Sunday, February 1, 2015

Meal Planning

Meal planning is an easy way to stick to your food budget and make your evenings a little less hectic. Meal planning may seem daunting at first, but with the right system you could plan a month's worth of meals in just a few minutes. There are countless ways you can tackle meal planning, so find a system that works for you.

My system is a little different than most, but it works for my family of picky eaters. My husband is VERY picky, and my daughter and I are are dairy free. This makes cooking for my family a little challenging in order to find a meal everyone can (and will) eat.

My first step was to make a list of all the meals I know my family loves. I aimed for at least 30 we could have a different dinner every night of the month. This was actually pretty easy once I got started. Just think of meals you frequently have and your family loves, and go from there.

Then came the tedious part- I wrote down all the ingredients for each meal. This really helps with grocery shopping and ensures I have everything I need. You only have to do this part once, then just keep the list with your meal planning pages in your household notebook.

Next I had to sort it all out. I like to grocery shop only once a month, buying in bulk and filling my freezer. To make meal prep easier, I choose one meat for each week, so I don't have ten different things thawing in the fridge.  The key here is to make a variety of meals with the same meat so you don't get bored. I sorted out my list into four main categories- beef, chicken, pork and vegetarian.

Once I had my list of meals and ingredients sorted out, I made a post-it for each meal. Of course mine were color coded, but that's not necessary. Post-its make it easy to move around on the calendar in case me week doesn't go as planned. You can find my Post-It Planner in my Household Notebook printables. 

Now on to the planning! I had to consider our weekly schedules- church on Wednesday nights, soccer on Saturdays, etc. I picked out crockpot meals or quick-cooking meals for the busy nights. I saved the meals that required more prep work or cooking time for the days I knew I'd be home. I also tried to group together meals that required the same basic prepping, such as cooking and shredding chicken. This allows me to only have to do it all once, and the prep work is done. See my post on prepping meals here. I continued picking time-appropriate meals until my calendar was full. I saved a couple "swap meals" on Post-It's in case I needed to swap out a meal if plans changed. My go-to swap meals are spaghetti, sandwiches, quick soups or an easy casserole. These are great when I am too busy or sick to cook my planned meals, and my 10 year old can help out more.

If you aren't a once-a-month shopper like me, you can do this on a weekly basis, or bi-weekly is you grocery shop on payday. Do what works best for you. You can also add a "new recipe" or "pinterest meal" Post-It to add new things to the mix. Next month, just move your post-its over to a new calendar, or just change the dates on your menu planner. Once you get all the grunt work done, it only takes a minute to label the month's meals. Meal planning is so easy, and can save your grocery budget and your sanity!