If you follow me at all online, you know I love to cook (and eat!), but I'm not one of those cooks who just comes up with inventive meals on the fly. I've spent hours writing fiction most days, so my creativity is drained by the time I get to dinnertime. I don't want to think about what to cook or how I'm going to make it tasty, which is why for years I've sworn by weekly meal planning. Without my weekly meal planning, I'd end up going out for fast food or ordering pizza every night. Meal planning keeps me (and the fam) on track with healthy eating.
Here's my general routine. On the weekend, I set aside some time to grab a few of my cookbooks off the shelf (or to go to my saved recipes online) and I sit down and choose what I'm cooking for each night of the coming week. This is even easier if you have few main go-to recipes that you use each week. I'm weird in that I like to cook different stuff pretty much non-stop. I have very few go-to meals and those are usually brought out when hubs is out of town and I'm just cooking for me and the kidlet. My theory on why I like novel cooking is that I like to eat in restaurants. But restaurants are expensive and somehow they manage to pack twice as many calories into things--even things that seem healthy. So what keeps me from eating out too much is creating new stuff for me to try to each week, so it feels like I'm going to a new restaurant. (See, told you, I'm weird.)
And luckily, I have a family with an open-minded palate, so they're pretty go with the flow on whatever I decide to cook. (I set up the expectation early with kidlet--you eat what I cook. I may alter his slightly, like not make his serving as spicy or keeping onions out of his or something, but he's expected to eat what we're having for dinner and to try things he may not be sure of. And he does.)
But anyway, I think through my week--which nights are going to be more hectic than others, what nights I'll have more time, etc. Then I lay out the menu on this sheet I designed (see the free printable below if you'd like to download it) and make my grocery list as I go. Then I post the menu on the refrigerator so everyone knows what's coming. Sometimes I'll switch days around during the week--much to the distress of my order-loving kidlet--but otherwise, I stick to the plan. And usually we save eating out for once or twice on the weekend.
The Quick and Dirty Tips on Meal Planning:
1. Gather your supplies: cookbooks/magazines/internet/whatever, a notebook or meal planning worksheet, and a little bit of time.
2. Think through what supplies you have or what you need to use up. (This is where cookbook indexes and internet search comes in handy. Have a cabbage and some chicken to use up, look up the more specific ingredient and work backward from there.)
2. Figure out which days you need to have quick meals and which you can spend more time on so you can plug in meals accordingly.
3. Fill in your go-to meals if you have them. Bonus tip: Pick theme nights like Taco Night, Sandwich Night, Slow Cooker Night, Stir-Fry Night, etc. and then your meal planning will go even quicker.
4. Write down the name of the recipe and where you found it (don't forget page numbers) then plug it into your menu sheet on the appropriate day.
5. Make your grocery list as you go. Bonus tip: There are lots of printables online for grocery lists. If you find one divided by section of the store, you can already have your list done and sorted by the time you're done meal-planning.
6. Put the menu on the fridge for you and your family to see, and then stick to it.
7. After the week is done, mark down the new recipes that went well to save them for the future.
It sounds like a lot, but really, it's not. Plus, there are so many benefits.
Benefits of Meal Planning:
1. Eat healthier.
2. Less waste because I know what I need to buy for the week.
3. No thinking involved when I'm brain-drained at dinner time.
4. Saves money.
5. No, "What are we having for dinner?" questions from the family.
5. Yummy, delicious meals every night.
So it's a no brainer for me. I've done it this way for almost a decade, and it becomes like clockwork. Plus, it gives me a good reason to feed my cookbook addiction. :) Which reminds me, stay tuned for Wednesday when I tell you about my favorite cookbooks, recipe resources, and apps I love for meal planning and cooking.
In the mealtime, here's your free Weekly Menu printable download if you'd like to give meal planning a shot. Let me know if you do! :)
So do you do any kind of meal planning? What's your process? Any tips to add?