Although this blog is centred on minimalism and intentional living, I have shared a lot of thoughts on meal planning.
Why? Because meal planning makes life easier!
Ever since we had kids, I have relied on meal planning to be a way to manage my life. Before kids, it was a lot of smoothies and nachos; over the top recipes from the cookbooks; and a stop on the drive home from work to grab fresh steaks and the good cheese. It wasn’t sustainable and once I had kids I knew that planning my meals would make my life easier.
I have learned that meal planning is truly a life hack:
- you save money when you have a plan and grocery list (buy just what you need!)
- you never have to stare at your fridge at 4 pm wondering how to mix and match the contents into an entree and then end up ordering pizza
- you can kind of ensure you are getting some vegetables in your week (maybe I’m the only one who needs this hack)
Plans just make your day a little more foolproof, especially if you are a mom, even a rough outline will bring you so much peace of mind [Plan Your Day, Change Your Life]
But we still have this hurdle when it comes to actually making a meal plan
We know that meal planning is something that can only benefit us. But if you are like me, you need a strategy for HOW TO MEAL PLAN IN THE FIRST PLACE. This is a drawback for a lot of us, we don’t know what to even put on our meal plan. In fact, we pay money to people who can make plans for us (which, if that works for you, then go for it! I’m all about simplifying life).
Meal planning used to involve me staring at a blank sheet asking Conor in seven different ways what we should eat this week. I was always stumped on what to even put on the list!
So I would put on all the things I WANTED to eat. Fish tacos, curried chicken, veggie pizza, steak wraps….. you get it. I was a fanciful dreamer tossing money all about the grocery stores to eat like a princess.
This wasn’t sustainable for our wallet. I realized I had to plan around prices, sales, and use what I already had on hand. In this post Four Tips to Meal Plan Like A Boss I share my top meal planning tips to help you with this. These tips will save you moola!
Another thing I noticed over the years was that I was making these lists of meals we ate often and meals we wanted to eat. I called them ‘The Monster Meal List’ and would put them on the fridge to use for meal ideas. I would use these lists every week to plan out our meals without interrogating Conor for meal ideas. Then I learned a way to level them up…..
MEET THE MEAL BOOK
You know I love to organize things by lists in little books [How to Get Started Bullet Journalling] so I find this paper strategy the best for me. Maybe you want to make a digital one on google doc, google keep, evernote, or trello.
Here is what makes this book work so well for meal planning. I divide it into sections determined by the main ingredient of the dish OR cooking approach.
My meal book has these sections:
- ground meat
- tofu/veggie entrees
- veggie sides
- grain sides
By cooking approach
- fast/make ahead breakfast
- slow cooker
- end of month meals – I used to shop every two weeks and needed meals I could make when the fresh produce ran out. These are meals made from the contents of the freezer and pantry. They are great when you want to make it a day or two longer without a trip to the grocery store
- dips – because dips and sauces are an easy way to upgrade any meal
- cheap eating ideas – I write down any of the ways I think we are saving money on meals and food, like making everyone use grated cheese instead of sliced (#kitchenwarden)
- kid snacks – I need a go-to list to pull from when my kids are suddenly HANGRY and I don’t want to just toss cookies at their mouth holes
These are the sections that work for me, I’ve tried different ones over the years, so play around with what works for you.
What to put in these sections
We can be tempted to write down all the exotic dishes for each category. If this is how you usually cook, then this will work for you. If you are like me, you stick with the same go-to recipes. So I fill each section with what I am most likely to make. I will also write down new ideas that I find on Pinterest or in cookbooks if they are in my wheelhouse of ingredient supplies and skill level.
I will also have meals where I just invent something new and if it works I will add it to the meal book.
How to put it into action
I meal plan once a week. First, I write out our schedule on this meal planning notepad.
Then I take an inventory of what IS in our house (write it down on paper, what is there and how much). Then I use the meal book and write down some meal ideas from what we have on hand
Then I look at what is on sale (I love the Flipp App). Then I use the meal book and write down meal ideas for however many days we have left to fill.
Then I use this meal plan to make a grocery list.
There are a lot of approaches to meal planning, this is just what works for us. It has taken us a number of years to find a system that works, so don’t be afraid of some trial and error. The worst that could happen is you save some money and time making meals that work for your family.