Are you struggling with meal planning and figuring out how to manage your meals?
I have a system for meal planning that works great!
It involves a bit of up front work, but once it's done I am always so happy.
Why should you do it?
For me, what inevitably happens when I am not as disciplined about planning is that I spend way too much money on food and end up buying too much stuff that we don't really need.
Some people like to shop for shoes, I like to shop for food!
I really do enjoy going to the grocery store and just browsing! But if I don't have a complete planned out menu, with a grocery list to go with it, then I find myself at the store and just buying what looks good, or buying more than I need just to have stuff on hand.
When you are on a tight budget, you know that just browsing the store and buying what looks good is not a good idea!
So what's the system?
I don't just do a meal plan for one week - I do it for an entire month at a time!
I know it sounds like a lot of work, and the first time you do it is.
But once you have a four week plan, then you can just re-use and make little changes each month - you don't have to come up with the whole thing from scratch over and over again. You can even just repeat the whole thing - it's been a full four weeks since you had one of those meals, so it won't feel like you are repeating!
Once it's done, I feel a huge sense of relief in knowing that I've got a whole month of meals all figured out.
I design our plan to fit our current weekly schedule, knowing which days I have time to cook and which days I don't. We have days with classes after school, and some evenings when some or all of us aren't home for dinner, so I plan around that.
I work in a few of our regular theme nights that my kids have learned to expect - like Taco Tuesday, and Pizza Friday. I love Asian food so I've got two nights of the month with an Asian style meal.
I try to have several nights of the month where I cook a large piece of meat or roast chicken, with the purpose of having lots of leftovers to use in other easy meals. You'll see in my plan that I've got several dinners that are based on the assumption that I've already got cooked chicken or other meat available to use.
In this version I also plan out breakfast and lunch. You totally don't have to do that, but with four kids getting ready for school, and packing four lunches every day, having an idea of what to do for those meals as well just makes my life easier. I don't plan those meals to be different every day for four weeks though.
For breakfast and lunch I follow a plan that's pretty much the same each week, with just minor variations in a few of the items. I don't need to reinvent the wheel each week for breakfast and lunch, and as long as I don't repeat something twice in one week, my kids are ok to eat the same lunch somewhat frequently.
I should also note that I'm not actually making things like pancakes and French toast on weekday mornings - those are leftovers from the previous Sunday's breakfast. I always make extra of all of those kinds of things and stash them in the freezer, they make super easy weekday breakfasts. The breakfasts and lunches that I've included here are mostly just for the kids (except Sunday breakfast).
As for shopping - planning for four weeks really helps with controlling the spending! I list out everything I need for the four weeks of meals, and I do a big costco trip once a month for all of the non-perishable foods, as well as all of my meats that can go in the freezer. I do this big trip right after my husband's mid month paycheck - the one that doesn't have to cover the mortgage and health insurance. After that then all I need to buy each week are fresh items like dairy, fruit, and veggies.
I've included a grocery list page with my plan. I didn't put quantities on this version, just the basic list of ingredients that need to be bought, which you could customize based on the number of people you are feeding.
In order to maintain a somewhat reasonable grocery budget, I'm trying to really prioritize what I buy organic, and right now my top priorities for organics are our milk, eggs, and most of our produce. Basically the stuff that we consume a lot of (and so our pesticide/hormone/antibiotic exposure would be the highest), and the things on the 'dirty dozen' produce list. I will keep an eye out for sales on organic meats, and if, for example, I see that Whole Foods has organic whole chickens on sale for the same price as the regular ones at Trader Joe's, then I'll try to run over and pick up several and stick them in the freezer. I get a weekly organic produce delivery which is a really good value for what we get, and we are getting our milk delivered weekly from a local dairy. So after those two deliveries each week, my grocery shopping for the rest of the month will be very minimal, which is going to save me a lot of time!
Also in my document I've included links to some of the recipes I'm using, and for the meals where I don't follow a recipe I've included just basic lists of what I use. If there's anything you want to know more about, just ask and I'd be happy to answer any questions. Click here to get the pdf version of the whole document, or click here if you want to get the word doc so you can customize for your own use.
So here we go! I'll try to keep you posted on how it goes!