What’s Your Style of Meal Planning?

by Katy on October 16, 2011 · 49 comments

El Pato

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

When I read about frugality, one tip that I see repeated over and over is weekly menu planning. And yes, I see the appeal of knowing that Sunday is pot roast, Monday is spaghetti, and Tuesday is pizza. But I don’t buy it. I consider myself to be the Queen Empress of frugal cooking, yet weekly menu planning ends up being more expensive for me because I find myself planning complicated meals instead of working with what I already have on hand. And incorporating leftovers that are needing to get used up becomes more difficult if the menu is unyielding.

What gives?

I rarely shop for individual meals, but to stock the pantry and refrigerator. By utilizing this method, I’m able to prepare almost endless varieties of meals based on how much time I have and what we’re in the mood for. (I don’t work full time, and I’m aware that this affords me the luxury to be a bit more casual about meal preparation.)

Foods that I try and always keep on hand:

  • Dried beans, such as pinto, black beans and lentils.
  • Onions, potatoes and garlic.
  • Eggs, milk, butter and sour cream.
  • Cereals such as raisin bran and Cheerios.
  • Shredded mozzarella, bleu cheese and blocks of nice local cheddar cheese.
  • Tortilla mix, bread, dried pastas.
  • Individually frozen chicken breasts, (even though I complain mightily about my husband buying them.)
  • Frozen corn and peas.
  • Canned tomatoes, peanut butter, pumpkin puree, condensed milk, and El Pato tomato sauce in the yellow can. (Which is the best hot sauce and comes in a lovely small tin, perfect for avoidance of food waste.)
  • Fours, sugar, cornmeal, baking soda and powder.
  • A single box of S&W brand Japanese curry.
  • Brown and white rice.
  • Romaine lettuce that I have washed and chopped, and is stored in the salad spinner.
  • Homemade salad dressing.
  • Chocolate chips. (This above all else is vitally important!)
  • I also buy fruits and vegetables based on what’s in season and on sale.

I really do feel that I save money employing this dinner prep flexibility, but I still hear from readers who say they save money and avoid food waste by planning out their meals.

Are you a meticulous planner or a what-do-I-have-the-ingredients-for style of chef? Maybe a little of both? Please share your meal planning ideas in thecomments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda October 16, 2011 at 6:03 am

I have always been a fly by the seat of my pants cook. I never know what I am going to feel like cooking any given night or how much I will have left over from a particular meal.

But, I found that if I had a particularly busy day, I would leave dinner planning to just before I needed to have it on the table. This would lead to going out to dinner or takeout. Not the most frugal choice and this would mean that I would spend almost (if not my entire) food budget on that one meal.

So, I have started to plan my menus on Sunday nights. I base this on what I have in my pantry and what I have in my freezer. Unlike other menu planners, I do not shop based on my meals, but on what I need to fill my pantry with and what is on sale (or coupon/sale).

I have found that the menu planning, helps me take out what needs to be defrosted the night before and prep things when I have time during the day or the night before. This just helps me be prepared for the next day by knowing what I am cooking on a given day. It is not so stricked that I cannot adapt it when I have extra leftovers to transform them into another meal instead of another planned meal.
I ususally have Friday’s designated as leftover night for anything that does not go to lunch with my husband or does not get changed into another meal (ex. roasted chicken into pot pie). If I do not have enough leftovers, then I just plan another meal for Friday night.

It is working for us at this time.


Carol October 16, 2011 at 6:08 am

The bulk of my grocery budget goes to stocking up on deals, sale priced meat/staples, etc. Mid month, I then plan out the following month’s dinners, incorporating the sale purchased items that are already on hand. My menus require very little to be purchased for the recipes chosen. I also keep a well stocked pantry of staples-again all purchased as cheaply as possible. Looking at the Nov menus I just did, I know I’ll be buying a whole turkey for Thanksgiving (but I do have a hotel breast in the chest freezer if I have to use that). I will need milk, eggs, OJ, sugar, fresh seasonal fruits/veggies but that’s it for NEEDS next month. I do work out of the home full-time and this avoids food waste as I do planned overs, and I plan according to our schedules-Th is meeting after work day, so it tends to be a crockpot supper night,that type of thing. See my blog for specifics.


