Monday, August 16, 2010

Reverse Menu Planning

From the Dollar Stretcher. Apparently, this is what I've been doing the whole time--I thought I just had a menu planning-deficient gene!

"What is reverse menu planning? Instead of planning a menu and then shopping, you first take an inventory of what you have on hand, then plan a menu using those items. This method also takes some time, but it's well worth the effort and you save the time you would have spent matching the specials up to coupons and shopping at the grocery!

First of all, you are going to spend a lot less money, maybe nothing if you use what you have on hand instead of making your normal weekly shopping trip. Call me crazy, but every penny Mrs. Roy doesn't spend goes to the bottom line at my house. If you have been in the coupon-clipping, match with a sale, buy the loss leader mode for a while, it is going to be hard to break the habit and stay home this week. Try to remember that all sales are on a cycle; it will come on sale again. And no matter what is on sale this week, free is cheaper.

With reverse menu planning, you don't have to worry about freezer burn burning up your good bargains. I don't know about you, but sometimes Mrs. Roy forgets what is in my freezer. We actually have three freezers, so that makes it even harder. Other than the Skinny Cow ice cream (Mrs. Roy always knows exactly where that is!), some things have a tendency to hang out in my freezers longer than they should. A periodic reverse menu inventory helps me keep food from getting too old to use.

Taking inventory of the refrigerator means you are going to have to take a hard look at the types of things you stash and forget. Hopefully, there won't be too many science projects growing in there and you will be able to figure out how to use the last piece of that chunk of cheddar, half a head of cabbage, and that little dab of tomato paste. Be honest with yourself; if your family doesn't eat leftovers, don't wrap them up and stick them in the refrigerator to die a slow, painful death. Just toss them after dinner. It may be wasteful, but at least it's honest. Or start a soup bucket in your freezer. That's an airtight container where you dump the extra green beans, macaroni, tomatoes, etc. until you have enough to make a big pot of vegetable soup.

When Mrs. Roy inventories the pantry, I always find things that I don't remember buying and don't like to eat so those things go in a bag for the food pantry. In other words, my family and someone else's family benefit from this reverse menu planning process.

Once you know what you have on hand, the next step is really fun. You start making menus based on what you have! Mrs. Roy usually ends up with at least a dozen or so meals that require little or no supplementing from the grocery store. I post the list on the refrigerator and then mark them off as we eat our way through the list."

This is how I operate--I emphasize on stocking the pantry cheaply, THEN worry about what we're going to have for dinners. Since I now have a vast array of choices ALREADY IN MY HOME, I don't really have to "plan" anything, but instead just have to choose.

"Reverse menu planning is always a learning experience for me. When I see the store brand pudding we tried but didn't like, I learn to stick to the other brand. If there is half a head of cabbage melting in the bottom of the produce drawer, Mrs. Roy will remember to buy less next time. There's no sense going to the bread store and stocking up if the extras get freezer burn before we can eat them. Half a bag of onions or potatoes with sprouts coming out of the eyes means Mrs. Roy bought more than we could eat. I'll take those lessons with me the next time I shop for groceries.

Reverse menu planning is a great habit to have for when there is more month than money. Reverse menu planning will give you a real sense of accomplishment. You will be saving money. You will be making good use of the things you've already spent your family's money buying. And you will be a good steward by using what you have instead of buying more." I can sleep better.


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