Meal planning is a subject near and dear to my heart. I love cooking and being in my kitchen but on weekdays it is less passion and more stress. I have learned over the last 10 years that meal planning is so much more than making a grocery or a recipe list- it is planning your food for your life to be easiest on you. Learning how to effectively meal plan is something many people I know struggle with. On the day you meal plan you are well rested and plan ambitious meals and then Wednesday night comes and you don’t want to make a slow simmered stew you just want to eat now! If you create an effective meal plan you can pretty much always be prepared for those Wednesday night kitchen scaries and save so much (money and health!) on not eating out. Meal planning is not just for the type-a personality types like me either, it can help create a more peaceful kitchen life for any personality style!
I will go over the basics today and stay tuned for some more in depth writings and some downloadable templates to make this more fun!
Look at your schedule for the week. Really, really look at it and be honest with yourself about your time. This first step is one of the most important to successfully meal plan. I color coordinate my Google calendar with my activities, my kids activities, my wife’s calendar, and my business schedule. It is all in one place so I can see which days I can make that slow simmered stew and which days we are having stir-fried veggie ramen (super easy recipe!). I start by making a list of the days I am planning and then make a note for each dinner day on if I have time to stove/oven cook, Instant Pot, Crock Pot, or prep ahead of time. This lays the foundation for the next step and makes deciding on recipes a lot easier!
Ideally to maximize your budget you should be shopping through your pantry, fridge, and freezer; as well as local store sales ads before Pinterest. I recommend creating an inventory sheet for your pantry and updating it once a month. I like to always keep a few last minute meals in my pantry in the vent of a longgggg day. I always have dried pasta and jar marinara sauce, boxed mac and cheese, and white rice/eggs/frozen veggies handy. So once I have created my calendar for the week I look through my stash and see what I can make without buying anything or buying very little. Then from there I can look through local sales ads to craft meals around what is on sale- particularly meat and produce.
Now that you have your weekly schedule and meal types laid out in front of you it is time to open Pinterest, your favorite recipe blog, or cookbook and decide what you are eating for the week. In my household I usually do grab and go breakfasts as most of us don’t like to eat when we first wake up. Thanks to my dietitian I also make sure that I include plenty of protein to power my day! I have my Pinterest boards arranged by cooking method- trying to at least! This makes it quick and easy to find the recipes I want to correspond to the day I am wanting to use that method on. For example, in my house Thursday is a real nail biter on my schedule so I usually do a crock pot meal I can just get home and serve with no additions needed. On Friday nights we have no commitments so I try to make something more fun like homemade pizzas or sesame chicken.
Now to craft a grocery list. I learned from my mom the most efficient way to shop is to categorize your list by section of the store and buy your perishables last for freshness. I create the categories and then go through each day by recipe and list out each ingredient I need under its category. This will help maximize my time in the store since I cannot relinquish control to do curbside of delivery!
Now depending on your schedule and how you like to lay out your life step four is the shopping and prepping. I have found it is easier to prep a few days worth of breakfasts and lunches at a time to prevent waste or burn out. For me this usually works out to a Sunday morning ritual. Something that has made it easier for me is while I am in the kitchen making our Sunday meals I just also make the lunches so it is all done at the same time.
I hope these basic steps I have outlined help you grab the bull by the horns and enjoy your food and your kitchen again. Home cooked food really trumps most anything and is typically more nutritious and fosters a familial environment and closeness. I do truly enjoy meal planning and cooking so if this is something you would rather outsource please shoot me a message for pricing/availability!