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 16, 2011 at 6:21 am

I’m EXACTLY like you. The extent of my meal planning is writing down a few things that sound kind of good. My problem is that I make like the same 5 things, so we all get bored. Plus, we have four different diets and tastes, so we end up making different meals or rather different food groups. I’m like you, if I plan it all out to a T, I spend so much more because I make things I may never really try and that require a lot more ingredients. I prefer to get things I know our family will eat, then Google recipe that utilize those ingredients. This works much better for us!


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 16, 2011 at 10:52 am

I love using Google’s recipe search because I can filter out the ingredients I don’t have!


Sarah October 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

I prefer to do as you. It’s helpful to me to have a general idea of what meals I’m likely to fix in the next week or two – spaghetti, hot dogs, roast, tuna melts… And I’ll have a general idea what nights each meal with be on. Hot dogs are typically going to be on a night that DH is gone or we have something to do/somewhere to be. Roast is usually going to be on Sunday. But if the plan is more rigid than that, then I spend too much energy and time, not to mention money, trying to *make* the plan work.


Thrifty Household October 16, 2011 at 6:33 am

I like the challenge of cooking what I’ve got in the fridge, the less there is in there the more interesing it gets! When I have people staying I’ll plan what we’re going to eat but not when there’s just 2 of us. Fridge & food cupboard lottery that’s my game!


tracy October 16, 2011 at 6:46 am

I go back and forth on this. I love a well stocked pantry and the ability to pull dinner out of my hat at the last minute. But I find meal planning lends itself to more variety, because I’m sure to have on hand the unusual ingredient here and there. I’m most successful with a loosely structured rotation of sorts, one night a week is a pasta dish, one night a soup, one night a big meat (roast chicken or something), one night something you can put in a tortilla, and one left over. My sweetie usually cooks on the weekends so I don’t factor those in!


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I love this idea and think it will be most successful in my first stabs at meal planning. Thanks!


Jill October 16, 2011 at 7:02 am

I look at the ads on Sunday and what I have in the pantry and freezer and go to Allrecipes.com. You can choose recipes based on what you have. I pick out 3 or 4 for the week. I make them when they fit for the week. We get to try new things or tweek old ones. Easy and saves money because I base it on what is on sale at the store.


Barb October 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

I shop as you do as a rule…I fill my pantry and thenplan my meals from those items. I do have a much wider varity of iems than you lis kept in my pantry and literally everything under the son. I basically buy loss leaders and some sale items each week along with dairy and produce.

Hoever, I full adm it I dont always buy inseason produce and the fact that we live in texas means we have a much longer “in season”…our farmers markets go until thanksgiving as a rule.


Megan October 16, 2011 at 7:30 am

This is one of the things I try to balance. I’m kinda a food hoarder- we always have local beef, venison, frozen corn, squash, and other seasonal things frozen in the freezer. My pantry is always stocked. Refrigerator- usually. We live in a small town- no grocery store- so there is no running out to get the extras for supper.

I HATE the back and forth between hubby, son and I about what to make though. I do think it is easier to have a plan, then I am motivated to actually fix something. We eat healthier when we have a plan.

I do have to second the chocolate chips as a staple. They are magic when it comes to getting my son to eat! Pancakes, muffins, cream of wheat, or just a bribe. He wouldn’t eat oatmeal at all, until i told him he could put 4 chocolate chips in. Now he loves it. Plus they are needed for that last minute get together that you are supposed to bring your own snack for. Always have the stuff for cookies!


jan October 16, 2011 at 7:40 am

looked back at your salad dressing recipe. What is oil rice vinegar??


