This is a guest post by danae of Domestic Servitude for this month's Domestic Pleasure Series.

Menu planning can save you money, time and just sanity. I menu plan when I make my grocery list. I start by going through my pantry and freezer and throwing out things that are old, expired or don’t look good/smell good. Maybe I have 5 pounds of chicken but only 1 pound of ground beef - then I better start planning chicken for the menu. I straighten things up and organize so that I have a clear view of items I have and can use. It also makes putting away groceries easier if things are more organized.

I menu plan for 2 weeks at a time but usually have things on hand for a month worth of menus. Because I often have our favorite meals easily able to repeat a couple times a month. But of course each family/household is different and so maybe menu planning for a month makes more sense for you.

I don’t do a strict calendar of menus such as Monday is Roast Beef and Mashed Potatoes. I do a list because our schedules change so often that I might not be able to make a roast on Monday. I refer to the list to see the options. And assess our day before choosing from the list. If you have a fairly consistent schedule, writing out the menu on a calendar is a great idea. And if you see on Thursday you are making a roast -- you can write on the calendar the day you need to take it out to thaw. We have a dry erase board on our fridge so I usually write a note to myself there if I need to take something out.

My pantry – freezer is also stocked with some main staple meal ideas that are available just in case that I can create in 30 minutes or less (such as stir fry). But often with menu planning, they aren’t needed it. It is just some nights things do get so busy that, dinner is the last thing on my mind so it is good to have a backup plan.

Every 3 to 4 months, I go through my recipe box, cookbooks, bookmarks online and past menu lists and flag things I want to make again in the future. And then if I am stuck, I go I grab one of those flagged cookbooks, recipes from the box or from online and find menu ideas. I also like to throw new recipes into the mix at least once a month.

When it is coming to the end of the two weeks, I start to plan for the next and have many options to use to plan the menus.

  • go through the recipes I have flagged
  • look at past meal lists/menu calendars - helps me get ideas but also helps me not repeat
  • look through grocery ads - often looking through them I find something that sparks an idea or sounds good
  • look in pantry, fridge, freezer -- is there something that needs to be used soon? Is there something I have quite a bit of so should start using it up? Also is there something I have in the pantry that I always prepare the same way - maybe I can come up with something new for it?
  • think about seasonal produce -- I think about what I can incorporate that is in season. Fresh produce that is in season always tastes extraordinary without a lot of work put into it. Just a little olive oil and salt and pepper and usually you can have a wonderful side.
  • ask - I ask Himself if there is anything he is craving or would like to see on the menu

This all might seem a little daunting - taking the time to do this, but the more menu planning you do, the easier it becomes. And you will be thankful that you are not looking in the pantry thinking “what do I make for dinner?”

RESOURCES TO ORGANIZE

Google Calendar – it is a good basic, easily accessible way to organize your menu. It also allows you to set up email reminders.

Meals Matter Menu Planning

– it has a calendar to plug in menus, shopping lists, recipes and input your pantry also

Monthly Meal Planner

– It gives you ideas but also lets you cancel out their ideas put on your own with instructions and create a grocery list

Plan Meals with Ease

– I just found this one and haven’t had time to explore it but it says that it has a calendar, meal ideas, recipe organizer, smart grocery list, and a mobile phone site.

Organized Home

– at the end of this article, they have links to printable menu planners, shopping lists, pantry lists and other helpful household notebook pages.

Danae is service-oriented property.  She has been writing about her life since 2000 on her blog (http://danaewhispering.blogspot.com/) as well as on the website within Reality (http://www.withinreality.com/). But a passion of hers is domestic service and she has a blog (http://domesticservitude.blogspot.com/) devoted to the subject. Danae, along with her co-authors, share recipes, cleaning instructions,  diy projects and many domestic related resources.  Please feel free to contact her at danaewhispering@yahoo.com