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Meal Planning

This weekend was packed! I had no time or energy to post. We went to the beach Saturday after Kiddo1’s comic book drawing class, Mr. Handsome picked up a backyard play structure that he disassembled from one backyard and reassembled in our backyard, Baby2 discovered the joys of backyard water play, and we even fit in some productive tasks too! So today I thought I might write all about one of my weekly tasks that makes me feel productive, which is weekly meal planning.

Meal planning really isn’t all that fun for me. Is it fun for anyone? I’d love to meet the person who has a real passion for carefully planning out all the foods for 21 meals at once. I admit I do like meal planning a little more now that I’ve found a system that works for me, but it still isn’t something I look forward to at the end of the week!

My system has evolved a bit. I started off at the beginning of the year with a calendar book I got for free at work. It’s one of those calendars with a two-page spread for each month that a lawyer’s office gives away for free. Anyway, I started writing the dinner plan in there every week. You can see it in this picture – it is open to the month of May, which is the last month I entered in the calendar.

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Getting inspired by cookbooks and previously planned menus

Things were going pretty well with the calendar book. At least I was putting more thought into the week’s meals! I found that we definitely ate much better and MUCH more variety if we just planned ahead. I hate that time around five or six o’clock in the evening when you’re thinking – what do I pull together for dinner today? And then we would end up going out or ordering food because we’re starving and the kids are getting cranky (not the adults, oh no, never) and we all just want to eat Right. Now. There has been less of that now that we’re thinking ahead about what we’re going to eat.

Evenings improved with the calendar book. But, I found my method still left me scrambling sometimes at dinner time because I would find out last-minute that I’m out of some critical ingredient.

Now I have a new system that gives me more room to write and integrates my meal plan with my shopping list. I can tell it isn’t quite perfect – I’d like to get snacks on this somehow so that literally all the food we consume is somehow captured in the plan – but, we’re getting there!

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This week’s menu – still in progress when I took a picture of it last night

There are three columns and seven rows. The first column is for the day of the week and I can list any events going on that day that might impact our dinner plans. That has helped me prepare for a quick dinner or one that I should make in the crock pot because we won’t be home until later. I have also taken to using this space to write items I want to prepare that day that aren’t a meal, like baking a loaf of bread or hard boiling some eggs for the week.

The second column on the sheet is for listing what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I find that breakfast and lunch don’t change too much, but sometimes they do and when they do I need my shopping list to change, too. So the third column is for writing down ALL the ingredients I need to make each item for the day. I write down everything, even salt and pepper. This helps me deconstruct the recipe so I can use an ingredient a few times during the week. That way I don’t have half a spaghetti squash sitting in the fridge for two weeks or something.

Then I look at the ingredients and go through my kitchen to see what I already have. If I don’t have something, I put a square around the ingredient so I know I need to buy it. I try to buy things a couple days in advance, unless it’s meat which I’m trying to buy in bulk more. For some reason, if I have meat in the freezer it’s so much easier for me to come up with meals to eat! If something needs to be prepared ahead of time, like pulling meat out of the freezer, I put a cloud around that ingredient on my sheet.

This method has helped me cut down on last-minute runs to the store a lot. I have been able to buy a lot more bulk stuff, even produce, from our food buying club (more on my grocery shopping methods later) because I can plan to use it all pretty quickly. And the template is easy – every week I just take out a blank sheet of paper and trace the lines that make up the columns and rows from the previous week’s sheet. I fill in the first column with entries from our calendar and then I’m off!

Coming up with meals is now the hardest part. I want a lot of variety but finding inspiration is tough sometimes! I look to Pinterest a lot – you can follow me if you want! MotherMary9 is my screen name. I also rely heavily on the cookbooks I’ve rediscovered in my collection, plus a new one I bought that I’ll review tomorrow (Long Way on a Little by Shannon Hayes). They are great for skimming through to find ideas. Sometimes it isn’t a specific recipe but an ingredient or cooking style that sparks my cooking creativity!

Also, some days of the week are reserved for a theme. I’ve found that too many theme days is over-whelming and constrains variety, but having a few per week is nice. The whole family knows a certain day is coming so they get excited about what we’re going to eat. That helps get everyone to eat the food, too! I’ve moved some theme days around, but the ones that have stuck are Meatless Mondays (not everyone is excited about that one, but the food budget says it has to stick), Slow Cooker Wednesdays and Mac N’ Cheese Fridays (Friday is kind of our cheat day I guess). Kiddo1 would like to see Taco Tuesdays too I think. Slow Cooker Wednesdays moves around sometimes, depending on if we have something going on in the evening or not – those are great days to have dinner already cooked when we get home! I like these theme days because there is still a lot of room for variety. We could have any crazy vegetable on Monday, but everyone knows ahead of time that there will be no meat on their plate that day!

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Meal planning board and the kids’ messy chalk/magnet board that I sometimes use for a meal prep to-do list

My final menu planning thing is my chalk board. I made this board a couple months ago. I list all the meals for the week and it hangs in the kitchen so everyone can see it. It is supposed to act as a quick reference so I can remind myself what we’re eating that day, or later that week, without having to open the cupboard and look at the clip board on which I store my weekly sheet. Sometimes I think it might be more work than benefit, but I think it is cute so I keep up with it… mostly. I am supposed to update it on Saturday but that has been creeping into Sunday and Monday lately. If I don’t keep it up, though, I haven’t wasted much. I made it from a leftover scrap of wood and leftover chalkboard paint from making Baby2 a chalk/magnet board (which is just a piece of metal sheeting from Home Depot, spray-painted with chalkboard paint. I recently added a washi tape boarder to hide/protect from the rough metal edge). It needs a little improvement – the soup/salad/dessert sections at the bottom don’t get used much. They’re supposed to be things we are eating all week – I think I’ll change them to snack/muffins/dessert. And I keep meaning to add a wine cork boarder, too, I just need a few more corks! I better go work on that! Wink, wink!

 

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