How to Meal Plan

6:00:00 AM

Last week, my sister-in-law asked me if I'd ever written a post about how to plan a menu for the week. I was dumbfounded. Even though I have been meal planning for over four years here on the blog and to a certain extent even before that, I had never written down my method. It's really not crazy difficult or involved. Once you get into a habit, it should take less than 30 minutes. Really. Promise, and cross my heart. So without further ado...Here's how I meal plan:

First, I look at what our week looks like.

Is there a evening school event? Or perhaps a there is night meeting for work, or somebody is out of town. Maybe we have an extended family event. Perhaps I know that Friday afternoon, which I usually have off from work, will be full of errands. All of those factor into what we are going to eat that week. Rank your days from 1 (being calm, with all the time in the world) to 5 (absolutely crazy, with no time to eat, much less cook). This is going to narrow down what you will plan for your meals. Calm days are lazy weekend days where I can experiment or cook a multi-step dish, like my baked bean recipe. Crazy days are crockpot days or maybe even days that Chik-fil-A I calling my name.

Then I look at what groceries I have in the house and what is on sale.

I actually grocery shop before I plan my menus for the week. This is kind of a chicken and egg kind of thing; some folks meal plan and then shop, and others shop and then meal plan. I do a pretty good job of keeping up with grocery inventory in my head, so if I know I want to make something specific in the coming week, I go ahead and place it on my grocery list, but that's not usually how I operate. I keep the essentials stocked in my pantry by shopping what's on sale for the week, and then only planning meals that I have the ingredients for. I mentally make a list of possible recipes that I can make without shopping. Which does bring up another point:

Make a list of recipes that are good for your family.

Every family is different. Maybe you have special dietary concerns. Perhaps you have a tight budget. Maybe you are feeding 3 teenage boys who are always hungry. Know what your family likes, and don't push the boundary every evening. Try to be healthy. This is part of the reason that I share recipes that we have enjoyed.

The next step is to look at logistics.

Is there a way I can save time? Can I cook one batch of meat and make it into 2 meals? My family isn't keen on straight up leftovers, but they are always ready to make steak one night and then fajitas with the leftovers a day or two later. 

Finally, I merge everything together.

I merge schedules with recipes with logistics. That's why you'll see steak cooked on the weekend when my husband wants to grill and then fajitas on a day when we've had a busy time at school and work. Days that are completely nuts usually mean that I have chili simmering in the slowcooker or I'm going to remake leftovers into stirfry.

There's one other step to meal planning...extend grace.

Not every day is going to go as planned. Someone gets sick. There's a last minute business trip no one expected. The new recipe you try tastes like an old shoe. You just have a bad day. All of these things happen in my house more often than I admit. Maybe you just had more food left over from a previous meal. This is how I look at it:

  • Did everyone get fed? Or at least, have the choice to eat because everyone who has had a toddler knows how that can go...
  • Was it at least somewhat healthy? You know, on a scale of ice cream for dinner to gourmet superfood, there's a huge spectrum. Take baby steps.
  • Did we avoid waste? Food in the trash is the most expensive.

If you can give a comfortable answer to those 3 questions, then you have succeeded in meal planning, even if you changed what you were going to eat every night.

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