Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Planning...

Okay before we dive into this post we have to be clear on something.  We're all friends right?  So totally no judging in this area because 1) I'm not an expert and 2) I'm pretty sure it's a work in progress that sometimes works better than others for ALL of us, myself included.  Mkay?  The topic of today... is meal planning.  (Did I just hear you groan?  I groaned right along with you there.)
 The other day, I posted our dinners for a week.  I love how food brings everyone together, even if it's in the common complaint about how almost all of us hate the chore of grocery shopping.  Another thing I loved was how you all told us how healthy we eat... you know why we eat healthy dinners right?  1) Because my Mama pounded that into my head growing up and 2) I love to bake.  Trust me, I way overcompensate by baking and force feeding my family brownies on a weekly basis.  Okay, that was a slight exaggeration.  But really, I do bake often.  Sometimes I bake healthy things.
That was a super easy post on my end, because I'd already taken the time to plan our meals out in advance before ever making the decision to post on it.  And let me be clear- I do really well with this most of the time, but then there are times when I stand, staring blankly at my fridge, thinking, "Umm.. eggs anyone?" 
 Today let's just focus on the times when I do it well.  I thought it would be fun to share with you how I do it.  There are a ton of ways to prepare and plan meals, but over the years I've found a rhythm that works well with my limited amount of time, and my family's constricted diet (no gluten). 
 The first thing I do, is gather up my trusted, favorite, cookbooks.  These happen to be my three faves currently.  I try to challenge myself to make at least two or three brand new recipes each month.  (Does it always happen?  No.) I go through them, tabbing pages that look good, and I leaf through my recipe book with old stand-by's and yank the ones I want out, putting them into a pile.  That part can take five minutes, or five hours, and let's be honest, I don't have five hours, so I pick recipes quickly. 

Part of that process, is that I only keep recipes that I have tried and liked and cookbooks that I trust, around.  I toss magazine pages in a heartbeat if I haven't made it soon after clipping it. (I'm a thrower.  I admit it.)
The other thing that makes this process go quickly for me, is that I make a menu list of dinners, beginning with a quick and easy one the night of grocery shopping.  (Can you say rotisserie chicken, anyone?) I glance at our calendar, marking holiday meals, company, and other events, so I know to plan for those accordingly.  Then I fill in the rest of the nights with the recipes I've gathered and marked.  I try to make note of weekends that will be leisurely, or fast-paced, and plan easy to prepare, or more complicated items in light of that. 

Once my menu is filled in, (which takes another five minutes or so) I flip through each recipe, scribbling ingredients onto a separate grocery list.  That's when I check spices and pantry stapes, and there are things you buy each week like milk and eggs, etc. that also go on there.  I generally do this two days before the grocery day so that I can add to the list as I see we need to restock items.  And I must admit... as prepared as that sounds, I'm famous for always forgetting at least one thing either on my list, or at the store.  It's become something of a joke around here. 

I keep my menu list posted on the side of the fridge and mark dinners off as we make them.  Sometimes I change something around last minute too, but since all the nights are accounted for, it works out.  I should probably say that I also plan leftover nights if I know something is going to make a large batch. 

I hope this was helpful to someone out there struggling to figure out how to streamline the process.  I find that we don't have to run to the store as often, so we spend a lot less when I take the few minutes to do this!
Do you meal plan?  What works best for you? 



26 comments:

  1. Your meal plan sounds a lot more streamlined than mine! I have an excel sheet that keeps growing with all the recipes from all my cookbooks (178 and counting), and I have lots of sortable columns (like if it has dairy or eggs in it, what season is best, how long it's gonna take, etc.). People who I have let peek at it either think I'm crazy or it's a great idea. And it keeps expanding! :)

    Part of the reason I have such a huge database of recipes is that I really hate eating the same things over and over again. I have a really hard time eating leftovers more than once, or cooking the same thing more than once in 2 weeks or so. I just love to experiment! :)

    Thanks for sharing your meal planning strategy! Have a great day!