Katy October 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm

That would be a typo from 2008, that no one until you noticed. It now reads “1/4 cup sweet rice vinegar.”

Sorry about that.



Jude October 16, 2011 at 7:59 am

I do a little of both. I have my staples–similar to yours, Katy. Once a week I plan about three meals and grocery shop for any ingredients that are not in my staple supply, i.e. ricotta cheese for lasagne, and to restock staples. A couple of times a week I go out and pick up the odd thing for a spontaneous meal, i.e. ground beef for chili. I’m not sure it’s the most frugal way to go, but there is less waste. No more throwing away food for the planned meals I never got around to.


shari October 16, 2011 at 8:04 am

I have found that knowing how to prepare food so that I can use whatever I have works best for me. That said, I do shop for various whole-food staples to always have on hand. Knowing how to cook allows me to use these as well as to avoid food waste and use unexpected gifts of food, such as when friends bring me food and herbs from their gardens. This is also particularly effective because my husband and I are first-time CSA members this year and we never know exactly what we will get in our share and from the U-pick field until we get to the farm. Improvisation and the ability to use up what needs using to avoid waste, along with knowing how to cook good, basic food–often with a minimum of ingredients–has been the best way I have eaten tasty, healthy food on a tight budget.


Katie October 16, 2011 at 8:13 am

I’m pretty much the same when it comes to my cooking. I keep certain staples in the house at all times and I have a couple of recipes that I keep on rotation because they’re fast, easy, and I know they get eaten. But I also read a lot of blogs and look for recipes that use the stuff I keep on hand. I’ve figured out what stores have the best prices for my staple items and shop around that. Scratch cooking has let me figure out what we can cut back on and what we can splurge on, because I’ve figured out the majority of our eating patterns.


Juhli October 16, 2011 at 8:18 am

I’m kind of in the middle. I look at what I have on hand and what is on sale and then make a main dish menu. Always simple things. The side dishes get decided on right before dinner.


Annie Jones October 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

I do some of both. We always have a lot of food on hand. Our freezer usually has pork, venison or beef, chicken and maybe some fish and shrimp, as well as a variety of frozen vegetables, either from the store or from our garden. Our pantry always has dry beans, pastas, grains, sugar, flour, and other baking/cooking essentials. I keep a pretty accurate inventory of what’s on hand and plan my menus from what we already have. If a recipe requires a specialty or other item we DON’T have on hand, sometimes I will buy it and other times I will sub it out for something we DO already have. It all depends on the recipe.

At least one day a week will be planned leftovers, and on those months I’m organized enough to plan an entire month of meals, I leave the last 5 days of the month blank. That way, if we decide on spur of the moment delivery pizza instead of Tuesday’s meatloaf I can just move the meatloaf to the end of the month — or move it to Wednesday and move Wednesday’s planned meal to the end of the month.

I find planning this way keeps me from buying things I don’t need, but being flexible whenever the situation calls for it also saves money.


Denise October 16, 2011 at 9:14 am

I have three small children and work part-time from my home. Like you, Katy, I have both a well-stocked pantry as well as a well-stocked freezer.
I do not plan out a menu, but rather on Sundays I cook a double batch of 1-2 meals and put them in the freezer. After a month or so of doing thing, I have 4-8 different meals in the freezer. You can purchase 9×13 aluminum pans with lids online and they wear well and can be used over and over.
I try to have meatloaf, cookies, cobblers, potpies, ham and hashbrown bakes, enchiladas, chilli, and several other things in the freezer. This freezing method is great too because it allows me to sock away things from my fridge that may be on the verge of going bad.
As the week progresses I have the luxury of cooking from scratch on slower days or pulling something from the freezer on the mornings I know it will be hectic.


