:grwave:
 

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This is a posting I had written for another forum, but it applies here, so I will share it. :)

Why I Menu Plan (and Why You Should Too!)

I started menu planning a while ago. Before that, here's what would usually happen (and occasionally still does happen... sighs)

1) If I didn't have something pre-planned, I would decide on the way home that dinner was too much trouble, since I was tired or had a long day at work, and I would pick up fast food, usually an unhealthy choice. I would thereby blow the budget for the month with poor food choices. We were eating take out food 2 or 3 times a week (sigh.. occasionally more).

2) As a result of buying fast food, I would also have no proper leftovers for lunch the next day, leading to another take out meal and more money spent (or hubby getting sick of tuna fish sandwiches).

3) I would decide what I was going to make for dinner that night during the drive home and discover when I got home that I was missing an ingredient. Either I would order in (pizza, anyone?) or I would have to make a trip to the grocery store for the missing ingredient and end up spending more money than I meant to (never can just buy one thing at the grocery store) and more time than I meant to (dinner at 8:30 tonight, dear).

4) We ate certain meals A LOT because they were quick and easy (spaghetti and barbecued leftovers come to mind). I probably used a rotation of about 8-10 meals over and over again and half of them were not very healthy choices.

Since I have been menu planning, I have:

1) Saved money by: stocking up on sale items; using leftovers effectively in future meals (planned-overs); not buying take out as often; cutting down trips to the grocery store.

2) Saved time by: not having to think every day "oh what am I going to make for dinner tonight???" - I only take about an hour once a month to sit down and write out the dinner ideas (frequently incorporating past monthly menus, since all the work has been done). I prepare things in advance where possible (like browning ground turkey for tomorrow's crockpot meal as I am preparing tonight's dinner, cutting up the onions for tonight's dinner AND tomorrow's dinner all at the same time); cutting down trips to the grocery store.

3) Spent more time with hubby by: knowing the second I walk in the door what needs to be done rather than spending 20-30 minutes looking through the fridge or freezer and cookbooks hoping desperately for inspiration; planning ahead with crockpot meals so I don't have to do ANYTHING when I walk in the door except maybe throw some vegetables on to steam or put together a quick salad.

4) Made wiser food choices: by cooking myself rather than eating out I am making healthier food choices and giving hubby and I a greater variety of nutritious choices.

5) Adding variety to our menus: by planning ahead, I am making sure to include new recipes every week to keep our menus interesting and varied. This really helps me to continue a healthy eating lifestyle. I also make sure to mix things up during the week (oh, I'm already having chicken twice that week, I'll make this night beef or pork or fish instead). I also am more likely to try new ingredients, because I usually research 2 or 3 recipes using the ingredient before I decide to buy it.

I really struggle with some of these challenges when I don't pre-plan. It doesn't have to be a rigid straight jacket (just the opposite I think, since it encourages me to always be trying new recipes). I just find that it makes my life go more smoothly when I do it, so I wanted to encourage others to try it. I frequently flip nights around (switching what I had planned for Wed. and Thur. for example); it's no big deal.
 

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I knew when we did our kitchen remodel this winter, we would be without a kitchen sink and dishwasher for a while. I wasn't sure how long, because I didn't know before we removed the old cabinets and sink what problems we might run into and how long it would take to work through them. So, in preparation, I made up some OAMC (Once A Month Cooking) meals from a book called Frozen Assets: Lite and Easy by Deborah Taylor Hough. I like it because it splits the meals up in 'sessions' which focus on the protein in the meals and have about five recipes per session. So it's easy to get the book out, and if chicken is on sale, then I could select a chicken session to take advantage of it, ditto for turkey, beef, etc. The book also has a detailed list with each session telling exactly what's needed for each. It's a great way to get started with OAMC, or in my case, a great way to not have to sit down and figure out what I'd need to buy to make up a session, at a time when I was so focused on the kitchen remodel and had no mental energy for thoughts of cooking. I digress, sort of. I made up a couple of sessions and put them in the freezer. We were only without a sink for six days, and had good, tasty, nourishing meals the whole time without muss or fuss or dirty dishes, and without buying any restaurant or deli meals.

