As I told you last week, I really couldn’t survive without meal planning. I’m a planner by nature, and with three young kids, I find that meal planning keeps us from eating out in desperation. We eat more healthy, save more money, and definitely save time when I’m meal planning.
This week, we’re getting practical and talking about how to create a meal plan. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Approaches to Meal Planning
A Simple Start
If you’re new to meal planning, then your first goal should be to find a few recipes that you like. If you’re new to cooking altogether, then find a few simple things that you like eating and learn how to cook them. Talk to your mom, sisters, and some close friends to find out what they cook at home. And then assign meals to each day of the week. It’s really that simple.
A fun approach to meal planning is to select themed days. My husband’s family has red bean Wednesday. Every single Wednesday evening, his grandmother makes a batch of red beans and rice and the family gets together to enjoy the meal. It’s a great tradition.
I know red beans and rice may not be in your repertoire, but you can find something else that your family loves and plan it once a week or even every other week. Or you can keep it more general. Maybe Monday is leftover day. Then you can have Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, and BFD Thursday (that’s how I label Breakfast For Dinner on my menu). This keeps the planning down to a minimal and takes the stress out of meal planning.
A Calendar Approach
I approach my meal plan with the calendar in mind. I like to look at everything we have going on over the next week or two (or even longer) and set up my plan this way. I plan something for us to come home to on Sundays after church (See my Sunday Lunch Round-up for great meal ideas!), a freezer meal that I have prepped in advance for MOPS Mondays (I coordinate my local group), another easy meal on Wednesdays when we have church, and so forth.
Sometimes I get fancy schmancy and write out my menu on this display board we created at Ladies’ Night Out at church.
If you really want a great plan, then there are several things you’ll want to consider.
1. Check Your Inventory: Dig through the freezer before you plan your meals. If you bought chicken at a rock bottom price, then be sure you actually use those frozen assets. Check the pantry. Check the fridge. Do you have produce that needs to be used up quickly? Plan it into your meals.
2. Frugal Meals: I make sure we have at least one or two cheap meals on the meal plan each week. This helps us save money. For us, we have planned breakfast for dinner once a week. It’s always frugal and great on days when you don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen.
3. Expensive Meals: Sound crazy? Maybe. But we have a couple of things we love to eat, some that are even restaurant knock-offs. If we can make them at home instead of eating out, then we can really save money. I find that if I have a few restaurant-caliber meals each month, then it keeps us from wanting to eat out often.
4. Family Favorites: I want my children to enjoy mommy’s food and look back fondly at meal-times when they’ve grown and left the nest. And I want my husband to look forward to his wife’s cooking too. It’s important to the heart of our home that we have a few favorites that I make from time to time. I remember my husband saying he was so spoiled one Saturday because I made gumbo and king cake on the same day. Those are the kinds of comments that make a wife want to keep cooking for her husband.
5. Stocking the Freezer: I try to do bulk cooking at least a couple times a month. That gumbo that my husband was raving about? I pulled it out of my freezer. In the winter, I make huge quantities of gumbo, chili, lasagna, soups, and red beans and rice. In the summer, we make and freeze pesto like crazy using basil from our garden. We use the pesto all year long for pasta dishes or for pesto pizza.
6. Sale Papers: Keep an eye out for deals, especially on fresh produce. I’ve even kept a price book at times so that I can really know what stores have the best prices. A smart meal plan considers local sales. Cinco de Mayo, for example, is right around the corner. Mexican food/Tex-Mex items will be on sale for great prices, so plan on stocking up that week. To be honest, I really don’t mess with sale papers anymore, but I used to do this all the time and it was a great money saver. Now, I primarily try to keep seasonal produce in mind when I’m shopping.
I simply sit down with the calendar and using all of the above considerations, I fill in our dinner menu on each night. I aim for a 7-10 day meal plan. If I plan any longer than that, it tends to fall apart. Either we will have leftovers that we didn’t plan for, we run out of produce, or something else happens that throws it off. But in general, I find that small planning just works better for me and my personality.
Next week, I’m going to tell you about a big sanity saver for me: Freezer Cooking.
How do you approach meal planning? Is there a tactic that you learned today that you might be trying soon?