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    1. And when are you coming to my house to set this up for me? LOL

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  2. haha funny you posted this...i am a huge cookbook freak....and i have a zillion ripped out magazine pages that i sometimes forget....my post today is about 3 recipes from 2010 2011 and 2012....last week all my meals came from 2011 magazine pages i just ran across and glad i saved...they were great...

    i'm expecting #6 and have (no choice ha) to meal plan starting now for the next week.....i usually only cook 6 days out of 7 (if i'm lucky)

    I try and post the recipes so i can remember which ones were winners

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  3. I love this! I am a planner and think this is great! I typically am a thrower but tend to hang onto every recipe I think sounds good hoping I'll make it! I have an entire cupboard full or recipes I'll probably really never make! I need to start throwing!!!!!!!!

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  4. I need to be better about trying new recipes, I'm afraid I generally stick to the old tried and true stuff and don't experiment a whole lot. I'm also just learning the whole gluten-free world, so I've been sticking to the meals that I know work!

    One thing I do is after I get home from the grocery store, I wash and prep everything (takes a couple of hours, but saves SOOO much time when I am cooking) and I use those plastic shoe box sized bins for each meal. The recipe goes in the front (most of my recipes are on 4x6 cards) and the ingredients for that meal go in the bin. That way, when it's time to cook, I can just pull out the bin and go. It also saves from something getting eaten that is supposed to be in a meal, since everyone knows not to touch the stuff in the bins.

    I do have two fridges in my kitchen, though, so I have the fridge space to do it. I don't know if that would work for everyone. :)

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    1. I used to do this religiously, when my kiddos were tiny! I'd take a day and prepare nearly a month's worth of meals to pop into my freezer too. It was SO helpful for that stage of life!

      I can't really fit that kind of prep time in anymore so we do more grab and go meals, and I do buy more pre-prepped items to save time... but it's more money too. Thanks for sharing these ideas- I bet I can put a few of these to work for me again, even if it's just in small ways.

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  5. I go through phases--sometimes I'm on it; and sometimes I'm not. This summer I would like to try some different recipes--I'm in a but with the usual stand-bys so this post is timely: ) I love Tiff's idea--that would save some time too: )

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  6. I have been cooking new recipes more and more (busy single mom of 3 here) and your salads looked so good yesterday that's what I bought and made last night. Mmm. I just don't get how we don't buy any junk food, didn't even really buy any meat, just a few items, and my total is always near $200. And this is at Walmart for pete's sakes. I don't get it. That's my next challenge. To trim what I can out of that, although I don't know what.

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  7. i LOVE the idea of meal planning, but haven't done it officially yet.
    i think it's going to be more of a necessity very soon becausee my kids are growing and always hungry, and food is sooo expensive!
    if i make separate trips for what i need even twice a week, the price is outrageous.
    thanks for sharing! ;)

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  8. You and I are so similar! I'm also a "tosser" with the magazine recipes. My weekly meal planning is very much like yours and I do it out of my Type A controlling behavior. With my 3 kids running in 3 different directions and my husband travelling all the time for work, I'm always in 3 directions at once. So having dinner at least planned in advance takes one thing of my "to do" list. I have added one new twist to my planning in that I go to the Farmers Market here in my town and buy my veggies for the week there. I usually start my dinner prep before lunch (I'm a SAHM) so that when dinner rolls around, I'm just about done.

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  9. I have been debating on buying The Pioneer Woman's Cookbook, but I haven't yet, because MH says I have too many cookbooks. :) Can you tell me what you love about it, some of your favorite things, so I can see if I would really love it??

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    1. Honestly I just got that one because I loved her first one, and am still reading through it, having only tried a couple of them so far. She uses a lot of butter etc, so it's kind of more for special occasions or when we want to be "bad." LOL

      I do like that her recipes are simple and mostly quick with great photos. I'm just out of luck because I have to tweak so many recipes to make them gluten free. I still reach for her first cookbook a lot and this one looks to have a lot of great recipes in it as well. You can't really go wrong with PW. :)

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  10. I wish I was as ambitious as you are. I use my menu-by-the-month plan, as cooking is not a passion, but I still want to make scratch meals for my family. It works for us!

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  11. Love me some PW! She has some really great recipes. I am horrible at meal planning. I've never been a list maker...more of a fly by the seat of my pants type :)

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  12. this is what i do when i'm on my a-game. it really is amazing how less-stressful the grocery trips and cooking goes when you plan. i don't love to cook, but it's kind of part of the job, isn't it?! sometimes i tell kelly, i didn't realize i'd have to organize three meals/day every single day, for four people... and that if i had known this, i would've reconsidered. ; ) kidding! mostly.

