A large part of my life is spent in the procurement and preparation of food. I’ve always wanted to say that. 😀 But seriously, if you think about it this has been the case for most of us since the dawn of time (unless you’re filthy rich and have a cook or you’re a bachelor who eats out a lot). As a stay-at-home mom it’s my main duty to use my husband’s paycheck wisely to feed my family nourishing food #feedthepeople.
If you’re a working mom or dad this is still your main duty. Heck, if you’re single you should still pay attention to what you eat. This is an important job and totally underrated. You gotta eat so you might as well do it right; your health (and paycheck) is directly affected by how well you do this job. Meal planning sounds lame but it’s a life saver.
It used to take me days and an incredible amount of stress to create a meal plan for my family. Now, I can make a complete grocery list and a healthy two-week meal plan in about half an hour. This is how I do it:
Step 1: Take an inventory of your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
This is not everything in my fridge, freezer, and pantry, but it’s food that’s sitting around and needs to be used up. You do not have to do this step but it’s a great way to take note of what you have to help avoid food waste. Just get a piece of paper, take a quick look, and jot it down.
This is my deep freezer and we have half of a local, grass fed cow in here along with other miscellaneous food. We saved up for this purchase (the beef and the freezer) and it is sooo nice not having to buy red meat from the store. If you don’t have a deep freezer full of meat that’s okay. You don’t need one to make a meal plan but it does make meal planning easier and cheaper in the long run.
Step 2. Get two clean sheets of paper and label one “Grocery List” and the other “Meal Plan.”
My Grocery List in is black and my Meal Plan is in pink below. The green-lined paper is from a magnetized notepad I keep on my fridge to jot down grocery items that I run out of during the week. It’s mentally exhausting to try to remember everything you run out of when you sit down to meal plan; writing it down somewhere right when you think of it gets it off your mind and on paper until you’re ready to go grocery shopping. Transfer your fridge list to your grocery list if you have one.
We get our groceries from Walmart, Sam’s Club, Amazon, the local farmer’s market, and our freezer. This shopping trip I was going to Walmart and Sam’s so I divided my Grocery List between the two stores.
My Meal Plan is divided into “Dinners,” “Snacks,” and “Prep” in a simple list format. Dinners are just that- hearty dinners. Snacks are any special lunches, treats, or…snacks I want to make. (Puttanesca Sauce and Pasta is on there because it was in the fridge (and only I will eat it) so I immediately wrote it down under Snacks.)
Step 3: (Optional) Review old meal plan and transfer any unmade meals to new meal plan.
This is my previous, two-week meal plan and for whatever reason I never made the Vegetable and Chickpea Curry & Couscous. This is a new recipe- I’ve never made it before but I want to give it a try so I’m going to add it to my new Meal Plan under Dinners. If you’re starting a new meal plan from scratch skip this step and go straight to Step 5.
Step 4: Double check if you need any ingredients for the unmade meals.
Using the example of the Vegetable and Chickpea Curry, I checked the recipe for it and my inventories and discovered I was missing baking potatoes, green bell pepper, and lemons. So, I wrote down the missing ingredients on my Grocery List.
Step 5: Using your inventory (with inspiration!) create new meals and snacks to complete your Meal Plan.
Now to the fun part! Remember the inventory we made of all the random food you had laying around? Get that back out and work on making meals around food you already have. Dust off your own family-favorite recipes, your cookbooks, and browse the internet for new meal ideas and inspiration.
I had a chuck roast in my freezer inventory so I searched some cookbooks for a recipe. Here’s one- “Sunday Pot Roast” from the Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook:
Then, I checked my pantry inventory to know that I need parsnips, beef broth, and one pound of new potatoes to make this meal. So, I add it to my list under Walmart because I can get all these food items there.
Continue this process of until you have a comfortable amount of hearty meals for your family. So far, my Meal Plan is looking like this:
Baked Ravioli is on my list because I found a bag of frozen raviolis in the freezer. I added One Pot Bolognese, again from the Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook -LOVE this book and ABSOLUTELY loving the Instant Pot– and Chicken and Black Eyed Pea Stew from a cooking magazine called Time Saving Slow Cooker Recipes. If you see cooking magazines like these, try them out. They’re good.
In the Snack list I added yogurt bowls, organic blue corn chips, and sardine dip. Then I added any missing ingredients to my Grocery List. These are staples in our family so I know exactly what I need to make them. By the end of this process by Meal Plan is looking like this:
I have nine dinners for two weeks because this is what works for our family. I do not cook everyday. #leftovers. We may eat out once and order a pizza. And if all else fails, I have bulk meat in an outside freezer, frozen veggies, and a 25 lb bag of jasmine rice as a quick back-up meal. (The abbreviations in parentheses indicate where I found the recipe. For instance, (IP) means I found the recipe in the Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook so I don’t forget. I have planned recipes before then forgot where I found them.)
I wanted to make fresh spring rolls and found a recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction.com So, I noted it on my meal plan or else I would forget.
My completed Grocery List looks like this:
(The “Other” category is errands I wanted to do that same day; disregard it. I have “cheap honey” on my Sam’s list because I planned on canning jam with honey instead of white sugar. You do not need expensive raw honey when preserving because it will be heated to high temperatures anyway.)
Why I Meal Plan Like This
I make two week meal plans because my husband gets paid every two weeks. I make the meal plan and (most of the time) do all the shopping in one day. I do not go back into town mid-week to get food. If we don’t have it, we go without or improvise. I don’t like grocery shopping; I want in and I want OUT.
I have heard of once-a-month meal shopping but my method works for me and I’m not brave enough for the once-a-month thing. I’ve also tried online meal planning programs like PlanToEat.com but it turned out to be work than what it was worth. A simple pen and paper work for me.
I keep my two-week meal plan loose and not too detailed. For instance, I do not write down meals for specific days like “Monday February 13 Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, Lunch: Soup, Dinner: Chicken and Peas.” I just wake up in the morning and say “what do we feel like having…check the meal plan…Baked Ravioli sounds good. Great. Done. I like to keep it a little spontaneous but if you want your meal plan more specific, my friend Stacy has a free meal planning printable here.
What My Hauls Look Like
Before I headed to Sam’s Club and Walmart I stopped at the farmer’s market. I’m so glad I did. I was able to get nearly all my produce from local farms rather than Walmart. If you have a farmer’s market near you try shopping there first. It’s local, cheaper, and fresher. You can find farmer’s markets near you at this site: Local Harvest.org
Here’s my Sam’s Club haul:
The almond milk and cereal were last minute requests by the family. Sorry, I was too tired to take a photo of the Walmart stuff.
How do you meal plan? One week, once a month, or just get Taco Bell? Share in the comments below and thanks for reading!
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