Meal Planning for me used to be all or nothing. I would either take hours on Sunday writing down every single meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), search through our pantry, and then create my grocery list, or I completely wing it come 4pm each night often dashing to the grocery store in hopes the dinner fairy would arrive and tell me what to cook. Until now.
That’s how I used to meal plan – taking hours and hours figuring out menus, meals, grocery lists, snacks, and more. I would often get to a day in my meal-planned out calendar and think to myself “I really don’t want that for dinner tonight” but make it anyway because that’s what was written on my meal plan and I couldn’t waiver from it.
My new approach to meal planning is so much more refreshing! Now rather than weekly I go for two weeks (it’s not as scary as it seems). Here are my tricks:
- I take into consideration what we have going on in those two weeks. For instance, I knew the boys in our family we’re going on a ‘boys’ weekend, so I’m making sure we’ve got meals that the girls in the family love.
- I think about ‘taxi nights’. These are nights where I’m taking kids to dance, sports, rehearsals, etc and either we walk in the door right before dinnertime or aren’t even at home during normal dinner hours. Great nights for crockpot cooking!!
- I check what meals I have in the freezer. I don’t like wasting food, so I always want to be aware of any freezer meals that need to get eaten.
- I look through or think of new recipes. In addition to recipes I’d like to make for the next couple weeks, I also try to add a few new ones.
- I think of coordinating meals. If I’ve got spaghetti sauce on the plan, then perhaps I’ll freeze some and pull it out of the freezer to make lasagna the following week.
- I browse grocery ads – but generally only for meat sales. I tend to stock up on things like pasta, rice, canned goods, and other pantry items whenever they’re on sale, so my meal plans are usually only affected by meats or produce that may be on sale that week.
- I often don’t plan for leftovers. In the past when I did plan for leftovers for a dinner and they were eaten prior to that for a big afternoon snack, then I’m stuck.
- I make my grocery list. Once I’ve written out two weeks of meals, I go through what we’ve got and what we need, making my grocery list.
- I try to make at least a meal or two that can be frozen. I try to fit something like meatball cassoulet or chicken tortilla soup on the plan and make more than enough so we can have a freezer meal in future meal plans.
- I grocery shop alone. Anyone with kids understands this one without explanation.
- I usually have ‘stand-bys’ on hand. We all have them – our ‘go-to’ dinner recipes. I always have the ingredients for these on hand.
- I keep the meal planning dinner list easily accessible at all times. I use Evernote – an online notebook that has an iPad and iPhone app, so wherever I am I can access my dinner list for those two weeks.
- HERE’S THE BIGGEST ONE: I don’t plan out what meal for what night for two weeks!! I know going into those two weeks that I have enough food to make 14 different dinners and then some. Each morning I look at my list and see what would work for that night, and relax knowing that whatever I choose I have on hand!
That last one is truly the most important, and what completely removed the fear of meal planning for me. For whatever reason I always thought meal planning had to be just that – planning out each day of meals. Once I let go of that and simply realized if I planned out a choice of meals for a given time frame (which gave me flexibility in dinner choices day to day) then I fell in love with meal planning!
Note: when I plan for two weeks of meals (14-15 dinners total) I often find that it stretches a bit longer than that. Life happens, and sometimes leftovers must get eaten, a dinner from the ‘go-to’ dinner list is just easier, or a homemade pizza sounds better than anything else you could make. So on average, my two weeks of meal planning often stretch to more like 18-20 dinners.
What about you? Do you meal plan? Any tricks you use?