Thursday, January 24, 2013

Menu Planning 101--The Right Tools

Convinced that menu planning is for you? Still confused at where to begin? 
That's what today is all about! 

Like any other task, having the right tools is essential!

I am going to tell you about my favorite menu planning tools to help get your wheels turning about what would work best for you. While the things I tell you about work wonderfully for our family, they may not be the best thing for yours. Best advice--trial and error. Try what you think might work and if it doesn't find something else that does! 

1. Google Calendar
(and no, Google didn't sponsor this post)

I absolutely love using my Google Calendar for menu planning. 
It allows you to create color-coded calendars, so I created on call "Menu Plan" and it is green. When I menu plan, I pull up the calendar and there I can see all of my commitments for the next few weeks. I know what nights we are having dinner at a friend's house, or what nights the Hubs won't be home for dinner. Knowing my schedule helps me plan meals that go with the things we have going on in any given week. For example, last night I met Hubs at the church and we had dinner there before prayer meeting began. I planned to make a meal that would be easily transported because I knew we'd be eating it somewhere other than in our kitchen. 


So, my "Menu Calendar" is green. 

I basically click on a day of the week, add a new event, and type in the meal we will be having that evening. (**Side note--some people plan breakfast and lunch was well, but I find it more effective for us to just plan dinner. If you wish to be more thorough by planning all meals, you may want a separate calendar for each meal). In notes I include a link to the recipe if it is online or the cookbook that it is located in--basically anything I might need to know when it comes time to cook. 

If we are having a meal at a friends house or a potluck at church, I put that as the event title. In the notes I put where the dinner will be and what I am supposed to bring (if anything). 

2. Planner

I mentioned in a previous post that I am addicted to my planner. It is no wonder I use it for menu planning too. 

If I am away from a computer or my internet isn't working, I turn to my good, old-fashioned planner. I use it to put everything in as well, so I simply write the meal I am planning to have on the day. It is less complex than the Google Calendar, but has its downfalls too. My biggest issue with it is that it cannot communicate with the Hubs. When I program something into the Google Calendar, it also goes to Hubs' Google Calendar. He will be able to see if from his Ipad or his Ipod Touch. I can also see it on my Ipod. Either of us can update it and that is huge! Keeping him in the loop and allowing him to make adjustments as needed is great for us! 
A planner can't do that, but it works well for taking it with you. I take my planner in the car when I go grocery shopping or run errands. If I don't have wi-fi I can't access my Google Calendar, so the back-up is great! 

3. Pinterest
Don't worry--they aren't paying me either. 

I love to use their site to look up recipes if I have something I want to use but don't have a recipe for it (i.e. I have ribs in my freezer and don't really know what I'm doing with them. I'll use Pinterest to find a good recipe idea for them soon). 
I also "pin" recipes that sound good to me any time I see them and when I am stuck in a rut (yes...sometimes we have tacos every week!) I will turn to my "Recipe" board for inspiration. It really is great for coming up with something new, which I like to do every once in a while just to keep it real. 

4. Pencil, Paper, and Pantry

The last tool that I use is a piece of paper and a pencil. 
I go through my calendar and write down all ingredients I need for making meals. Then I head to my freezer, fridge, and pantry where I cross off all the items I already have. Using my revised list, I create a grocery list and head out shopping! 

Those are some of my favorite tools for menu-planning. Like I said, yours may be different or you may find that my system works for you too! Everyone is different. Use these ideas to get yourself going and find your niche' as you go! That's the best way I've found. 

Stay tuned for next week's Menu Planning 101--The Process! 
It'll be a long one, but I'll detail how I go about the menu planning and grocery shopping process!  


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