Denise October 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

Oh, and once again, thanks for using that local cheddar from Tillamook! My parents are Tillamook dairy farmers.


shari October 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Love that Tillamook cheese! Used to eat it all the time when we lived in Oregon and Alaska! Now we’re in Maine and can’t get it anymore 🙁


Ann October 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

I do some of both, too. We order our meat in and the freezer is always full and we have a full larder of staples. However, we plan meals for the weekdays (including lunches) and buy fresh produce for those on our weekly shopping trips. We plan this way because we try to maintain a balance in the protein source and we also plan leftovers for lunches. Otherwise, we would probably bring in take in 5 nights in a row. Every once in a while, when we are tired of cooking (and DISHES) we do have a “go out – bring in ” week to revitalize our cooking attitudes!!!


Debbie October 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

I’m definitely NOT a planner. I keep a stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and figure it out shortly before dinner. My husband does thaw meat out for me during the day a couple of days a week (we do not use a microwave). And I do have a stock of our favorite recipes that can get pulled together in a pinch. Other than that I make do with what is on hand and get creative.


Becky October 16, 2011 at 10:08 am

I don’t like to plan meals ahead, because (oddly) I find it hard to get the quantity right so we don’t have excessive leftovers. We get a CSA box and buy the produce that looks good at the store, and pick up about one fish/meat/poultry ingredient per week beyond the half-
lamb and a couple ducks we buy every year from a local farmer.

I enjoy checking the fridge and pantry and coming up with a meal based on what we have. It’s my creative act for the day. Since we don’t have children, it works fine for my household to eat dinner later or have the occasinal pickles-Martinis-and-jellybeans type supper. If we’d had a family as planned, I assume I would have to think things through better, to ensure there was something healthy on the table at a reasonable hour every evening.

However, I recently started working outside the house at a place with no microwave, so I think I’m going to have to start planning lunches.


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

My husband is our family cook and is good at pulling together a meal out of whatever’s in the house. However, he found it difficult to make use of vegetables from our CSA that he’d never cooked with before, and he’s not a planner or a recipe-searcher at all, so that meant veggies went to waste–not frugal at all! Also, pulling together a meal of whatever’s in the house means that dinner can end up being just rice and some leftover meat, and we need more nutrition than that. I don’t want to sacrifice health for frugality.

So we are going to try a new strategy with me as the meal planner and him as the cook. Maybe it will end up being a little more expensive, but I think it will lead to better meals and less stress for both of us. I just wrote today about why this is a good approach for us.


anotherhousewife October 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm

First off, El Pato is THE best! We go through the stuff like water! Secondly, I am a little of both. The way I meal plan consist of me using what we have on hand, along with the sales to plan for a couple of weeks. Rather than being tied down to a certain meal on a certain day, I make food based on what is going on that week. We may need a couple of quick meals, kid only meals, crock pot, pot luck or a new recipe. I always have a few staples on hand, like you ,to whip something up when all else fails. My meal planning is ridiculously type A but with four kids you always need a little wiggle room!


Indigo October 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I’m a little of both. I keep a well stocked pantry and freezer of essentials, that way I can buy them when they are on sale and stock up. I know I’ll use them sooner or later.

As I go into the grocery store I have a list of must haves like milk, staples I’m running low on to see if they are on sale, and vague must haves like fresh fruit which I then base on in season and price.

If I see something for a great price I first try to figure out how I’ll use it before it goes bad before I put it in the cart, such as a great deal on a 5 lb bag of carrots. Not a good deal if they rot at the bottom of the fridge, great when I plan on making carrot and red lentil soup out of them, some carrot cake muffins, and wrapping cheap cuts of steak around carrots and slow roasting them.

The best hing I do though is to make sure I don’t over stuff the fridge. I put some things in the back that I know will be there, like ground coffee, fresh ground flax seeds, etc that need the cold but will last a bit. Stuff I don’t always have I need to make sure I can see them without shuffling to find it. Out of sight out of mind.


Dana October 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I meal plan based on what we already have on hand. My shopping list will include items to complete the meal (i.e. if we already have chicken then I’ll put a side item and vegetable on the list). I also try to stock up on items that are on sale even though we won’t necessarily used them that week. I find that I waste less food this way.


