Welcome to week two of my meal planning guide. Last week I discussed getting everything organized to make the meal planning process easier. Check it out if you missed it! Today I’m going to be covering my actual meal planning process, and how I get it done quickly and efficiently, so I can move on with my life and cuddle with my kittens. Like last week, I’ve littered some assignments throughout my post to get your meal planning process in order. (*nonchalant shrug*) Do them or don’t, I don’t care. (*sudden intense stare*) You really should though.
The best suggestion I can give you when writing out a menu for the month is to base it off your routine. If you’re exhausted on Mondays because you just started work for the week, then you probably aren’t going to want to cook a big meal. If you attend church every Wednesday night, then you are probably going to want to do something quick. You get the idea. Never bite off more than you can chew or you’ll be saying the all too common, “let’s just get takeout tonight,” and that’s twenty-five bucks down the drain and a pack of nasty thawed out chicken in the fridge going to waste.
I go ahead and plan my meals out for the entire month instead of every week, so I don’t have to worry about it as often, but you might want to do it on a weekly basis, so it’s easier to plan around your schedule and adjust for unexpected things. This also depends on how often you go to the grocery store, and if you have the self-discipline to plan your meals every week before the week begins. I like to do things in bulk to get it over with, and worry about other stuff the rest of the time (plus I don’t trust myself to do it weekly).
Assignment 1: Make menu pages.
These are the most important part of meal planning. You’ve got to have something to plan on! You can print out the one I’ve provided below by clicking on the image (I cut mine to fit an A5 planner), find something cuter through google, or make your own. I like to keep mine in a weekly format. If you don’t really have time for all that, then just use some good old notebook paper and write it out. You can keep these in your planner (ideally in a nice little section dedicated to meal planning), in a 3-ring binder with the rest of your meal planning materials, or if you are going more of a digital route, just use the calendar on your phone or computer to enter them in.
Assignment 2: Create a meal schedule.
Having meal categories scheduled for specific days makes meal planning so much simpler for me. It probably takes me about five minutes to plan out meals for the month. For example, Monday’s are pasta nights in my household. I just go to my meal roster, which we discussed last week, and pick out a meal listed under my pasta section, then write it down on my menu planner page for Monday. You don’t have to decide between a ton of different meals at a time or worry about accidentally scheduling the same thing too close together, and you can create a meal schedule based on your situation. I like to keep my Friday and Saturdays open, because I usually have events going on those nights or I might actually want to cook something a little more labor intensive, since I’m not usually blah from work on those days. Here is what my meal schedule looks like:
Making Grocery Lists
After you’ve planned out your meals for the month (or week) it’s on to the tedious grocery list. There’s really not much to say about it. It’s a grocery list. Write it down. done. Except…I like mine organized into categories like dairy, meat, produce, etc., so I can easily see everything I need from each section I get to in the store. If I just write down the ingredients as I’m going down my list of meals, then when I’m going through the grocery store I’ve got to go through my entire list to make sure there isn’t anything else I need from that section, and I usually miss something and have to walk back and forth throughout the grocery store annoyed and tempted to use my buggy like a bumper car.
Assignment 3: Get a grocery list
To prevent such dramatic grocery store antics I use the app, AnyList. I’ve mentioned it on here a few times before if that tells you anything about how much I like it. It automatically categorizes items for me as I enter them in (as long as it recognizes it), and ACTUALLY you can make it show items you’ve already marked off your list by clicking the little eye on the top right corner and then tapping on the item to add it back to your list, so you don’t have to type them in again. I just go through it, make sure everything is there, and mark off anything I don’t need that month. Easy peasy. It also has a section for meal planning, which I have not given a shot yet. If you would rather use a piece of paper then you can look up several categorized grocery lists online that you can print out.
I also like to plan for a few extra meals on my grocery list for “blah days,” those unexpected days that just drained you mentally or physically, and you don’t have much of a desire to do more than stare at a blank wall. The meals that I plan for these days are anything that doesn’t require much effort on my part, like spaghetti out of a jar or frozen pizzas. I have a section on my meal roster (which I shared with you last week) listing out all my easy meals, even if I already have them listed in another section. Having extra meals planned out for this prevents me from giving in to fast food and hurting my budget and my health.
Well, that’s it! That’s the process. Fascinating stuff right? If you haven’t dozed off and face planted into your bowl of cereal yet, then join me again next week. I’ll be discussing grocery shopping and tips for saving money, one of my favorite things to do!