Friday, September 16, 2011

How to Meal Plan

The absolute last thing I should be doing right now is blogging. I have an overwhelming amount of homework stacked up next to me, a pile of laundry that comes up to my knees, a rather dirty apartment and our one year anniversary is Saturday.

However, my brain may explode if I try to think about accounting any longer. I've seen quite a few people ask how to plan out their meals for the week recently. It's funny, but I thought that everyone did this for the longest time. With the frequency that I see the question, I figured I may as well share the way I plan the meals for each week.

The Short Version
1. Keep you freezer, fridge and pantry stocked with basic items you use frequently, like chicken, ground beef, seafood, cheeses, milk, eggs, breads, pastas, canned tomatoes and veggies, spices and sauces.
2. Go through the freezer, fridge and pantry and see what you can make with what is on hand.
3. Look at grocery store ads and/or for coupons.
4. Find recipes: cookbooks, blogs, websites, magazines, friends, etc.
5. Determine how long you are going to plan meals for. 5 days? 10 days? 14 days? A month?
6. Pick recipes that use the same ingredients so you can buy them cheaper in bulk.
7. Look for quick and easy recipes to make during the week.
8. Make your grocery list and a list of meals. If you don't like eating the same things, make sure you don't choose all chicken recipes. :)
9. Go shopping!
10. Prep veggies and put them in ziplock bags for faster prep during the week. (Optional)

The Long Version

I plan out the meals for a week at a time. I go to the farmers market near work on either Thursday or Friday. I plan the meals the night before. Everything that I can't pick up at the farmers market, I get on Saturday when we go to the grocery store. There are times where I'll find a ton of recipes I like so I'll plan the menu for 2+ weeks. 


Pre Planning The Meals
1. Have a few sources to find recipes. I use my the blogs I follow, cookbooks, magazines and websites like Cooking Light and All Recipes.
2. Have a general inventory of what is in your pantry, fridge and freezer. This will prevent you from buying things you already have and ending up with 10 different types of pasta in the pantry. Which I've been guilty of.
3. Determine how many days you want to plan for. 5 days? 10 days? 14 days? A month? Factor in evenings where you won't want to cook or where something will come up that prevents it. When I'm super busy, I rely on the crock pot. He's my best friend. And there's just something satisfying about knowing dinner is waiting for you when you get home.

Grocery Store Ads/Coupons
 I don't always do this, but when I do...I drink Dos Equis. (Sorry, the joke was too easy.) Anyway,
1. I look at the grocery store ads to see what is on sale. If strawberries are 3 for $5, I'll specifically search for a dessert that uses strawberries.
2. Sometimes I compare prices of items we don't buy very often to see if a certain store has them cheaper. If there are enough items cheaper at one store than another, I'll make a special trip, but we usually just stick to one store.
3. Search for coupons. Honestly, I rarely do this. For the most part we shop at a Super Wal-Mart and you typically can't beat their prices. But I do make special trips to Costco when I see things with coupons, like toilet paper, paper towels, dishwasher tablets, olive oil, etc. Just the things we'd use in bulk anyway.

Choosing Recipes
1. As I said in the pre-planning section, I'll go through and pick out a variety of recipes to make. I can't eat the same thing every night so I'll search for chicken, pork, beef, seafood and vegetarian recipes. I try to have at least one meatless meal per week, but thats kind of difficult when you're married to a carnivore. A veggie-hater. My lovely husband, Tom.
2. Look for recipes that use the same ingredients so you can buy them in bulk. I buy all of the produce from the farmers market and sometimes I'll let what is available there dictate the meals for the week.
3. Gather the recipes you want to make and make a list of them. You can specify them by day or just list them.

Writing the Grocery List
I don't expect anyone to be as detail-oriented as I am, so step 2 is completely optional.

1. Go through the recipes and write down all of the ingredients you will need. I typically check the pantry, freezer and fridge a few times during this process.
2. Organize the grocery list by the layout of the store. Yes, I am that picky about it. But honestly, its so much easier to just go up and down the aisles grabbing things off your list instead of getting all the way to the dairy section only to realize you've skipped over half your produce which is at the complete opposite end of the store.

After the Cooking
1. Keep track of the recipes that you want to make again. Having a stock of basic recipes to turn to when you just can't figure out what to make is extremely helpful.

Other Things I Do
1. Buy veggies in bulk, cook them and then freeze them in portions.
2. Chop up veggies the night before or on the weekend to make prepping easier during the week.
3. Include lunches in my meal planning. I'll eat the same thing for lunch every day so this typically includes adding lunch meats, tuna or salad ingredients to the list.
4. Keep a chalkboard/dry erase board on your fridge and write down items you run out of or notice you're low on throughout the week.

And Something I Should Have Done:
With the insane amount of stuff I have to do in the upcoming weeks, I really should have planned out the meals for quite a few weeks in advance so I could at least have a general guideline of what to make. Because here it is, right before I need to go to the store and I have absolutely no idea what to make next week.
 

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