Happy Wednesday, friends!
I've briefly mentioned our meal planning before, but I thought I'd share a few more details for those of you curious to hear more. As much as I function well with routine, I routinely fall out of habits if I later deem them inconvenient. However, I started meal planning a few months after we got married, and I've been planning ever since. It works for us.
Why I plan meals:
- For variety: if I plan out a diverse set of meals, we don't end up eating breakfast tacos for supper every night. Plus, it prompts me to remember to buy and eat vegetables.
- For convenience: I don't need to have the daily what should we eat for supper? conversation with myself. I can look at what I have planned and prepared.
- We're busy people and I bet you are too. Knowing that I have all the ingredients on hand for a recipe makes us less likely to buy convenience foods, even when it's been a busy day.
- It prevents over-buying at the grocery store. I just buy for the planned meals plus any staples we need, and I'm less impulsive.
- If something requires more prep work, I can anticipate time for it. For example, we had homemade bread and lentil soup yesterday. In the morning, I baked the bread and started soaking the lentils.
Our meal-planning system:
- Gather supplies. Grab the calendar, a pen or pencil, a blank notepad, any favorite cookbooks*, and your computer/laptop/tablet, etc.
- Write out the days of the week in a column for one or two weeks, or the interval of time until your next anticipated trip to the grocery store.
- Looking at the calendar, write in any special events (birthdays, anniversaries, guests, or planned suppers out). Indicate days when meal prep time is sparse, or non-existent. For me, I put a star next to every night I work, since I have limited time to prepare supper before work.
- Browse the freezer/fridge/pantry for ingredients you already have and want to use up. Let these influence what you make, which will prevent food waste and help keep your grocery bill down.
- Then, look for meal inspiration. I usually browse my go-to cookbooks, recipes I've pinned, recipes from some of our favorite food blogs, or family favorites. Don't forget side dishes! Also, now is a good time to ask if your spouse or family has any particular requests. It will be most successful if you're at least somewhat considering everyone's tastes.
- On scratch paper, jot down meals you would like to make. I make sure to include some favorite and familiar recipes that are sure to be "winners." New recipes usually = more concentration, more prep time, unfamiliar ingredients or prep methods, potentially costly ingredients you don't have on hand, and an unforeseen outcome. That being said, I love trying new recipes. They introduce new flavors and variety, allow for use of ingredients that are currently in season, plus they make cooking adventurous. However, I usually plan for two or three new recipes in a two week period, in case one (or all) of them flops—it has happened before. Don't forget about your crockpot on particularly busy days! Also, I like to plan at least a few vegetarian meals to keep our meat costs down and to add variety with lighter food.
- Assign suppers to each day on the calendar, accounting for busy schedules, and planning for leftovers if a recipe makes a larger quantity. Other considerations: variation (i.e. don't plan two beef-based meals in a row) and perishability of ingredients (plan to use food that doesn't keep as long first).
- Make your grocery list, and don't forget what you already have in your pantry/fridge/freezer. Also, account for basics you maybe be almost out of (milk, fruit for snacking, olive/coconut oil, eggs, oats, nut butters, bread, or whatever your staples are). These will be essential for the unplanned meals in-between suppers, like breakfasts or snacks.
- Be flexible. If friends want to come over for supper, I can make the meal planned for that night, or swap out a different day's meal. It's your plan, do with it as you like! Sometimes we just need Chipotle, you know?
- Post the meal plan in a highly visible spot. I keep mine on the fridge so I don't forget to thaw meat/soak lentils/save eggs for those muffins.
A few favorite cookbooks (above—see details at the bottom of the page). My parents just sent this book (below) as an early anniversary gift. I can't wait to look through it! My mom said she wanted to give us something we'd both benefit from ;)
A few notes:
- This is simply a way to meal plan that works for us at this stage in life. If you're wanting to meal plan, look around for other suggestions to tailor a system that works for your household.
- I'm not very good at improvising in the kitchen. I prefer a plan and a little more structure. If the rest of the day is a mess, at least I have everything I need to make supper. However, more freedom-oriented home cooks may prefer a looser and even more adaptable structure.
- I plan for two weeks at a time, since I'm already in "planning" mode. Also, I do one big grocery store trip every two weeks, and then fill in the gaps with perishables as needed with a quick trip to the store. But if you prefer weekly planning/shopping, just plan for one week, or plan for two and shop for one—it's entirely flexible.
- The more I meal-plan, the easier it becomes. Also, I save previous plans to reference, especially if we liked the variety or sequence of a week.
- On breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and desserts: At this time, I primarily only plan for suppers. However, if I want to try a new snack or dessert, I'll plan for that. We often eat leftovers for lunches at work, and if we're both home for lunch, I'll improv. I do routinely buy cheese sticks, nuts, fruit, spinach for salads, tuna, corn chips, etc. for our lunches, in case we don't have leftovers or we want variety. For breakfasts we have a few favorite standbys that we rotate throughout the week**.
*Some of my favorite cookbooks are The Family Flavor, The Newlywed Cookbook, and CookingLight's the Food Lover's Gluten-Free Cookbook. Most everything else I make is improv, or it comes from family recipes or food blogs.
**I'll write a post soon where I mention some of our favorite meals right now
P.S.— Congratulations if you made it through this novel, phew. Happy cooking!