Rubymay1029 October 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I always have a well stocked pantry and I buy 16 chicken breasts, two or three pounds of hamburger and usually some kind of roast when I go to the butcher about every two weeks. I could be more frugal with the meat, but am dedicated to feeding my family only locally farm raised meat. Nonetheless, with a good supply of meat and a well stocked pantry, I don’t have to be a slave to the meal plan and, like you say, I am more likely to incorporate leftovers into the week’s meals to avoid food waste.


Donna October 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I stock things but my meal planning is limited. My husband has numerous food sensitivities and I make all his food 4-5 days at a time. For myself I tend to buy easy things like soup, etc to make as I have a chronic illness and many days have a limited ability to cook.


Trish October 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm

wow, you people are amazing! I really struggle with the whole meal planning thing. It seems that whatever the meal I always need an extra ingredient not in my pantry staples, like tomato juice for chili, or ricotta for lasagne.

what sorts of things do you all use the El Pato tomato sauce in? my husband lives for hot sauce so I can see this fitting into our lives pretty well


Thursday's Child October 16, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I’m so glad that I’m not alone in being so lousy at menu planning. It’s even harder now that my oldest has play practice almost every day and taekwondo too. At least Wednesdays are for choir practice and we eat at church those nights so no cooking for me. 🙂


Michelle October 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I do a very simplified version of meal planning. Since I’m single and don’t require a lot of variety, I usually decide on Saturday what I want to eat for lunch and dinner the following week. Then I shop for ingredients I need and cook for the week on Sunday. My breakfast is the same every day, of every week, of every month…oatmeal 🙂 I don’t keep a stocked pantry or fridge with the exception of condiments and probably rice.


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares October 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I cook by the “What do I have to use up?” method, and I shop for staples only, never buying ingredients for an individual recipe. When I browse cookbooks, I look for ones that don’t use any convenience foods, and use ingredients I already stock. At this point, though, I really don’t need recipes or cookbooks anymore. After working with the same stock of ingredients for years, I know how to handle them.


leezcheez October 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

We menu plan for the health and variety of it all. It does take time, but we feel it is worth the extra time to increase our vegetable intake especially. When we cooked with staples, we had plenty of starch and meat/entrees in our lives, but fell short on the veges-we really only ate broccoli and cauliflower. I just started to cook about 6 months ago, and still require a recipe for sucess-so, menu planning has been a must for our family of three. I do hope to get to the point that I can purchase more staples, but for now-we are happy and healthy with the planning!


Kate October 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I plan out 2 weeks of menus (paycheck to paycheck). I do 5 meals and then a “free day” (then plan for 5 meals and a free day… etc) and that free day is used for leftovers or if we are over at the in-laws or if we decide to eat out. The way I work with what I have is when I plan my meals I just look and try to use up what I need to. Then I plan new meals too to keep the variety going, so it may be half of something we’ve already had (to use up the ingredients) but then half new stuff too. I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways and this is what works best for us currently. Also I don’t ever make Monday’s meal on Monday but I just make what we’re in the mood for and what time allows. Although when it gets down to the end of the 2 week period whatever is left is what needs to be made.


Jo@simplybeingmum October 17, 2011 at 12:37 am

I saw the words ‘meal plan’ in this post title and my heart skipped a beat! I’m a fanatical meal planner but also do what you do and keep staple ingredients in. This week I’m having a ‘Use It Up Week’ and am working my way through the cupboards but still meal planned around that. I’ve recently managed to reduce my grocery spend by 50% and this makes meal planning even more critical!


Shelley October 17, 2011 at 4:34 am

Like you, I stock a pantry, buying in bulk when I find a good deal. Otherwise, I buy just enough to not run out.

