Last week, I talked about the benefits of meal planning. If you aren’t sure if meal planning is for you, I can assure you it is! All it takes is a little bit of time and thought, and the result is stress-free dinners the rest of the week!
This week, I’m going to walk you through my meal planning process and give you a few tips for creating your own.
My Meal Planning Process:
**Update** I no longer plan my menu on paper. I now use Evernote, instead! To learn more about why I switched and the awesome advantages of Evernote, download my FREE ebook How to Organize Your Entire Life: The Ultimate Answer to a Cluttered Mind! However, the general steps are still the same!
- Go through my favorite stores’ sales and make my grocery list.
For several years, I did my meal planning in the opposite order. I planned what I wanted to make, then made my grocery list from those recipes. When I made a commitment to cut back on our grocery budget, I realized I needed to change this. To avoid buying items at full-price, I now scour the ads and make my grocery list first, then come up with something to make from those items. Making this small change cut our grocery budget by at least $20 a week!
- Consult my schedule.
To the side of each day, I jot down notes about any evening activities that would require eating by a certain time or afternoon activities that might interfere with making dinner. I write these things right on my menu plan so that there are no surprises. I don’t want to plan for a dish that takes an hour to bake and then realize that I have to be somewhere earlier than it’s going to finish!
- Fill in any planned outings or leftover days.
Right off the bat, I fill in any days that I plan to eat out or that I know are going to be our leftover days. For examples, Wednesday nights are almost always leftover nights for us because of our work schedules and evening activities.
- Assign slow cooker days, or other specific cooking methods/time requirements.
One of my next steps is to figure out where I will need slow cooker meals, freezer meals, or quick meals. This is where my schedule notes come in handy. If I have plenty of time in the morning, but very little in the evening, I might designate that night to be a slow cooker meal. If I don’t have much time at either point in the day, I might plan to pull out a freezer meal the night before or plan for a 30-minutes-or-less meal. Or I might ask Levon to grill on the days he gets off work before I do. Planning these nights ahead of time is one of the benefits of meal planning!
- Assign a protein to each day.
My next step is to assign a protein for each day. I try to plan a good variety, including a mix of beef, chicken, pork, and fish. One night a week I plan a meatless meal. I do this for the health of our bodies, as well as our budget!
- Fill in the rest using items from my freezer/pantry and what is on sale that week.
I plan or find specific dishes using items that are on sale that week or ones that I already have on hand. I take some effort to match up preparation time with the most appropriate day for it. For example, I’m usually home most of the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I plan for slightly more involved dinners on those nights.
Once the main dishes are decided, I round out each night with a simple vegetable and potato, bread, pasta, or rice. I usually keep the side dishes as simple as possible.
Bonus tips for a great meal plan:
- Plan for the most perishable things early in the week.
- Plan for what Kathi Lipp calls LOOP (LeftOvers On Purpose). Cook meat once and serve two different ways. And plan for leftovers for lunches!
- To save time on planning, you could have dedicated theme nights that are the same every week. For example, Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. Or I’ve even read of some women rotating the same two, three, or four week plan over and over until their family tires of it. I personally would not like this style, as we like trying new things and our schedule changes too often, but it might be something to consider if you really don’t like meal planning.
I know, it sounds like a lot! Meal planning does take some time and effort. But a couple of the steps take hardly any time at all, and the others get easier the more you do them. This is especially true if you keep things simple and have a cache of tried and true recipes. Though it takes some time and thought upfront to meal plan, when dinner time rolls around the rest of the week you will be so glad you made the investment!
Do you have any great meal planning tips? Share them in the comments below!
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