Meal Planning in 5 Steps
I’ve never been much of a planner. Dreamer, you betcha. But recently, a series of events brought about some major changes in my household. One of those was the need for a better budget and eating at home more often. While we enjoy cooking, the lack of planning certainly led to a lot of eating out. So after careful consideration and research, I’ve laid out my meal planning in 5 steps.
1. Gather recipes and ideas: You can get ideas and recipes from any number of places. Pinterest, Food Network, cookbooks, and even the labels of products you already buy! You also need to have a way to keep track of them whether that’s a notebook, a Word document, a Pinterest board, or even your own scrapbook that will become your recipe book. This would also be the time to consider any dietary restrictions for members of your household.
2. Plan your meals: Now that you have recipes, decide how long you are planning for, whether it’s just for the week or the entire month. Plenty of folks do this either way, based on their budget or, for me, pantry or storage space. For this article, I will use my weekly meal plan technique. I usually write out the days of the week, and each day’s meals beneath the day’s heading. Pen and paper more often than not! I know some folks who also keep a spreadsheet on their computer or even use sticky notes so they can rearrange easily! Breakfast may be cereal and milk 5 days a week, and lunches may be sandwiches, wraps or salads. Consider what fits your family’s routine and preferences. Dinners and snacks are usually the “tricky” parts if you will. But just decide what meal you’re going to eat on which night so you can go to the next step. It’s not written in stone, so you can always swap meals in the week if needed.
3. Making your grocery list & go shopping: At this point, go through your meal planner day by day, and write down what items you need. If you need multiples, add them up or make tick marks (don’t worry, you can always clean it up before you go to the store if needed). Depending on how comfortable you are, and time constraints, you may want to break your finished list into aisles or sections of your local store. I know how frustrating it is to get home and realize you forgot something! You may do your shopping while the kids are in school or at night when your spouse is home; or maybe they go with you! I almost always have my “little helper” with me, so he gets to help with the list and picking out items. In either case, check items off your list and head to the checkout counter. Then get those groceries home and put away!
4. Do your prep work: This could be considered optional for some folks, if you have more time to spend on cooking. In my family though, it’s a must. This is the part where, based on your meal plan, what items can you prepare ahead of time, usually in large quantities that can be broken down as needed. For example, I usually flavor my ground meat almost the same way for a variety of dishes. So I’ll cook it all in one big batch, seasoning, onions, everything, then after it cools, portion it out depending on what recipe I’m using it for. You can also break down your veggies this way, especially if you’re using your food processor. Then store it in the fridge or freezer, depending on when you need it, and it’s ready to go. Don’t be scared to write on the baggie or plastic container what “meal” the contents are for. It’s easy to forget!
5. Following your meal plan: I keep mine on the fridge. This is so not only I can keep track of what we’re having for the day, but so can my family. This also helps so I know if we’re having lasagne tonight, I’d better make sure I have the already prepared hamburger meat in the fridge or yank it out of the freezer in the morning. Or if you need to set the slow cooker up before you leave for work, you can easily see that based on the meal/recipe you have scheduled on the board. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as you understand it. I know ladies that keep it all on their tablet or smart phone, and it works for them! As you prepare meals for your family, cross them off or make notes for yourself if something was a big hit or flop. So when you start the process again for next week, you have that information already on hand.
There are a lot of strategies for meal planning, this is just works for me. I love my slow cooker recipes and so I use it 4-5 times a week, especially if we have a busy schedule. I also love to shop for deals and coupons, so you can definitely add that to your meal planning session too! Just remember, by spending the extra time planning ahead, you can save time and money, and maybe even part of your sanity.