Almost every health book, mother, article about grocery shopping, and article about saving money on food tells you to meal plan. Let’s be real, meal planning is overwhelming. There are many factors to process such as schedules, grocery shopping, knowing what to cook, and other complexities. So how do we wade through all of the decisions? Here are five things that have helped me routinely plan our meals.
1. Keep a monthly calendar. Keeping a monthly calendar will help you see patterns in your week, identify days you can’t cook or don’t need to cook, and plan for fast meals and leftovers. This might seem like a big deal but don’t over-complicate it. This is for weekly events, monthly events, and irregular events such as: community group, dinner club, accountability group, date night, church, marathon, dinner with friends, etc. Throw this calendar on the fridge, and put a pen in the drawer with your saran wrap or scissors for easy access. If you don’t already keep a planner, grab a sheet of paper and jot out a quick calendar - you can even do it in list form with the numbers 1-31. I buy the MomAgenda Weekly Meal Planner for $16. It is a magnetic calendar pad that we leave on the fridge.
2. Look for weekly rhythms. We have set days that we aren’t home in the evenings or that one of us is not home. These recurring events help me develop a cooking routine. I try to never cook more than four dinners in a week, no matter what our schedule. This means building in leftovers and opportunities for us to fend for ourselves for dinner. I pre-choose which nights we are going to eat leftovers and when I am going to cook. I usually jot our meal plans into the calendar so the hubby and I are both on the same page. Most weeks I end up making 1-2 meals that we can eat for 2-3 meals such as a healthy casserole, crockpot dish, or a meat and veggies combination. Then I also make 1-2 one-off meals such as quesadillas, grilled cheeses, burritos, breakfast for dinner, etc.
3. Choose recipes. Whether you find your recipes on Pinterest, in cookbooks, in newsletters, or on blogs, most of people have a way of obtaining recipes that look appealing. After looking at your schedule, and planning your rhythm, you should know how many meals you need to cook and whether you need leftovers or not. Pick the recipes that look most appealing to you for the week. Until you get your rhythms down, experiment with the complexity of recipes. Over time, you’ll be able to read a recipe and know if you want to cook it or not based on the involvement level.
4. Make a grocery list. Grab a sheet of paper or a note taking app. (I personally love the Wunderlist app.) Write down every item needed for the recipe, even the items you think you already have. Then get up, go comb through your pantry and your fridge, and cross out the items that are already there. This eliminates assuming that you have something, grocery shopping, and then cooking the recipe and realizing that you forgot a critical element like the cheddar for the grilled cheese. While you are evaluating your supplies, figure out what weekly items you need. (I always restock baking supplies, cereals, bananas, apples, peanut butter, etc. whenever we get low or run out.) Keeping the meal pad on the fridge as well as the app on my phone gives me ample opportunity throughout the week to jot down items as they run out or I think about them. They also provide ways for my hubby to let me know if he needs me to pick something up.
5. Know your grocery. Spend time learning where things are at the grocery and developing your own grocery store rhythm. Having a routine will help accelerate your trip and will jog your memory of any items you accidentally left off of your list. I have my own grocery maze path that I adhere to and am always amazed at the several items I remember that I need as I shop. If I go at the right time of day, I can get in and out of the grocery in under thirty minutes because I’ve learned it well.
Is this article helpful to you? Do you have other meal planning tips? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!