After that, I have a list of the ‘protein’ of the day, so I know in advance WHAT (and can defrost it if frozen), but not necessarily HOW. I often do stir frys for a portion (ie, beans & onions with tomato paste) and steam a pot full of vegetables. Or I might bake a whole chicken or make a casserole, or wrap stuff in a tortilla if we’re going to be out for most of the evening.

I’ve never found using recipes to plan the week’s menu to be a frugal approach – UNLESS I just use the recipes for a broad idea and feel free to substitute virtually any and everything – which I do more often these days than I used to. I think it’s what makes cooking really fun, this experimenting, and whilst the dish might not turn out as the writer intended, it’s entirely edible and enjoyable 99% of the time.


Samantha October 17, 2011 at 5:21 am

I usually flip flop – I’ll meal plan one week (and end up changing up half the meals) and then I won’t meal plan the next week and just work with what we have on hand. I find I can’t consistently meal plan every single day because we end up changing our mind, or being too busy to make what we’ve planned on. I also enjoy the creativity of just coming up with a meal on the fly to use up what we have on hand.


Katy @ Purposely Frugal October 17, 2011 at 6:18 am

I menu plan, but I plan my menu around what I already have and what’s on sale. I’m pretty flexible with my menu plan too. I rarely end up making everything I plan on, it’s just nice to know what I can make because I know I have the ingredients.
And there are certain staples I keep around most of the time too, just like you.


Kimberly October 17, 2011 at 7:47 am

How fun to see a can of El Pato sauce on your post this morning! I almost always have a can of this wonderful stuff in my pantry. I made up my own version of Chicken Tortilla Soup with El Pato as its star ingredient. I’ll share this cheap, use-it-up, super easy recipe:

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Few handfuls leftover shredded chicken
1 can kidney beans, rinsed/drained (or whatever beans you like)
Homemade chicken stock (I probably use about 8 cups)
Handful of uncooked brown rice (adjust amount depending on how thick you want soup)
Handful leftover or frozen corn
Handful shredded or diced carrot
1 small can El Pato Tomato Sauce
About 1″ diced Chipotle in Adobo sauce (add ONLY if you like it hot!)

6-8 corn tortillas cut into about 1/2″ strips
Canola oil

Put stock into large pot. Dump in all other ingredients except last 3. Simmer everything together, stirring occasionally, until rice is fully cooked.

While soup is cooking, on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss tortilla strips w/oil and sprinkle w/salt. Bake at 350 until you get desired degree of crispness. Put the baked strips into an air tight container and — this is important — try to refrain from eating them before the soup is ready.

Serve soup w/some crunchy tortilla strips on top.

I’d love to see a post listing the other meals you make for your family with this sauce!



Jenny October 17, 2011 at 7:53 am

I started using weekly menu-planning a couple months ago and it has changed my life. We have a pretty small kitchen with minimal storage, so having less food on hand actually works out better for finding the ingredients you need to cook. I plan my weekly menu based on what I have on hand first and then add things to my list as needed. I also suffer from “lack of a clue” syndrome when cooking dinners. I can’t look at a pantry full of food and plan meals, but if I plan meals ahead and then buy the ingredients, I feel better (I think this has a LOT to do with my training as a chemist). I also bypass a lot of recipes that have a ton of ingredients when meal-planning and try to limit new recipes to one or two nights a week. Having a shopping list based on meals I know I’ll cook, rather that what I think we need, makes grocery shopping trips cheaper, less-time consuming, and I take home less in the way of processed foods, so we eat better! And I generally leave the store with everything I need, so those last-minute “I forgot to buy xyz” trips are for the most part eliminated.


Lisa Under the Redwoods October 17, 2011 at 7:56 am

I tend to plan and shop once a week. It just makes my life easier (i.e. saner) if I know what we are going to have for dinner. That being said, I tend to use up the fresh food at the beginning of the week and serve items that I can make from the pantry or freezer toward the end. If something happens and no one is home for dinner, if the planned dinner uses the fresh ingredients, it will be used in the next meal (or frozen to be used later). I also make sure that I make a dish with plenty of leftovers at the beginning of the week. That way I have something to take to work for lunch.


