My best friend got me into meal planning. She started because she doesn’t care about food and hated having to think about what to make each night. This was a completely bizarre concept to me. First, I don’t think there is anything other then my hubby and my kids that I love more then food. Second, it seemed like a lot of work that would ruin my creative mojo when it came to cooking. But grocery shopping each night, eating out when I got lazy or busy and throwing tonnes of food away really started to add up and I decided to give it a try.
I now feel like I have a pretty good handle on it and I am hoping I can share enough that you can use my experience to make your life a little easier. Please feel free to riff off of these ideas and I’d love to hear how it all works for you and your family. If however, after you have read this you realize this is never going to happen, don’t despair. I will be posting my weekly menu with linked recipes (as I write them) so you can just use mine.
Here are my tips for making meal planning a part of your weekly adventures:
1) What does your week look like?
First, I try and think about my week ahead. If there are days that are going to be rushed or busy I want to make sure I have quick and easy meals. I look for days I might not have to cook or have to cook more. We usually have dinner with my parents once a week so I need to either plan for a crowd or I get a night off. The day I do our grocery shopping can be a long one (or feel like it) if I have both kids with me so I always try to make sure I have an easy dinner that night.
2)Lunches and leftovers
My husband does not like sandwiches. He’ll eat them out of necessity but he would rather have leftovers any day. I try to take this into consideration and plan on a dinner that gives us guaranteed leftovers every second night. This way he can rotate between what he loves and sandwiches if he runs out, but we never get a leftover backlog. I can also use leftovers in other dinners or freeze them for another night. I love opening my freezer to leftovers I can pull out for an easy dinner. It feels like I just won an hour of free time!
3)What do you already have?
When I first started meal planning I was so gung-ho I would look to cookbooks and the internet before my pantry and fridge. This meant stuff didn’t get used and I was spending more on new, fun ingredients rather then using ones I already had. Trying new things is awesome but having a fridge full of condiments, expensive cheeses and random vegetables is only good if you are planning on cooking with them more then one night. Instead, now I try to use anything from the fridge that didn’t somehow get used up and check the pantry for that forgotten treasure hiding in the back.
4)Mix it up
I find a combo of new recipes, family faves and mindless meals works best. We all have recipes that we can make without a second thought and I use cookbooks, blogs, Pinterest and friends to find inspiration for new meals. Life is just easier with the occasional pancake dinner or fried egg sandwich thrown in too. So far only my hubby contributes suggestions but I’d like to think the kids will want to participate when they’re older. I’ve also seen some deadly looking meal planning organizers on Pinterest and one day I’ll make one…maybe… probably not.
If I can I try to find dinners throughout the week that use similar things. It cuts down costs and time too. A roast chicken early in the week can be made into soup or a chicken pizza for another night. Cabbage for tacos can be tossed into a salad. This has been something I figured out later then sooner, but I now always try to keep it in mind. Funny how easy this sounds and yet it took me years to get this one figured out.
6)Have a backup plan and be flexible
No matter how well I plan or organize my meals, life happens and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes a grocery store doesn’t have what I need or something else is on sale for a way better deal. “Talia, you can’t control the world”, has been a message that the universe and my mom keep telling me. So I accept that things happen and then roll with it. I either try to alter my recipe a bit or go with a backup plan. These are usually easy and made from ingredients that I keep on hand. Home made or frozen pizzas, sandwiches with veggies and breakfast can all be made quickly . If you know you have a quick backup plan at home it eliminates the need for an emergency fast food stop and gets you off the hook.
7)Have a Theme, Formula or Template
It’s hard coming up with new ideas all the time. Some weeks you’re tired, the weather sucks and the last thing you want to do is try to be super creative. I use a rotation of sorts to help me stay inspired and get new ideas on the table. Here’s a what the inside of my head kind of looks like:
Pick a theme, chose your protein and then add your flavours. If you’re not someone who loves to cook or feels inspired, using the themes alone and then finding recipes that fit works just as well.
Once you get the hang of meal planning it becomes a natural part of the week. It takes me only a bit to do and it saves moolah. We rarely eat out and when we do its for a treat or special occasion, I almost never throw food away because its gone bad and I love knowing what’s for dinner without having to stress last minute.