The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

April 11, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Menus cut down shopping trips

JOPLIN, Mo. — It's no secret that I adore the idea of being organized. The level of simplicity and control gained by having a plan and sticking to it makes me giddy. I'll never deny my love of order, I just hope I can manage to harness it better in the future.

Because while the intent is pure, the execution is flawed: I am terribly disorganized most of the time.

This seems to consistently cause more headaches than necessary in one particular area: Dinner.

When I eventually come up with something to prepare, it's inevitable that I'm missing a key ingredient. If I've just been to the store, I'll probably have to return the next day because my shopping list was greatly underpopulated.

It's not uncommon to see me frantically rushing to pick up Òjust a fewÓ extra groceries several times a week, and shamefully leaving the store with more than we need or can afford. When I can't manage to nail down a recipe in time, we're stuck with sandwiches or take-out, dull or costly.

In order to cut back on unnecessary trips, squandered cash, lost sanity and late-afternoon indecision, the clear solution is a menu. And not just a weekly menu, either. I'm talking about a sprawling, detailed, monthly menu that can double as a shopping list.

In the past when I've given myself the ÒI need a menuÓ pep talk, it's seemed troublesome and daunting. But now that I've taken the first steps, our monthly menus have quickly become indispensable. Here's how I've made it both easy and helpful.

First, I use an entire blank calendar. Your regular day-planner would suffice, but in order to reap the benefits of the shopping list, there needs to be plenty of room on each day.

This could easily be done using software or an app, but I like the way a calendar full of plans looks hanging in my kitchen. The hard copy is easily manipulated and everyone in the family knows what's on tap on any given day.

With one meal per square and all ingredients noted, there's less chance I'll miss something when I'm making my shopping list. I can highlight all the things I need, cutting down on unnecessary trips to the store. If I'm feeling adventurous, I could shop for an entire month of groceries.

In order to keep from being overwhelmed by 30 days of blank boxes, I've kept my weeks consistent. Tacos on Tuesday, soup and salad on Wednesday, pizza or pancakes on Friday. These staples each happen at least twice a month. Nobody minds the repetition if it's spread out over an entire month, and the variation keeps us satisfied.

On the days we're not having regular staple meals, we make a point of being more adventurous. I try to throw in a few family favorites and one or two new recipes each month. With four weeks available at a glance, it's easy to see where we're pasta-heavy or protein-light and switch up the options.

Plus, there's something wonderful about looking at the menu in the morning to see what my food-prep will require and seeing that it's leftover night. Or even better, restaurant night. When you make three meals each day for five people, the promise of no work could make you happy all day and leave you with plenty of free time to create a lavish dessert.

Which can, of course, be built into your menu and shopping list. Nobody wants to run out of chocolate chips at an inopportune moment.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,

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