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More on Organization: Meal Planning

It seems like a lot of work- sitting down, thinking ahead for a whole week, and planning what you are going to cook.  But it's not as difficult as it sounds.  If you've never meal planned before I can tell you that, when 4 o'clock rolls around and you know exactly what you're having for dinner that night (you might even have it going in the crock pot already!), you will feel like a huge burden has been lifted from your shoulders.  Meal planning also helps you be more efficient in the kitchen (if you know you need rice later in the week you can make extra for an earlier meal, etc) and helps you save money because you will stick to a list and make fewer trips to the store.

But how to get started?  I tried and foundered several times before developing a system that worked for me.  In the past I have kept my meal plan on laminated sheets in a binder (so I could wipe it off each week), in a spreadsheet on my computer complete with links to the recipes online (a good system, not really sure why I stopped it- if you're a little tech savvy I would recommend this one), and on worksheets I made and filled out each week.  Now I do this:
It works well because it is easy to fill out each week and it is visible in the kitchen (my older methods were too much "out of sight").  This picture is a few months old- the diagonal lines have been replaced by straight lines in permanent marker, with sections for Dinner (on the left, because it is the most important), lunch, and breakfast as well as "to do" sections each day.  I make a list of snacks in the notes column on the left.

You don't have to plan this in depth, though.  Start small and gradually add to and adapt a system so it works for you.  Here are some simple tips and steps to take to get started meal planning.
  • Make a list of meals you make regularly- meals that you like to make, your family likes to eat, and that you usually can make with things you have on hand.  Brainstorm as many as you can and then keep the list handy so you can add to it when you think of more.
  • Start with dinners only- Dinner is usually the most problematic meal for families, and the single meal you can benefit most from planning.
  • Not a fan of scheduling things and want to maintain some spontaneity?  Just make a list of seven meals (or six if you want to include a night out or a pizza night), not dated, and post it in a prominent place in your kitchen.  Then you have a list of meals to base a grocery list on, and when meal time rolls around you simply have to pick the meal you want to make that particular day. 
  • Set aside a specific time each week to do this planning.  Give it a fancy name if you need to (one woman whose blog I read calls it her "planning retreat").  Use it as an excuse to leave the kids home alone with dad one night a week while you go out for coffee and meal planning.  I always wanted to do this with a friend, so we could simultaneously chat and de-stress a little while sharing recipes and getting something accomplished, but we never got it arranged.  Personally, I usually start meal planning during nap time and finish up and make my grocery list after going to bed.  Now that I am using the Paprika app on my ipad (they have an iphone version as well) meal planning is super simple and takes me far less time.  There are computer programs available for both meal planning and recipe storage as well that you may find beneficial.
Once you have mastered planning dinner, planning breakfast, lunch, and snacks will come naturally.  Plus the amount of time, anxiety, and money you will save will have you preaching to all of your friends about how great meal planning is... kind of like I do:)

1 comment:

Carla @ Practical Meal Planning said...

These are great tips! I also do weekly meal planning and pretty much follow the same steps as you suggest above. I hadn’t heard about the paprika app, so thanks for sharing. Also, I love your idea about doing meal planning with a friend. I have a few friends who are crazy for food like me that might agree to be my meal planning buddy!

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