A few years ago, Sean and I spent a totally, ridiculously disproportionate amount of time at the grocery store. We went 3-5 times/week because we were never very thoughtful about what we bought and how it related to what we might want to cook that week. While some people can whip up something amazing using whatever’s in the fridge, we’re not those people. We can cook, but we need a plan….and we’re better off if we have a recipe. So finally, after having our second child and realizing that hauling two kids to the grocery story multiple times each week wasn’t sustainable or fun, we started putting together a weekly menu. It takes some work, but a weekly menu has cut our shopping time, saved us money, taken away the stress of trying to figure out what to make every night, and better allowed us to share responsibility for feeding our family. Oh, we don’t eat bread, cheese, salad and wine every single night for dinner anymore.
So how does this work? Here’s our system:
- Saturday or Sunday, one of us takes the lead on planning a menu for that week. We plan four meals, assuming that we’ll either eat out or eat leftovers one night during the week. We have a chalkboard in the kitchen where we write down what’s on the menu each day of the week
- We survey what’s in the fridge and make a list of what we’ll need for that week’s meals and then divide the list by what we need to get at Trader Joe’s versus Whole Foods versus the farmer’s market (I know, this isn’t very efficient, but unless Trader Joe’s starts sourcing better produce and meat, we’ve got to do it)
- We prep what we can (cutting veggies, washing lettuce, etc on the weekend) when we can. I wish we were better about this, but takes commitment
- We keep any recipes we’re using in a recipe box at Epicurious.com (I’m sure there are lots of organizers out there, but this is the one we started using, so now it’s tough to switch)
- We make family meals. If the kids don’t want to eat salmon, tough luck. It’s difficult enough to make one meal at night, much less two!
- We stick to our menu (for the most part)! And having a fallback go out/eat leftovers/make eggs option takes the pressure off
So what’s on the menu this week?
- Mon – off the hook (going out with friends)!
- Tues – roasted chicken thighs with carrots and sweet potatoes, green salad
- Weds – broiled salmon, rice pilaf, green salad
- Thurs – chicken, broccoli, and red pepper stir-fry
- Fri – asparagus/leek soup (in the Vitamix), grilled sausage, green salad
What’s your system for cooking at home in as little time as possible? Do you have a few “go-to” menus? Do you prep everything on the weekend? Do you trade off meal duty with your partner? And if you have a weekly menu to share, please send or post it, as I’m always looking for ideas!
One thing that works well for us to minimize time at the grocery store is to have a shopping list template which is organized by AISLE/space. It makes the time at the grocery store very efficient – I just walk the store once, and only the aisles I need. We go to the grocery store only once a week. The list also has pre-populated the things we buy every week, such as the ingredients we use to make smoothies, which we make once on the weekends for the whole week, and the prepared TJ’s salads that make up all my lunches. In case it’s helpful, the grocery list by aisle template we created is at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fptd0o29t9kpv26/grocery%20list.xls
Ed – Your insane efficiency never fails to amaze me. Thanks so much for sharing!
It’s so funny that you wrote about this today because I was just telling some friends how much I love my newly implemented weekly menu. It has saved me so much time at the grocery store, money on unused produce and stress at 3:30, which was when I used to decide what to make for dinner each night. I usually set the menu on Sunday mornings and shop for everything I need that day. I may need to go back on Thursday or Friday to pick up some fresh fish/meat and produce, but twice a week at the grocery store is nothing compared to my old daily trips. Here is my menu for this week. Let me know if you’d like any of the recipes & I’ll email them to you.
Sunday: Croque Monsieurs & thyme roasted sweet potatoes
Monday: Vodka sauce with whole wheat penne, chicken & a green salad
Tonight: Blue Cheese couscous cakes and a green salad
Wednesday: Spicy fish sandwiches & Asian slaw
Thursday: Tequila lime chicken, roasted corn & black beans
Friday: out with friends!
Saturday: shrimp fajitas, guac & chips
Note: it’s just a coincidence that two meals have alcohol in the title, I promise:)
Angela – This looks amazing. I basically want to eat at your house every night! I’d love the spicy fish and tequilla lime chicken recipes. Thanks for sharing!
Oh, you know this is such a hot topic for me. Every time I read something like this, I think hard about how I can get my own act together. I just recently “announced” (not really TO anybody but myself 🙂 that I would start planning menus and doing my shopping for the entire week on Sunday nights or late afternoon. That would/will hopefully motivate me to cook efficiently and have everything I need right in my fridge.
Still, though, I think there’s something about me and cooking that’s more deeply rooted, and maybe if can get to the bottom of that, I’ll be able to come to better terms with it. I don’t know if it’s because food allergies/restrictions make me feel a little tired of THINKING so much about what to eat (I can’t eat any spices, so I constantly have to modify recipes, etc) and my husband doesn’t eat dairy, so both of those together are somewhat limiting. When you add in the fact that I want all of the meals I make to be exclusively healthy, you end up with a lot of boring, plain fish. And a salad. Also, I tend to get so hungry right BEFORE dinner – while I’m feeding my 1yo at 6ish – that I eat some of his food and then I’m not really hungry for dinner….
Thanks again for the tips, though! Work in progress for me, clearly!
Rebecca – I feel your pain. I don’t LOVE cooking either and definitely just eat weird things from my kids’ plates if I don’t have a plan. Maybe trying the menu planning will help you get to the root of the issue…what if you just plan 2-3 nights/week and let yourself go out/makeshift/order/whatever the other nights? Start small and try to do something that feels achievable and try it consistently for a month to see if it becomes easier/more natural/more enjoyable. Another thought is to focus on what you CAN eat, versus what you CAN’T. I know that’s easier said than done, but a small re-frame can sometimes work wonders. Thanks for your honest post. xo
I love this! I also love relishrelish.com which helps plan weekly menus – complete with recipe and grocery lists…
I didn’t know about relishrelish.com. I’m going to try it. Thanks!