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  13. I NEED to meal plan or we'll just eat out every night!

    I have a binder with print-outs (recipes from online, especially) and cut-outs of recipes. These are all in protective sleeves, so as I meal plan I go through the binder first, pulling out the recipes I want to make that week. I also have lists of favorite recipes from cookbooks in this binder, so I don't have to peruse cookbooks each time I meal plan. (If I find one that catches my eye, I'll go to the cookbook, stick a post-it in the recipe and copy out the ingredients I need onto the grocery list. Once the recipe has been made, the sticky note goes into the front cover for the next time.) If I have a bit longer to choose recipes then I'll hit up pinterest or a cookbook to find a new recipe to try. Lately I've been loving recipes for the crockpot.

    I don't plan meals for each day, as things always come up and I don't know what mood we'll be in that day. So usually I check in with the hubs sometime in the morning about what meal options we have for the day, and then take out anything from the freezer or do any crockpot prep necessary that morning.

    This system isn't perfected, but so far it is working.

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  14. I LOVE that you did a post on menu planning..oddly enough, my post on Monday was about menu planning! http://www.surrounded-by-boys.blogspot.com/2012/05/making-menu.html.

    I LOVE to plan menus--so did my sweet Mama !! It really really helps my house run more smoothly and it helps keep me sane with HUNGRY boys !!!

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  15. Thank you for this post. Will you post about how you organize your trusted go to recipes? Thanks!

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  16. this is basically exactly how i menu plan...even down to the whole forgetting one thing :) soo me!! i love your binder of recipes too. i need to organize my binder of recipes i've printed and pulled from mags...it just needs to look better. i'm not digging it's current state :)

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  17. I suck at this. Just sayin'. Eggs anyone comes put of my mouth alot!

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  18. Can I recommend another cookbook author? Pamela Anderson. I have two of hers and everything I have tried comes out wonderful. She's a pastor's wife and an awesome woman.

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  19. Who knew Gwenyth Paltrow had a cookbook out? I didn't! My menu planning goes much the same way as yours except I go through my food boards on Pinterest. I've had a lot of luck finding great recipes there! We're very healthy eaters too. And we compensate with baked goodeis as well! ;) My motto....life is sweet! :)

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  20. 2 years ago hubby and I went on strict "lock down" with our budget and part of that was grocery shopping. we spent a fortune in food. Now, at the end of the month when we sit down to pay our bills for the following month, we make an entire month menu and a grocery list. We go {big} grocery shopping once a month and stay under our budget of $600. Then we give ourselves $80 a week for the basics, veggies, fruit, anything we run out of, or eating out. It works and we can feed a family of 5, school lunches every day, snacks and friends sleeping over almost every weekend without breaking the bank! Best of luck!

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  21. My daughter and her family plan the whole month of meals on the last Friday night then she shops on Saturday They are sooo busy it works for them and there is no complaining. Me and my husband go the to store every night and buy what we are hungry for. Works for us after years of planning every meal and we find it really doesn't cost that much more. If we don't agree on a meal then you feed yourself, which usually means cereal :)

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  22. Yes, I do meal plan, but only for one week at a time. Just works best for us that way. I look online, in magazines, and through my beloved cookbooks for ideas. I usually plan meals around what's on sale that week. Sometimes have themes (like this week is fun sandwich week!), and try to plan at least one crockpot meal (for when I'm teaching an evening class) along with a couple of new things (we like variety). Completely agree with you that it takes the stress out of shopping and cooking, and saves LOTS of money on those trips to the store! Thanks for sharing your tips with us~

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  23. Wow...if anyone ever asks me how I make my grocery list, I'm just sending them to this post. As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself, "Yep, I do that." or "Hey, I do that." And genuinely, one of my favorite parts of grocery shopping is the meal-planning beforehand...spreading my cookbooks and recipe binder on the counter to flip through and compile a list of meals from. A secondary goal from all those recipes? To try at least one new recipe a week. And if I've planned well, I can get away with one big visit to the grocery store each month, and then 2 (or possibly 3) small visits as the month progresses to restock things like fruits, veggies and basics. =)

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