Take the Decisions Out of Menu Planning

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Create a basic list to use at the grocery list each week.
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“Be Organized” provides reader with simple tips to try to in your daily lives.

Learn how to organize the small and daunting tasks in your life with Be Organized: Reclaim 90 Minutes of Your Day, Every Day (Cedar Fort, 2018) by Marie Ricks. If you are easily overwhelmed with everyday tasks then this book will help you to discover new and creative ways to handle the small tasks you face rather than putting them put off. Find out how you can save time in your everyday life. This excerpt can be found in chapter 7, “Fast Food to Fine Food.” 

After the kitchen and pantry are in order, the next step is to move from “fast food to fine food” by putting together a Master Menu. Make a simple, one-page plan listing seven options for breakfast and lunch. This part of the Master Menu can be rotated on a weekly basis. Then list a variety of main meals you will serve on a monthly rotating basis. A young mother with picky eaters may find that setting up seven evening meals on a rotating basis keeps the kids happy and the cook even happier.

Two people might find that a two-week dinner Master Menu suits their needs because they cook one night and eat leftovers the next. More exotic cooks might find they want to have one month’s worth of different meals before they duplicate menus again. The concept is to set something up and then rotate through the Master Menus without having to make any decisions.

The Master Menu format. If, for example, a home manager is comfortable with a four-week outline, his or her Master Menu form would include columns for “Day of the week,” “bread,” “vegetable,” and “fruit.” It is most useful not only to list the days of the week, but also to give each day an official name to categorize the meals:






Saturday—Fast Meals

Sunday—Breakfast for Dinner

After listing seven menu categories for seven days, list four favorite meals for each of these days. For example, under “Tuesday—Mexican” would be listed four different Mexican meals, as seen below:



»» Soft tacos

»» Hard tacos

»» Enchiladas

»» Taco salad






The Master Menu details. Next, list a bread (if you need to fill teenage or adult stomachs), a vegetable, and a fruit appropriate for that day’s main meal. These three items are served repeatedly each week, although the main dish varies for each day. For instance, using the fourweek Master Menu, every Tuesday you might serve corn muffins, corn  (frozen or canned), and mandarin oranges—but the main meals will rotate through soft tacos, hard tacos, enchiladas, and taco salad.

Repeat the process. Use this same process for each day of the week, listing four main meals, a bread, a vegetable, and a fruit. You will then have twenty-eight meals, seven breads, seven vegetables, and seven fruits listed. This Master Menu serves as the basis for your weekly meal planning, your grocery shopping, and your cooking routine. You will find your family settling into a schedule as they anticipate Italian food on Fridays and breakfast for dinner on Sundays. You will have a system to prepare meals in a timely manner and will always know what to say when someone asks, “What are we having for dinner tonight?”

Make up recipe cards. Once you have decided on your menus, it is useful to make up 3″ x 5″ recipe cards for each main meal and keep them in a 3″ x 5″ recipe box behind seven card dividers. Label these blank card dividers “Sunday,” “Monday,” “Tuesday,” “Wednesday,” “Thursday,” “Friday,” and “Saturday.” The Master Menu recipes are stored behind the Master Menu (Sunday through Saturday) dividers in the front of the recipe box.

Organizing sufficiently, including knowing exactly where the recipes are for each meal, makes the process for preparing meals simpler and faster on every level. As a side note, your other printed recipes can be kept behind these easy-to-retrieve recipes using traditional recipe card dividers, which are often listed by topic. Use this second set of card dividers for all viable but less-frequently-used recipes. Keep only the very best recipes. It takes only one good brownie recipe to keep a family happy.

Employ Superior Grocery-Shopping Skills

Shopping is an “expensive” time consumer. You have to travel, park, walk through the store, make decisions, wait to be checked out, and then travel again. Sometimes you are also coping with children, managing a work schedule, and fitting this trip to the store around other priorities. Going shopping for necessities just isn’t that fun for the busy home manager. One of the best ways to save time is to make grocery shopping more efficient. For most, the following practices make a significant dent in the amount of time spent shopping.

Prepare a Master Grocery List that indicates all the foods you will need to fix the meals on your Master Menu. You may find it easiest to lay out this Master Grocery List by topic, or you may find it easier to list the foods in order of how you shop at your favorite grocery store.

  • Make fifty-two copies. Make enough copies for one year’s use and store the spare forms in your desktop filing system.
  • Post the Master Grocery List. Keep the Master Grocery List on your refrigerator for easy noting of items that need replacing. After inventorying your pantry, cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer, review the grocery ads and use the Master Grocery List to also note which items you will obtain at discount.
  • Shop with your tools. Shop with your printed Master Grocery List on a clipboard that has a calculator on the clip to facilitate price comparison.
  • Track best prices. Track prices for frequent purchases with a system that works for you. You might like to keep written records, use your phone, or keep an updated list on an Excel worksheet. When you know what a good price is, you can make purchases with confidence.
  • Buy cheap. Take advantage of sales, discounts, and closeouts using internet comparison shopping and local printed ads.
  • Watch for lowest prices. Note possible “future” purchases as you shop, but don’t buy yet. In other words, hold off what you want but don’t yet need until you get the best price. Then purchase in bulk.
  • Need one, buy two. Buy by doubles, by triples, or by the year to save time, trouble, and transportation costs. For example, if you need a bag of shredded coconut, buy two bags. If you need salad dressing, buy two bottles. If you are getting a bottle of catsup, buy two. So do yourself a favor and never go to the store without thinking, If I need one, I’ ll buy two!
  • Buy by the year. Of course, this is only the first level of saving time when you shop. Conscientious home managers trying not just to save “some” time but to double and triple time savings will go one step further. They will need one and buy three or four or even enough for the whole year. The goal is simple: Don’t go to the store for anything without coming home with two, three, or four things! Your life will be simplified, your time will expand, and as much as you might love to be out shopping, save that time for the fun kind!
  • Use a date stamp. Date stamp items and store your purchases in convenient storage areas. Stock your home with as many of your grocery store items as possible!

More from Be Organized:

Reprinted with Permission from Be Organized: Reclaim 90 Minutes of Your Day, Every Day and Published by Cedar Fort, Inc.


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