Menu Planning for One

by Elizabeth on January 20, 2011 · 8 comments

in cooking for one, Frugality, Grocery shopping, How Tos, menu planning


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I mentioned the other day that I was interested in doing a series of posts on shopping and cooking for one, and some of you expressed interest, so today will be the first post in this series.

When I was in school, and doing the grocery shopping for just me, I was spending about $25 a week. Now that is just on groceries, I was spending an extra $25 or so a month on toiletries and other home necessities. So I decided, now that I’m on my own again, that I should stick with that goal of spending $25 a week. In order to do that, I menu plan and stick to a set grocery list.

I realize that not everyone menu plans like I do and I also know that not everyone menu plans at all. Menu planning works for me and I’ve found this to be an effective way to save money on groceries.

So how do I menu plan?

Once a week (usually on Fridays or Saturdays, whenever I’m going to go to the grocery store), I sit down with my binder full of recipes and a few cookbooks, this week’s grocery story circular, my coupons, and my previous menus (stored so excellently here). Don’t get a newspaper (and the grocery stores’ circulars)? Most grocery stores publish their sale items online, which makes shopping sales and matching coupons very easy.

I sort of think about what I haven’t had lately, what I’ve been wanting to try, and how much I think I’ll feel like cooking. Once I get a basic idea of what I’m thinking about cooking for the week, I take stock of what’s in my pantry, freezer, and fridge. What needs to be eaten before it goes bad? What can I do with all this spinach/chicken/insert favorite sale item here that’s been hanging around so that it will go away?

Once I have a basic idea of what I have (and don’t have) on hand, I pull out my recipes and get to looking. I pick out recipes that will use up what I have on hand and I try to make one new recipe a week (it helps combat the enormous amount of recipes I pull of the internet that usually go untried). After those two things (if I still need more meals), I fill in the blanks with whatever I feel like cooking and what’s on sale.

An example: frozen shrimp is on sale and I have a new shrimp recipe I’ve been wanting to try. So, I pick the best day for that meal based on my schedule and write it down on my menu planner (I use this one if you’re interested). Then I add all the ingredients I don’t already have on hand to the grocery list (which is why I like this particular planner – it has a grocery list attached!). If the recipe I’m making needs sides, I pick those out to and make sure everything I need is on the list. Once one day is done, I repeat the process until I have a full menu.

After I’ve settled on dinner plans, I move onto breakfast and lunch. If I’m not taking leftovers for lunch, I usually take a sandwich or soup with crackers, so if I need anything to replace what’s been used, I put it on the list. I do the same with breakfast. Then I decide if I need to bake anything (bread, snacks, something sweet, etc) and add whatever I don’t have to my list. If I have any coupons that are about to expire for something that’s on sale or something that’s one of my staple items (more on that in another post!), I add it to my list to help keep up my stock pile.

It may be anal of me (but we all know I’m slightly obsessed with lists), but I like to organize my grocery list according to how I shop the store. (If this is too much for you, feel free to stop reading now.) I always hit the bakery/deli area, then the produce, then the cereal aisle, etc, so that’s how I write my list. I do this for two reasons: 1) it keeps me from walking all over the store, and 2) it helps me not to miss anything. But the most important thing I do (and if you don’t get anything else out of this post, I hope you get this) is stick to my list. Having a list is great, but if you give into impulses and buy things not on the list, your grocery budget will go out the window. So stick to the list!!

Menu planning does take time (usually about 30 minutes), but I find that it makes life much easier, I don’t waste as much food, and it saves me money. I find those benefits to outweigh the extra time it takes to sit down and actually do it.

Do you menu plan? Do you menu plan like I do or do you have another way?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cate January 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I plan my menu pretty much exactly the same way: a combo of what's on sale, what do I want to eat, what do I feel like cooking, what do I have coupons for, what food do I already have in the house, etc.

Also, don't feel bad…I organize my grocery list by the store's layout, too! It's so much easier and faster than randomly trekking all over the store or consulting your list every time you walk down a new aisle.

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2 withduckandgoose January 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I don't shop at stores that run sales. There are two that I use primarily – the one is Save-A-Lot, a national chain of discount grocery stores, and the other is a local mark-down store that carries a variety of things at super-cheap prices (think canned goods 4/$1). They do this to sell close-to-code and overstock food without wasting it – which I think is a totally noble cause.

As far as planning is concerned, I have my own recipe book that I've compiled throughout the years with recipes I love and so I go through it, make 2 weeks' of meal plans that way, and shop accordingly. I also rearrange my lists according to store layout. I thought I was completely weird because of that :-p

When all is said and done, we have a budget of $100/week for 4 of us (including toiletries, and baby items like diapers). I usually end up at $150-ish for 2 weeks though, but it's nice to know that I *could* go to $200 if needed.

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3 Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) January 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I am SO jealous of how organized and efficient you are. I would love to plan the way you do. I'm sure it saves a lot of money and keeps life running more smoothly.
I was going to respond that it's next to impossible to do that kind of planning for a family of six, but then I saw the comment from 'withduckandgoose.' Now I'm really impressed. I spend a lot more than $100 a week on groceries plus toiletries (for six of us, not just four). Part of the reason is that we keep strictly kosher and it's harder to buy on sale when you have that kind of restriction. (So many sale items aren't kosher.) Kosher food costs 25-50% more.
But it's definitely also lack of organization. I'm sure if I took a bit of time to plan like you do, I could save a bundle.
Thanks for the inspiration!!!

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4 amber January 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

THANK YOU for this!! rob & i end up spending like $100 every time we go grocery shopping because we just haphazardly buy stuff, then get home & realize that none of it really goes together thus we have "nothing to eat" so we go grab fast food because it is easier and more money is wasted. I'm going to try to sit down with rob and our roommate this weekend and see if we can whip up a plan for the week. yay!!

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5 Jenny E. January 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

There's a pretty good cookbook called "Table for One" by Camille Funk. All the recipes are portions are one person. My mom picked up my copy and was looking at it and liked a bunch of the recipes but she'd have to double them since she cooks for two.

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