Okay. Melissa wants everyone to weigh in on meal planning. So, let us oblige.
I have - at different times - done meals all three ways she mentions.
1. do you plan your week's (or month's) menu ahead of time so you know what special ingredients to keep on hand?
I normally do plan a week (upon the arrival of the grocery store weekly deals paper or, when signed up for a farm CSA, the planning would take place when I get the list of that week's produce box.) of meals. I have never planned a whole month. That would be hard for me, I think...
This is, for sure, my favorite modus operandi. You can plan based on sales, the season & what you have in the house that needs to be used. If you plan well, you don't have to go to the store more than once or twice a week. And, above all these things, you have the comfort of a plan. I like to know what is ahead! But, alas - you cannot always plan ahead. Sometimes I do do number #2...
2. or do you simply decide menus day by day, depending on what you find already on hand?
I have done this during times when I was not putting so much time into the cooking part of homemaking. I hadn't put the time in to plan, therefore, I had to think on my feet. Or, things just happen, & I didn't get to the store, etc... It is a new thing for me. A challenge, to be sure. This is a marvelous skill. And, I want to continue to learn it. I used to fear improvisation. I only used recipes. I wouldn't even ever want to substitute an ingredient. I have literally cried about not forgetting a particular ingredient for dinner. (This was when I was brand new at all this & extremely inflexible. Scott was suggesting that I fix something else for dinner, assuming that would be simple enough. I was having a total breakdown....)
Now, my hand has been forced. A woman cannot just cry every time things don't go according to plan. She needs to improvise. And, you know, it feels good. It is good to be creative & independent.
3. or do you end up running to the store for a handful of things on a frequent basis when you find recipes with cool ingredients?
This was my style when I lived at home with my parents & cooked a couple times a week. I thought it was a marvelous way to do things, although my mom would always tell me otherwise. Once I had to cook everyday, & be the one to pay for the groceries, somehow, her points were all so clear. This method tends to waste a lot of time & money. I guess this is an example of why we should heed wise counsel & instruction, even if we don't understand it...