I’ve been dabbling in meal planning for a while, and thought it was time to share what I’ve learned. Planning out a full month would make me batty but I’ve found a weekly (or bi-weekly if I’m on the ball) plan works well for me. We eat a lot of fresh produce so I’m heading to the store weekly anyway.
1. Start collecting recipes. You don’t need a lot but when you find a recipe you like take note. Either create your own notebook or a Google document you can access from anywhere. I’ve found that grouping things by main ingredient helps a lot (chicken, beef, pork.) I also have side dishes in their own tab, so I can pick an choose baised on what is available.
2. Buy expensive items on sale or in bulk. If you are meat eaters you know you will always need chicken, beef, and pork so buy it when it’s on sale and as much as you can afford/can use before it goes bad. We have purchased a 1/4 cow right from the farmer/butcher. Used a bulk buying co-op called Zycon Fresh (referral link) and warehouse stores all with great success. I also used canned beans and tomatoes quite often so I keep an eye on those sales.
3. Plan– Each week I pick a chicken, pork, beef and crock pot recipe. Side dishes very depending on what is in season or on sale. I rarely plan more than 4 meals per week. Leftovers, life and other things prevent me from making dinner 7 days per week.
If you have a little extra time take a look at your local ads/coupons and plan around what is on sale.
4. Shop- Once you know what your cooking make a list of the things you don’t have and shop away. Don’t forget extra veggies for munchies, any special snacks you might need for events, or kids activities after school.
5. Pick your meal– I save my crock pot meals for busy nights, often prepping everything the night before and having hubby put it in the crock pot before he leaves for work the next morning (I leave at 5 am, everything would be over cooked.) We make use of the cooking timer on our crock-pot and have it switch to warm after its allotted cooking time. Other nights I just cook what I have time to prep.
Bonus Hint- I do as much advance prep as I can, chopping up extra onions for future meals, thawing out my meat the night before and such. A big help has been measuring out and mixing the ingredients in prep bowls for easy addition as I’m cooking. I’ve found my girls are very willing to play on their own right when we get home but a few hours later when I start cooking they tend to get needy and doing all the chopping and measuring then is impossible, and frustrating. If all I have to do is actually cook it goes much smoother.
Bonus Hint #2– I subscribed to a meal planning service last year. Its not something I plan on keeping for more than the year I already paid for but it was a great way to start the process and I learned a lot about what worked for me. I used eMeals (referral link) but there are a lot of other options out there.