Simple Meal Planning: Part One

I've had conversations with countless friends about this issue of meal planning. Most of my girlfriends absolutely loathe planning meals for themselves and their family, while simultaneously dreading the aching feeling caused by having no clue what's for dinner at 4pm...and an empty fridge. Without a doubt the whole idea of meal planning can be daunting. I'll be honest, it does take some time. BUT, I would argue that the time spent in the beginning of the week is nothing compared to the sigh of relief I literally release each afternoon when I'm desperately needing a snack but don't have the energy to prepare one.....or when my husband and I both wake up 15 minutes before he walks out the door and I don't have a thing planned for his lunch.....causing yet

another

 Subway run for him [as I shake my head in disgust ;)]

So here you go -- 5 easy steps to simplifying meal planning...part one!

Step 1:

Look at your schedule

Each Saturday or Sunday I sit at my kitchen table with my planner, laptop, notepad and pen. I plan our meals for the week based on what we have going on -- are we eating out with friends, have an event at church, going out of town for a few days, or having people over? I take all of this into account and try to eliminate as much waste as I can even as I plan for which meals I'll make on which day. 

An easy example of this would be to roast a whole chicken on Monday for dinner, then use the leftover meat for enchiladas or soup on Wednesday, and keep the bones and leftover veggie scraps to make homemade chicken broth for a meal the following week. See what I mean?

Step 2: Check your pantry, freezer, fridge

As I mentioned above, you want to make sure nothing is going to waste. Is there a half of a package of cilantro still in your crisper that might go bad? Plan something Mexican. A can of black beans? Black bean burgers! So, before making any type of grocery list, make sure to take stock of what you already have. Heck, you might even have an entire meal in the freezer that you can just heat up and enjoy. Wouldn't that be a time saver?

Step 3: Plan meals (lunch, dinner, snacks)

Okay, so now you know how many meals you need to plan for what you have going on during the week. I go to the same resources each week when looking for a quick and easy meal I know will deliver. Sometimes I am eager to try something new, like when I cooked straight through Dinner: A Love Story last year. But these days, with a tiny baby, I tend to stick with known winners. 

I'll go through my recipes (some listed here), the DLS cookbook, my Pinterest board of tested and approved meals, my home-base binder with recipes from friends, or another trusted cookbook source (see my post for cooks who inspire me). 

In Part Two of this series, I'll explain how I prep snacks and lunches and give you some ideas. I don't usually plan anything for breakfast per-se, just jot down eggs or oatmeal (our common choices these days) on my grocery list.

Step 4: Make a grocery list

As I choose a meal from any of the above resources, I write down the ingredients. I like to be strategic (again) and look for meals that call for similar ingredients or ones that I may already have hiding in the pantry. This helps save us money on our grocery bill and not let food sit around until it's moldy. 

I write everything on a regular pad of paper! I keep this pad in the junk drawer in our kitchen and write items down on it throughout the week as we run out of something. In Part Two I'll also go over my tips for tackling the grocery store with as little stress as possible! 

Step 5: Write it down!

Here's a trick -- I keep a white board on the side of my refrigerator where I list all our dinners for the week. There is also a section in my planner this year for dinners so I go ahead and write it there too. I could live without the addition in my planner, but having it somewhere visible in a central part of my home makes it easy for me to know when I need to pull out some meat to defrost or pre-soak some nuts for a recipe. 

Now, here's is an example from real life, people! 

This weeks menu:

Monday:

Chicken Marinara Risotto

Tuesday:

Paleo Chicken Enchilladas

Wednesday:

Sweet potato, green bean and chicken casserole

Thursday:

Dinner with the cousins!

Friday:

Texas Stuffed Peppers

Saturday:

Breakfast for dinner

Sunday:

Baked Spaghetti Squash

As you can see, the above list does not match the list on my fridge! That's because I plan one less meal than is needed for the week and call that day "leftovers." I figured we'd have some leftovers from the spaghetti squash and could just eat that as an easy meal on Sunday. 

However, later in the week Jordan's cousin invited us over for dinner, so I simply switched things around! Now, we'll make the spaghetti squash on Sunday and probably have leftovers for lunch the next day! 

I plan one less meal to allow for life to happen. Sometimes things pop up last minute, and I want to have room to shuffle things while minimizing the stress on myself. And when a night became available to gather around someone else'e table...I jumped all over it!

I hope this makes meal planning simpler for you! Make sure to stop on by again tomorrow to check out my tips on grocery shopping and prepping breakfast, lunches and snacks!

“Simple Meal Planning: Part One” is part of a blog relaunch series entitled "31 Days of Responding to Him" 

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