Meal planning has been one of the best habits that I have created for myself. It adds a bit to structure to the craziness of my life. Both my waistline and my wallet have benefitted. We have all been there. It’s 5pm and those little voices start asking what’s for dinner. Homework is still strewn about on the counter, the laundry is waiting to be folded, one kid needs to wear blue to school tomorrow and another needs to bring something that starts with the letter “Q’. Dinner is the last thing on the agenda. So speed dial the pizza place and within 40 minutes, a piping hot and cheesy pie arrives at your door step. Dinner is served. Even after years and years of meal planning, this still happens at the Lee household. The day gets away from me, I forget to take some thing out to thaw, I just don’t feel like cooking! But instead of happening once or twice a week, it’s maybe happening once or twice a month. Often, I am asked how meal planning works for me. So here’s my Meal Planning 101-
1. Start with what you have!
I keep a list of what meat is stored in our deep freezer, what dry ingredients are in our pantry. We also use Green Bean Delivery, participate in a local farms’ meat CSA, and place a bulk order of meat about once a year. For our size family, this is a must! But if you are smaller family keep an eye out on sales and stock your freezer when meat goes on sale. The meat we get in our CSA monthly would easily fit in a standard freezer. Once I have a good idea of what’s on hand, I pull out my calendar.
2. What’s on your calendar?
What nights are you going to be busy and need something easy like tacos? What day could you plug in a crockpot and let that cook dinner for you? Having a home cooked meal every night just takes a bit of planning and creativity! Once I get a feel for our week, I plug in meals.
3. Planning for the week
Based on the groceries we have on hand, I start to fill in the week. Usually we have similar meals every week. Mexican and Italian are an easy go to for us. They are meals that are quick to prepare and everyone customize their dinner how they like. So the kids may have tacos and Chris and I will make a taco salad with extra peppers and onions. Or Chris and the kids can have whole wheat pasta with sauce (lots of extra veggies snuck in there!) and I can make my favorite zoodles! Breakfast for dinner is another family favorite. On nights when I’ll have more time to cook, I pick a recipe from my Pinterest board of recipes to try. Or cook a recipe that can easily be doubled (lasagna, ziti, shepherds pie, soups) and then frozen.
4. Make your grocery list
Once I have the week’s dinners planned out, I make a list of what I need from the grocery based on the recipes I plan on using and my “on-hand” list. We tend to eat the same things for breakfasts and lunches so I add those things to the list as well. They are the staples we buy every week. While I have my calendar out, I also look to see if any of the kids need to bring a snack to school or sporting event, if I’m bringing a meal to someone, or there is anything out of the ordinary for the coming week. That goes on the grocery list as well!
5. Go Shopping!
My #1 goal is to only go to the store once a week. If I’m there more than once, the budget goes out the window and I tend to buy things that we don’t need at all! I stick to my list 80% of the time. I will buy things that I see are a great deal and stock up.
Another key to meal planning is to prep as much as possible when you get home from the store. I wash and cut up fruit and veggies and hard boil eggs to have on hand as a quick snack. I have several go to muffin recipes that the kids will have for breakfast or a packed lunch. I will stick chicken breasts in the crockpot to have shredded chicken on hand for quick lunches. I also add a reminder to take meat out of the freezer the day before it’s on the menu. As long as I don’t hit “dismiss” on that reminder, it’s eliminates the “oh no, nothing is thawed” obstacle to a home cooked meal! All in all, my meal planning process takes about 2 hours including my time spent at the grocery store. In the beginning it will take you longer. You will need to find the tricks that work for you. But those hours I set aside are crucial for our week. Your week does not have to run from Sunday- Saturday. A crazy simple idea but it was quite freeing for me when I realized I can start our week on Monday since that’s the day the kids have preschool and aren’t around to “help”. Like I said, you have to find what works for you!
- Create a separate board on Pinterest for recipes you have tried and would cook again. This eliminates your main recipe board from becoming overwhelming. I keep my “Recipes” board for recipes to try and my “Keepers” board for ones that I would cook again.
- Join a CSA! We love ours from Becker Farms. The meat is delicious, organic, responsibly sourced and they will meet you at the Carmel Farmers Market or Indy Market. If you aren’t local, find a farm near you. I can help!
- Double recipes. If you are going to make meatballs or cookies or muffins, making another dozen is very little extra work and will add to what you have on hand.
Share your meal prep ideas or questions below!
My Pinterest board for recipes: https://www.pinterest.com/awiselee/recipes/
My Pinterest board for Keepers: dinner- https://www.pinterest.com/awiselee/keepers-dinner/
My Pinterest board for Keepers: snacks & breakfast – https://www.pinterest.com/awiselee/keeper-snackbreakfast/
Becker Farms CSA information: http://beckerfarmsin.com/community-supported-agriculture-csa/
Green Bean Delivery: http://greenbeandelivery.com
Printable menu pictured above: http://www.artsyfartsymama.com/2012/08/lets-get-organized-again.html