Bellen October 17, 2011 at 8:39 am

I plan the main part of dinners – Sun-Sat it is beef, chix, pork, pasta, chix, fish and other which is soup, pizza, tacos. The sides are rice, potatoes, noodles and the veggies are what is coming from the garden, in season or on sale.

As we have to buy the protein at the store we buy reduced for clearance first, then what’s on sale and in desperation full price.

I have no waste and a full pantry of stock items. Our monthly budget is $400 for 3 adults and we do 2 major shoppng trips monthly with weekly fill-ins. We always have items purchased that carry over from week to week and month to month. Without trying we have enough food to eat for 2 weeks without shopping, being a little more careful it would last 1 month, being even more careful – 6 weeks. Planning on eating what you have, knowing how to cook from scratch and buying what you know you like goes a long way to frugalness in the kitchen.


Carrie October 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I LOVE the idea of googling ingredients to find recipe. (Smacks forehead!) Why didn’t I think of that?

I totally see the wisdom in flying by the seat of your pants. Even though I’ve been cooking since I became a wife at the age of (barely) 19, I still need to menu plan. To me it’s stressful to plan a meal at the last minute. I admire people who can do it like you do!

I make two week plans based around what I already have and what’s on sale currently. But it’s a loose plan. I end up improvising about 20% of the time.


Jessi October 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

We get a CSA box and plan our meals for the week based on the veggies that we get. Typically, I’ll plan out each day of the week but when it actually comes time to cook, I’ll make whatever on the menu works best for that day. Also, if I really don’t want to make anything on the menu, I’ll improvise based on what I have. So it’s a sort of loose menu planning. But whenever I really go off my planning, I end up wasting my CSA veggies.


Diane October 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm

And to think all these years I’ve been reading (and buying and happily consuming the contents of) that can as “El Patio”. Thank you, Katy, for opening my eyes! At first I thought it was a trick to see if we were paying attention. Now, what the heck is a “Pato”? In my imagination, it sounds vaguely uncomplimentary. Please, enlighten me!


Christa the BabbyMama October 18, 2011 at 6:14 am

I can’t do a X on Monday, Y on Tuesday… etc. type meal plan. I have tried. As I wrote in a recent post, that is a sure fire way to guarantee I do not want to eat X or Y on that day. I don’t know why and I know it’s silly, but it just is. And if I just buy staples with no plan, I find myself floundering for something to cook or eat at 6 p.m. since I will not think about dinner during the day. I just won’t. BUT if I plan a round of six or seven meals, some of which have shared ingredients, then shop for those, I know that on any day I can choose one and have everything I need on hand. Always with a veggie side so the veg is used up before it spoils. So far, this is working out great and I have managed to really maximize my food dollar while still buying components of the foods I actually like and want to eat. Some are more complicated than others, but there are always staples like omelets and pancakes that I can do in a pinch when I’m absolutely beat at dinnertime.


Holly H October 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I’m very similar, I mostly shop to stock up on my own staple ingredients. I am single, so it does change things a bit. Since I am generally not the type of single gal that enjoys a lean cuisine entree or “grill one chicken breast, microwave rice, steam broccoli” every night, I generally make large batch meals that I can eat over 4 days or so (generally M-Th). I usually make one for lunches and one for dinners. So in the middle of the week I usually think about what I might want to eat the next week. If there is something I am craving, I’ll see what I have and what I’d need to buy. If I have no idea what to eat (which is the usual scenario!) I look in the freezer and pantry for ideas. Here is an example: I’ve already decided to make some chili beans over rice for next week. I looked in the pantry and saw the beans and made that decision. So I pulled the meat out of the freezer today. When I go shopping either tomorrow or Saturday night I’ll get the hot peppers to go in there, and I’ll have to see how much rice I have left before I go. Then Sunday I will cook it.


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