I liked it so much and it worked out so well I've started doing more OAMC stuff. Now there's always something in the freezer ready to go and we've pretty much quit buying junk like frozen pizza. We eat a lot better instead of grabbing whatever's handy or eating what we shouldn't because I don't feel like cooking.

I'd heard about OAMC for years but it didn't sound too appealing till I tried it. Now I just love it! Since you've recently discovered meal planning, I highly recommend you give OAMC a try. (Get the book from the library, along with the original Frozen Assets book and see if the recipes sound good to you.) If you like having a meal plan, you'd probably love OAMC!
 

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Thanks for the title of the book Spirit Deer! Sounds interesting and helpful.

OAMC is a wonderful asset in the kitchen. I am constantly meal planning and have saved so much money and time....also NO wasted food in this house! :)
 

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I suppose I'm intimidated with meal planning since I don't have a car, and it feels I can only buy small amounts at once since I don't want to have to make several trips to the store and carry it all back. I'm really hoping to invest in those little carts I see everyone roll around the city with for groceries. Additionally I share a small apartment with 2 others and space is limited. Perhaps I could make better use of limited space with better planning- I just don't even know where to start.
 

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Yes, I do use the Arrowhead System so I will look for it Spirit Deer. Thanks! :)
 

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I couldn't recall if your town was in the ALS or not, Debbie. In case you didn't know, ALS is also online. We order tons of books online and then just pick them up at our local library. If you want to order from Duluth library, you have to go through your local librarian which I don't understand. But ordering from the rest of the libraries online saves time and gas so we don't have to go to the library in person till the book is actually there.
 

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My goal is to get to the OAMC. When I thought about meal planning I was so intimidated with the thought of cooking a whole month's meals in a day. Once we eat through out freezer I am going to plan on doing a OAMC. I can't wait.
 

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I don't have the energy to do a whole month's in one day. The book I mentioned above breaks things down into more manageable steps. Not only does it list exactly what you need to buy in detail, but it lists what prep work you need to do for each session the day before you cook everything. It makes things really simple. It's a painless way to ease into OAMC.

Another easy way is to cook double batches of some of your regular meals. If it's something that freezes well, like lasagna or fried rice, then make up two batches instead of one and freeze the second one. If you do that two or three times a week, before long you'd have a good assortment in the freezer ready to go. It's usually not that much extra work to make two batches of a meal at the same time, and then you don't have to do the whole OAMC program if you don't want to.
 

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I definitely agree with Spirit Deer. There's lots of different ways to approach a OAMC session.

You could do the double/triple meals a few times a week.

You could do the full blown OAMC with all different kinds of things.

You could do one "type" of OAMC over a few weekends. For example, hamburger is on sale. You buy 10-20 pounds of it, prepare some as hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, and then cook some up (some seasoned for tacos, chili, etc.; some unseasoned but cooked with onions, mushrooms, garlic for spaghetti, lasagna, etc.) and pack in 2 cup gladware containers or ziplock freezer bags. Darn little work and now you're ready for 20+ meals. The next weekend it might be chicken breasts on sale, etc.

You could also pair up with a friend, especially one in similar family size and either you cook together or you each make multiple batches of "x" recipes and then swap half with each other.

You could do easy "extra" prep meals during the week, like making a super large crock pot of spaghetti sauce and freezing or canning in individual servings.

On my menu planning spreadsheet, I include things that will help me plan, like what is going on every night, what advanced prep I could do for future meals (whether pulling things out of the freezer or precooking meats or prechopping ingredients for the next night's meal).
 

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I've been pre-cooking hamburger and freezing it for several years now. I wish I'd have thought of it when the kids were still home! I freeze it in pint glass canning jars because I'm trying to minimize use of plastic. I sometimes mix it half and half with ground turkey or chicken (the low fat stuff) to cut the calories and cholesterol.

I pre-cook stuff like wild rice, too, and freeze that.
 
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