Categorical menu planning

5 Jan

It is common knowledge among my family and friends that I hate my job. I want nothing more than to be able to submit my two-week notice and walk away, free and clear from the gray-hued, fluorescent-lighted pit of despair that holds me hostage 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, my family is not in a financial position to allow that to happen. We’re working our way towards that place, but it’s a really long walk. Kind of like the Oregon Trail.

If you’re familiar with the Oregon Trail (the game, not the real thing), you know that in addition to staving off dysentery, mending broken bones, forging rivers and hunting buffalo, you need to stop and buy supplies. For me, buying those supplies is what happens at the grocery store. And I never, ever go into the grocery store without a list. I’ve tried shopping without a list and it has been nothing short of a disaster (like trying to trade your bullets for oxen, only to find out your oxen have asthma and an attitude problem).

Just like the pioneers learned the hard way that it’s difficult to forge the river without a proper raft, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s difficult to make a grocery list without a menu plan.  In an effort to learn from my mistakes,  that’s what I do. I make a menu plan. For a while, I was just browsing my cookbooks and websites, trying to find new and old favorites. This method was not working. It was an abysmal disaster in every. Conceivable. Way.

So, I started doing some research on how women in the 1950s made menu plans (I have an obsession with anything 1950s kitchen related. We’ll discuss that another day). What I found was that they broke their meals into categories: casseroles, meatloaf (which will never, ever happen at my house), pasta, etc. I totally fell in love with this idea. It was also how my sleep-away camp fed us (Friday pizza bagels!) but I don’t think that’s why I loved the idea. I love the idea because it’s just so simple and makes complete financial sense.

In an effort to not make a totally unilateral decision, I talked to my husband about this new method. To my amazement, he liked it! But not before he made his mandatory suggestions. However, unlike most of his mandatory suggestions, these actually made sense. He suggested that we have 14 categories written down on little pieces of paper; each of those categories is assigned a number and each week, we pull a number out of a hat. This way, he rationalized, we still have the simplicity of menu planning by category but we keep some variety.

I thought about it. And I agreed. And so far, this method has worked out splendidly.  We’re trying a ton of new recipes, we’re saving money and time, and having a menu lottery is kind of fun.

Now, if I can just figure out how to shoot buffalo instead of those annoying rabbits…

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5 Responses to “Categorical menu planning”

  1. Sarah January 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    good idea on that! i’ve been thinking of going categorical with my menu plans… but haven’t yet. maybe i will now 🙂 what are your categories?

  2. Tia January 6, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    What a great idea. Please share the 14 categories you chose. I’d like to set up something similar. I have the usual suspects each week for dinner, and would like to change the rotation.

  3. alternotreality January 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m doing menu planning right now, too, so I’m all ears for your categories.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chili seasoning straight from the pantry « The Empty Kitchen - February 9, 2011

    […] is one night per week that is exempt from categorical menu planning. Why is this night different from all others? It is the night that my husband works until 10:30 pm […]

  2. Chili seasoning straight from the pantry « The Empty Kitchen - February 9, 2011

    […] Feb There is one night per week that is exempt from categorical menu planning. Why is this night different from all others? It is the night that my husband works until 10:30 pm […]

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