Meal Planning: seems like a good idea. Eliminate the 4 o’clock trip to the fridge to ask it “What’s for dinner?”. But, I found it to be a daunting task. Through my own trial and error, I have decided on a streamlined method for creating a month’s worth of meals. The best part? Once you have created a month (or even 2 weeks) worth of meals, you are “done.” I have found a way to organize your meals, down to the ingredient list. How, you ask? Read on…
Step 1: List Your Meals
I started with planning for dinners only. Breakfast is it’s own animal, and lunch tends to be some kind of combination of leftovers or something easy. Dinner was the toughest one. With a child in school, a working husband, and 2 little ones home with me all day, the LAST thing I want to do at 4pm is scramble. So, I got a notepad & started brainstorming ideas of main dishes that my family enjoys. It was a brainstorm session (remember those from school? no idea is bad–just write it down). I stopped when I ran out of ideas, and then hopped onto my Pinterest dinner board for more ideas & then I opened a couple of cookbooks I had until I reached 31 main dishes. Whew.
Step 2: Index Card System
I decided that an index card is about the right size for organization & for listing all the information that I wanted to have. On each index card, I listed one main dish. For example, Spaghetti & Meatballs. I went through my stack and listed each main dish on it’s own card. Then, on the back, I listed the ingredients/what I would need to buy at the store to make that dish. For example, pasta turkey meatballs, pasta sauce. So, once this step was complete, each card had a main dish on one side, with the ingredient list on the reverse.
Step 3: Group the Meals
Once I had the meals on the index cards, I sorted them. I decided to sort them by protein type: fish, poultry, and meat. We tend to eat meat at every meal. I do try to do a meatless day once in a while, or a meatless dinner. But my husband is a midwestern “meat & potatoes” kinda guy.
Once I had everything on paper, I used an old coupon holder to hold all of my index cards. I plan my meals on Saturday evening, as I do our grocery shopping on Sunday. When it comes time to plan the week’s meals, I go through my cards & pick 7 for the week. If I am doing well, I will use the sale ads for the current week to see what things are on sale & use that as a guide when picking meals (meat on sale, etc). I also ALWAYS take a trip to the pantry to see what staples we have on hand, to avoid buying something at the store that we already have at home (I HATE THAT!). I personally use a dry erase board in the kitchen to plan my meals, but you could use a calendar or even just a sheet of paper. I include the main dish, and then I will select a veggie and/or fruit & a starch (home fries, pasta, rice, etc) each day, too. I use the index cards for the week to write out my shopping list, too. Once I have filled everything out for the week, I file the index cards in the back so I will not repeat them before their time has come.
And there you have it! It takes time & effort at the start…but not that much! That is especially true when you factor in how much time you will save on the back end!