Meal planning saves my sanity. I’m already pressed for time in the evenings after work, and having a plan set in stone (or ink) makes my day go by that much more smooth. I can’t recall the first time I started to meal plan but it was within the first three months of being married. Having a clear idea makes grocery shopping on the weekends a breeze. I know exactly what I need and how much of it I need. Having a plan is one of the best ways to save my sanity during the work week.
First a few setup steps for the process. These came to be part of my weekly routine organically, but if you are starting from scratch there are decisions to be made.
- Browse recipe sites and meal blogs during the week and follow their respective social media pages to see new, in season recipes they share. Doing this allows me to have a running list of new things I want to cook in the back of my head or on a Pinterest board. A few of my favorites are TheKitchn, Food 52, Bon Appetit, Smitten Kitchen and Half Baked Harvest.
- Use a system to keep recipes organized and accessible. I’m don’t think Pinterest was made exclusively for this purpose, but it could have been. It’s a great way to keep what I am interested in accessible and easy to find; because it is organized visually, it’s easy to remember an image of something and find it again later, whether it’s a few days or a year. Pinterest is also great at keeping different kinds of meals separate. I have a board for recipes I want to try, a board for crock pot meals and a board for recipes I’ve made before and enjoyed. This is something that you will want to find a system and stick with it, because switching between different methods or sites will make older recipes hard to find and will become frustrating.
- Decide how often you want to shop/plan. I was planning a week ahead of time and shopping every weekend, like I had done for years – until I realized that spending three hours every weekend to grocery shop was a waste of time. I’ve started meal planning and shopping for two weeks at a time, my grocery trip takes about as long, but I’m only having to do it twice a month instead of four times a month. I’m practically cutting the amount of time it takes in half without trying any harder, in fact, I’m doing less. This is something that you can change at any time, like I said above, in the last two months I’ve completely changed how I go about it and it was definitely a good decision.
Each cycle I do the following:
- Have Doug’s work schedule, family events, doctor’s appointments and any other commitments written on the calendar. I write things as they are scheduled in my Emily Ley Simplified Planner and keep it on hand as I’m planning the meals for the next week.
- Pencil in tentative meals. This is when having a lot of recipes and meals that are organized and easy to find is very helpful.
- Find meals that use similar ingredients (buying more normally means spending less and less goes to waste).
- Look at what’s in season. A butternut squash side will be cheaper and taste better if you are buying squash in the fall, the same for tomatoes, corn and pretty much every fresh vegetable and fruit in stores.
- Look at what’s on sale. This is easily my weak point, I don’t check the circulars before planning my meals and end up need avocados when they are $1.50 a piece instead of $.50 each.
- Be mindful of how long an item will stay fresh. Because I’m planning for two weeks at a time, I don’t plan something for the Tuesday of the first week and Friday of the second week that use something like baby greens and buy enough for both meals. The greens will go bad and I wasted the money. I tend to plan meals that use fresh produce earlier in the weeks or will make a supplementary trip to pick up more milk (we use a lot of milk) along with any fresh items I may need.
- Review and finalize your plan. This is when I might run it past Douglas and will look at the plan as a whole. Do I need to switch meals around? Will my fresh produce last that long? Once, everything looks good, it gets written in pen in my planner and it’s finalized.
- Write a grocery list, keeping in mind any snacks or pantry items that need to be refilled.
- Make note of any meal that are worth making again. I have a few meals that are put into rotation every few weeks or so and they were definitely worth making again.
Here are some of my current favorites:
That’s how I do it, it’s a chore but it saves money and my sanity and it doesn’t have to be hard. How do you meal plan? Do you meal plan at all? I would love to hear tips that can make it even smoother and easier than it is now!