When it comes to menu planning, I am generally pretty organized about the whole affair.
First, I pick out one or two of my cookbooks to pick recipes from. Sometimes I pick out an old favorite book, or other times I'll grab an unused book, or a new purchase! This week, what with family breakfast for easter, I picked out a few more sources than usual.
This week's sources:
Healthy Hedonist (one of my favorite cookbooks)
Healthy Hedonist Holidays (found it at the used bookstore, had never used it before)
Vegetarian Times (special vegan cheese article!)
Olive Trees and Honey (my newest purchase)
I like this system, because it keeps me on top of using my cookbooks, although there are still a few in my library that I almost never use (but refuse to get rid of just yet).
Next, I make a detailed list:
Which item I"m making, and for which days. What cookbook it's from, and what's the page number. List all the ingredients.
Then I go to the fridge and the cupboard and cross off whatever I already have. (Though sometimes I forget this important step, and suddenly I have 3 bags of couscous).
The first shopping trip is to the farmer's market! I do my menu planning on Tuesdays and Fridays, so that I can be all ready for the farmer's markets on Wednesday and Saturday. I buy whatever I can locally at the market, and then I head over to the local health food store. Going to the market twice a week also keeps me up on what's seasonal, and I would say that I buy at least 85% of my produce locally/seasonally. It's always especially exciting when you see the first asparagus, or the first tomatoes (hallelujah!)... but often I make myself wait a week and look up a recipe for that special ingredient, unless it's an easy one to use up.
Last week, with this big shopping list, I needed some specialty items, so I endured the traditional March of the Vegans and went to 4 different grocery stores: Trader Joes for cheap nuts, Specialty Store for candied citron for hot cross buns, Whole Foods to use $10 off coupon, then Local HFS to do the remainder of my shopping! Surely I am not the only foodie vegan to endure this type of shopping marathon.
Next step, come home and do my best to stick to the menu plan! Sometimes I falter, or we decide to go out, or I am too tired to cook, or whatever. Failure to stick to the plan usually results in something slowly rotting in the fridge. Impulse purchases that aren't accounted for in my menu plan usually sit on my cupboard shelf for months. Lately though, I have been reverse engineering a little - looking at what's in my cupboards or freezer, and looking for recipes to use those ingredients before they're unusable.
People are often amazed by my super tidy system, but I find that I waste a lot more food when I don't use this system. So far, I'm not much of an innovator in the kitchen, so sticking to recipes helps me know what I'm buying and why I"m buying it!