After meal planning for a few years, I’ve finally found a method that works well and eliminates the stress of deciding what to eat for the week! Planning your meals ahead of time has definitely saved us time, headache and not to mention money! We’ve tried winging it, but ended up at the grocery store every other day, and with a pantry/fridge full of random ingredients. If you do it right, you’ll be able to reuse ingredients week-to-week and between recipes. This is just a general guide that works well for us, use it as a starting point or follow it to the T!
Step 1: Find your recipes
I have a few cookbooks on the shelf that I’ve opened a few times, but haven’t really taken full advantage of. Lately, I’ve made it a mission to utilize them so they’re more than just dust collectors. Search the internet, find old family recipes, and use those cookbooks! Compile a list of recipes that sound good to you; don’t just think about this week, use your list for a couple weeks then go searching again. I love organization, so I color code my lists according to meals, separate side dishes from main courses, and mark which recipes are paleo or gluten-free.
Step 2: Review your calendar
I like to refer to my planner/calendar and see what’s going on for the week. I take into consideration our work schedules, any special events, and which days I’m going to be able to cook. I tend to plan separately for the weekends because we have more time to cook, and I don’t have to pick recipes that are portable-friendly for the work week.
Step 3: Narrow down your “menu”
Looking at your calendar, you have a pretty good idea of how many days you’ll need to prepare food for. Depending on the size of your family and your personal preferences, you need to decide how many different recipes you’ll need. For example; it’s just the two of us, so full-size recipes tend to last a few days for us. We don’t really mind eating the same thing for that long, and it saves us some time during the workweek keeping us out of the kitchen. There’s a few things to keep in mind when finalizing your plan:
- Keep things balanced. Make sure you have enough vegetables, fruits, and a good protein to carb ratio for each meal. Make sure you aren’t using too many fatty or sugary ingredients.
- Try and pick out different flavors. Keep variety, and don’t pick meals that are similar to each other or you’ll get burnt out.
- Think of the preparation for each recipe and how they work together. For example; don’t pick 3 crockpot recipes that you’ll be cooking on the same day.
I like to decide which days of the week I will be eating each meal, and make a mini “schedule” for each day. I plan which days I’m going to cook, keeping in mind what else I have going on, such as doctor’s appointments or classes at the gym.
Step 4: Grocery list
You’re going to want a grocery list, especially since you’re prepping for the whole week! I like to think of the layout of our grocery store and write the list according to the separate sections of the store. I take a look at all the recipes and write down every single ingredient, even if I think I have it already (I’ve ended up forgetting an insane amount of ingredients by going off memory. Nothing’s more frustrating than being a couple tablespoons short). Most ingredients will be fine in the fridge or pantry all week, but if you aren’t going to use certain produce or meat items until later in the week, you might want to make a separate list and take another small trip to the store later on. After I have my grocery list written, I will “shop” my cupboards and highlight/cross off items we have.
Step 5: Cooking
Once you have all your ingredients and are ready to start cooking, glance over your recipes and make a plan. Figure out what order you’ll cook everything in, and take into account cooking temperatures and times. You might stick something in the oven and have time to finish something in the mean time!
I hope this advice helps, it’s made our life easier, which is always good with a little one on the way!