I start the morning with a slow wander through Scripture, usually a chapter from Proverbs and a few chapters from whichever Book I am reading at the time (John, currently). I would love for this to be a daily habit, but my flesh is weak, my nature distracted, even though I know that the mornings that start off this way always lead to the calmest days. Today, though, whatever the rest of the week holds, this day at least will begin as it should.
Sometime around noon, I sit down with two pads of paper: my weekly tear-away calendar where I write down our appointments and meal plans, and my grocery list, already started and ready to round out with anything we need for the week's meals.
After reviewing our plans for the week and browsing the kitchen to see what we have on hand, I start allocating meals.
Where to begin
Busy nights call for easy meals - spaghetti, usually, using spaghetti sauce from my perpetual supply in our freezer (replenished whenever I happen to have spare ground beef and a few extra minutes), or a chicken pot pie if I have some frozen spare filling from the last time I made a batch.
Evenings where plans are uncertain are typically assigned fish, as I can defrost, prepare, bake, and have it on the table in less than hour. If it turns out we won't be eating at home that night, no harm done, the fish just stays in the freezer.
If it's only the timing of the meal that is up in the air, I often pull out my crock pot, knowing that I can have a delicious stew or chili waiting for us whenever we're ready to eat.
Wide open days are opportunities for either high-prep meals or new recipes that I want to try. Ribs, tacos with homemade shells, or a vegetarian stew over cous cous are popular picks for those days, along with a scan of my bookmarks to see what new recipes I've come across recently.
A typical day gets a typical recipe. Burgers (salmon or beef), stir fry, baked chicken, or apple pork chops along with a side dish are some typical dishes here.
Leftovers are also taken into account in the weekly meal plan. If I'm roasting a whole chicken, for example, I will turn the leftovers into chicken pot pie filling the following day. A chicken pot pie lasts us two meals, and I usually get enough filling for three pies. I make one pie and divide the remainder of the filling into freezer bags for another week.
To keep from getting in a rut, I have all of my tried-and-true recipes organized in Microsoft OneNote. I keep the file open in front of me as I make my weekly meal plan. I ignored OneNote for the longest time, never imagining I would love it the way I do now. It is ridiculously easy to use, lets me keep everything in one place, and satisfies my obsessive need to organize things to the nth degree. Whenever I try a new recipe and find it good enough to make again, I add it to my OneNote recipe file.
My OneNote is set up with a "Recipes" notebook and a "Personal" notebook. Each notebook is further divided into sections (Recipes: beef, pork, chicken, desserts, etc), and each section is then divided into pages (Beef: beef stew, shepherd's pie, pot roast, etc). For example, here is my Recipe notebook opened to the Chicken section (with a bonus chicken pot pie recipe if you can read the small print!):
Meal planning benefits
Meal planning has made such a big difference in our grocery spending. I am able to buy everything I needed for the week, which means less impulse buys when running out for "just one thing". There is also less waste, as I am only buying things that I will be using for a particular meal. Grocery shopping is immeasurably easier now that I'm not eyeballing the groceries in the cart and mentally putting them together into meals, hoping they'll fit into whatever the upcoming days have in store for us.
Breakfast and lunch
I only plan for dinners each week. I keep a list of balanced breakfast and lunch ideas on our fridge to keep these meals simple. When we run out of a staple, like cheese, pitas, or tortillas, I just add it to the grocery list hanging on the fridge.
- yogurt with berries
- bagel and fruit or applesauce
- oatmeal with berries
- apple slices with cheese or peanut butter
- cereal or granola
- pancakes or waffles
- bagel with avocado and cucumbers
- pita with hummus
- veggies with hummus
- quesadilla with guacamole
- soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
- fruit salad
- green smoothie
Just look at that deliciously bright quesadilla, waiting to be topped with cheese!
Often we'll have either a "stick lunch" or a "cube lunch" (the boy's terms), which is basically just a bunch of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and pitas sliced into sticks or cubes, with hummus for dipping.
What does a typical breakfast or lunch look like for you?
An alternative method
One method of meal planning that I don't currently use but could make things less overwhelming if you're just starting to meal plan is to assign a particular "type" of food to each day. For example, Monday is chicken, Tuesday is beef, Wednesday is fish, Thursday is vegetarian, and so on. Or Monday is Mexican, Tuesday is Asian, Wednesday is pasta, and so on. Then each week it's just a matter of assigning something from each day's category and making sure all of the ingredients are either on hand or on the grocery list.
On the menu
As I sat down to make my meal plan this week, I started with a scan of the fridge (any leftovers or wilting food to take into account?) and a review of our week. Monday is typically grocery shopping day, so I keep those meals pretty basic. My father-in-law is visiting on Wednesday, so I needed something that met his dietary requirements and would make enough for all of us. Thursday will be a busy day with a playdate plus the baby we take care of part time, so I wanted something low-prep. On Saturday we will be going on our first date in about a year (!!!), so I needed something easy for the babysitter. With those plans in mind, this is our dinner menu for the week:
- Monday: tacos
- Tuesday: spaghetti (using leftover ground beef from tacos)
- Wednesday: maple salmon with rice and carrots
- Thursday: chicken pot pie
- Friday: leftover chicken pot pie
- Saturday: pizza
- Sunday: citrus glazed chicken with rice and broccoli
For more meal plans, check out Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Happy meal planning!