Meal Planning (Benefits and My Process)

I don't know if your 2019 has already been as full of activity as mine, but staying organized is one of the key ways that has kept me from feeling like I'm running in circles. In addition to keeping a Bullet Journal to plan my days, I always make sure to create a meal plan each week. I've been doing this for many years and have found so many benefits to planning our menu, I thought I should give you some insight on those benefits as well as my own process for making our plan. First, let's talk about the benefits.
 Let me go into a little more detail about each of these.

1. Meal planning saves money because you're not buying items you might not otherwise use and you're not eating out as much. You're also not spending gas money on extra trips to the store because you need some additional ingredient. You'll also save money by not wasting it on throwing away food that goes bad because you didn't need it. As well, you can plan your meals based on what's on sale, what's in season, what's already on hand, and if you have coupons.

2. You can save time with meal planning because you don't have to take time away to take trips to the store every day to get the ingredients for meals. It'll also save the time spent agonizing over what you're going to cook that day. Instead, you've already planned it out.

3. By giving a little forethought to what you want to eat, you'll be able to ensure healthy meals are in your future. Often, we fall into the trap of cooking whatever's easiest and that's usually not the healthiest option. Instead, planning and shopping ahead of time are an easy way to keep you on track rather than taking the easy way out of grabbing fast food or eating junk/pre-packaged meals.
Lemony Pesto Pasta with Edamame and Almonds with our standard side salad that's a version of this one from The Pioneer Woman

4. Making Meal Prep Easier was key for me. Knowing that most everything I need is already on hand, defrosted, and/or possibly already chopped/shredded/etc. makes the preparation of the meals go much faster and makes cooking less stressful.

5. Often, trips to the grocery store without a plan are a haze of zigging and zagging through the aisles. By making a meal plan you can make shopping easier by having a concise list of everything you need. This is especially true if you organize your list by the layout of the store. This will cut down on so much frustration and back-tracking on your grocery trips.

6. As mentioned above, having a plan will help you cut back on waste as you can plan to use leftovers from one meal for other meals or use items in the fridge, freezer, and pantry before they go bad. Lacking a plan makes forgetting about those items more likely.
We have pretty standard lunches like the one above, but it's a great opportunity to use up leftovers too. In this case, I used leftover hummus from a party as a side at lunch.

7. I know that making out my weekly menu helps me ensure that there's lots of variety in the meals we eat. Without a plan, there's the chance of eating the same things over and over. While we still have many of our favorites that I rotate, our menu lets me try out all the interesting recipes I find online and in cookbooks so we don't get bored of our favorites.

8. Finally, having a plan makes cooking more fun. Seriously! I'm not stressing about what we're going to have to eat or rushing in a frenzy through the process because I had to run out at the last minute for an ingredient. Instead, I've already thought through the process and can just enjoy the simple act of preparation.
Having a concise plan and list leaves room in your budget and cart for goodies like these snacks.

Now, it's not all sunshine and bubbles, there are a few downsides to meal planning.
- First, you may have planned and defrosted everything; but when the time comes, you're just not in the mood for what you were going to cook. 
- Secondly, sometimes your plans have to change because you have people over that you hadn't planned on feeding or you end up not being home and then you have those ingredients extra. 

One of our main pantry staples is spaghetti, but this version was special because I made the noodles myself!

For control freaks like me, those are indeed issues. But, I've dealt with them in a variety of other ways. For one, I always have the pantry/freezer staples to make simple alternative meals like spaghetti. And, if we get off our plan for some reason, I just shift the meals over a day and run them into the next week. It means that I have less to plan later, and that's always great.

Now, as for how I plan...

I use spreadsheets for everything. I just love all the little boxes! Either on Sunday or on Monday morning, I take a look at what's on sale at my favorite local store, what I have coupons for, and what I have/need to use on hand. This usually gives me a few ideas of what I can make. And, I ask my husband if there's anything he's craving (there usually isn't). From there, I start filling in my spreadsheet. Mostly, I look at the meats on sale and on hand to figure out the entree and then throw in the sides.

Most of the time, the breakfast and lunch ideas stay the same from week to week unless we're craving something in particular. Admittedly, I don't often even bother with breakfast during the week because it takes me so long to wake up. And, Pat's plenty happy with cereal most of the time. I'll usually make more of an effort on the weekends. 
This was my Christmas morning "special effort" breakfast: Monkey Muffins, baked bacon, and orange slices. 

Depending on our schedule for the week, I'll mark the days I/we won't be there so I don't over-plan. From there, I fill in the rest. If I plan to go by a recipe, I make sure to include that on my spreadsheet so it's easy to find. Once the menu is all planned out, I make a grocery list based off it, making sure to include snacks (fruit, chips, and granola bars) and any household products we need. Then, I re-make the list in the order of how I walk the store to make it easier on me while shopping. I'll admit that I usually go to two different stores: one large grocery chain for most items and a small farm market for produce. 

In addition to the weekly menu, I have a second spreadsheet of ideas for the following week. 
This one includes links to recipes that I found that I want to try and ideas I have for ingredients on hand (in the freezer or leftovers). With this list, it makes planning for the next week even easier.

I also have a whole other file of master recipes and links that I've saved by category (chicken, pork, vegetarian, soup, breakfast, dessert, vegetables, etc.) that I reference for ideas and standard recipes.  And, then there's Pinterest with its abundance of ideas. 

Once everything's planned and bought, it's important to make sure you defrost everything on time. This is often my downfall. (There's hard-as-a-rock chicken sitting on my counter right now that we're supposed to have for dinner tonight. Sigh.) I try to make sure I mark in my bullet journal to defrost what on which days, but sometimes things just fall apart. That's what those easy, pantry staples are for! And, that's okay. At least I know what we'll be eating tomorrow. And, Sunday's planned meal will just become Monday's! It's as easy as that. 
If I plan really well, I can even make some things ahead of time like breakfasts. One day I was super productive and made some easy granola and poppyseed muffins (not sure what recipe I used for these.)

I've tried to be as clear and concise as I can about my process, but I know I've left a lot open to interpretation. Please, don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or are curious about anything else. Have fun with it. Once you get the hang of meal planning, you'll wonder how in the world you ever made decisions about meals before.

I've shared this post at Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop

Comments

  1. What can I say, hats off to you for planning meals ahead. I can't do it even for my work lunch :( My husband started cooking when he retired but there is one problem - he LOVES FOOD SHOPPING and I can't count on him for planning, ha-ha! What I have decided, though, is to plan at least when we have someone visiting from out of the city, so that we have more time to be with our friends :)

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