Meal planning seems to be all the rage these days. There are millions of pins and blog posts filled with weekly meal planning ideas. But how do you even get started? There are lots of different methods and I’ve tried most of them. Here’s the system we use now that has seemed to work the best for us.
*We haven’t found freezer cooking to work well for us. If you have a store of freezer recipes that you know work well for your family, tell me your secrets! Ours have all been duds.
Step 1) Clean and take inventory.
Every Friday night (okay, sometimes Saturday morning) we clean out our fridge and tidy the pantry. This gives us an opportunity to take stock of what we have still and also to get rid of any leftovers or expired food before it starts to grow something. Some people have success with keeping an inventory list taped to the fridge/freezer/pantry doors, simply crossing items off when you use them. This seems like an unnecessary step for us at this season in life but I could definitely see that being helpful if you have several older children raiding your cabinets.
Step 2) Scour the weekly ads for whichever stores you frequent.
I do the majority of our grocery shopping at Aldi, EarthFare, Meijer and the local market. Aldi and Meijer sales usually start on Sundays, EarthFare on Wednesdays. Meijer is the only store that publishes their ads ahead of time so that can make shopping for deals and planning a little more difficult. Since we buy all our meat from the market or EarthFare, that large expense is relatively easy to plan. I check out Meijer’s sale and mPerks and then accounting for what we already have in our inventory, I fill in as much of our weekly meal plan as I can from recipes I know we love and are easy. If I’m running out of ideas, I turn to my handy dandy Recipes to Try notebook in my Evernote Meal Planning snack (look for a post about how Evernote makes meal planning a snap later this month!)
Step 3) Have a shopping plan.
If you are like me and end up frequenting several different stores, having a routine can be the key to success. Find what works for you with busy weekend scchedules and naptimes. We get to the market bright and early Saturday morning and hit up EarthFare on the way home. Then Sunday after Mass (we go to the early Mass) we go to Meijer and then Aldi. I usually check the Aldi ad when we get up Sunday morning to see what specials they have. I’ll be writing a post about what we frequently buy there later.
Step 4) Prep as much as you can ahead of time.
Like I said, I’m not big on freezer cooking so I don’t go crazy with prep ahead of time. I try to wash all produce, usually in a 1:4 white vinegar/water mixture to kill any mold spores and clean off any dirt/bugs/etc. Then I cut up whatever veggies are for snacking, figure out which produce is ripe enough to go to the fridge and try to get everything organized (which often includes keeping the sink and counters free of dishes). Having a clean kitchen to start the week can be your saving grace when 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday rolls around.
Step 5) Have a back-up plan – preferably not takeout.
Stuff happens. You have to work late – the baby’s sick – you forget to start the beef roast before you leave the house. Have one or two super quick and easy meals ready in case of emergency. Our favorite is spaghetti, which is basically a jar of tomato sauce with any chopped up veggies we have laying around, whatever brown rice pasta we have in the pantry and, if we have them, anchovies or sardines for some extra protein and nutrition. Rice and veggies/rice and beans are good options also, especially if you make your own bone broth you can cook the rice in to bump up your mineral content. This week we had a situation come up where we had to adjust but keep within our plan. I’ll write about that later this week.
And that’s it! Don’t stress about it. Having a regular schedule for how meal planning works is key. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but know what your structure is and stick with it. What meal planning tips do you have?