How To Meal Plan – Part Two: Getting Down to Business

So since we have already accomplished Part One: setting aside some time to plan, checking our grocery circulars and maintaining a Recipe Arsenal, that means it is business time (and if this song is now in your head I apologize — or do I? MUAHAHAHA!) So, hey —  let’s get to planning some meals, shall we?  It only takes a few critical steps.

1.  Take Inventory of Perishable Items On Hand

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Is your fridge overflowing with lettuce like mine was this weekend? Salad will definitely be making an appearance! Do you have produce that will turn into a science experiment if it is not consumed in the next week? All of a sudden you have Monday’s dinner side dish right in front of you, no? Food waste is one of the most frustrating ways to throw money away and there’s no reason it should happen. Check the status of your veggies. See what protein you have in the freezer. Then connect the dots to something you’ve been eyeing in your Recipe Arsenal and voila! Nothing goes bad, and you feel like a creative genius. Win-win.

2.  Consult Your Schedule and Be Realistic
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This is one of the most commonly missed steps in Meal Planning.  Listen, we all want to sit down to a 4 course meal that includes homemade Beef Wellington after a long Monday, but COME ON.  If you are going to be working late, trying to hit the gym and stopping by the post office on way home from work,  don’t plan the world’s most complicated meal.  You are setting yourself up for failure and who wants to spend time planning that?  I actually have two tabs in my Recipe Arsenal for Slow Cooker Meals and 15 Minute Dinners (Breakfast for Dinner, anyone?) because we have quite a few of those weeknights around our house, and that’s ok.  Acknowledge it and plan for it.

The point of meal planning isn’t to get a meal on the table every night that photographs right out of Food & Wine Magazine (though when you get in the groove of things,  heck, it could happen!)  The point is to spend minimal time getting that food on the table while still eating well EVERY NIGHT.  And knowing what to expect with your schedule is critical to making that happen.

3.  Choose Your Recipes and Set Your Them Aside

How To Menu Plan

So at this point you’ll choose some meals that will work with your schedule and the food you have on hand.  (Obviously some recipes will require ingredients you don’t have on hand — we’ll get to that next!)  Print those recipes from the internet or pull the magazine articles out of your Recipe Arsenal and store them in the front pocket of that binder.  Bonus points if you pay attention to detail and line them up in the order they’ll be consumed.  That way there is no searching for the recipe at each meal — it’s all stacked neatly (and potentially in order) within your reach when it’s time to cook.

How To Menu Plan

A quick note:The reason I’m so pro-paper recipes (even though that seems so old school) is because I find it helpful to make notes on my recipes when I’m cooking.  Sometimes it’s about a change I’ve made, or something that didn’t go exactly as written.  This way each time I make a particular recipe I get closer and closer to perfecting/customizing it.  Perhaps it’s because Garrett and I are giant food nerds and like to sit around while we eat saying things like “You know what would make this perfect?  The slightest pinch of red pepper flakes!”  (holding our pinkies up in the air, of course)  You don’t have to be that dorky. But in all seriousness, if you don’t have a recipe on paper, you can’t make any amendments, so take that tip for what it’s worth.

4.  Make Your Grocery List
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So we’ve chosen recipes that use up our perishable food but unless you have a grocery fairy (WHY, OH WHY DON’T I HAVE A GROCERY FAIRY?) you still need to hit up the grocery store for some new ingredients.  I mention this because I want to share these two grocery list game changers that I read in an Ina Garten cookbook once.

The first is when you write an item you need on your list, note how much you need.  Instead of writing “Green Onions”, write Green Onions (1/2 Cup).  That way you make sure you get the right amount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a list that included something like “Onions,” picked up 2 or 3 at the store and then half way through the week I run out.  This will save you a mid-week trip back to the store.

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The second is after you write down all your ingredients you need to purchase, take the time to rewrite that list organized by categories. Divide your piece of paper into headings according to how your grocery store is organized: Meat, Dairy, Produce, Canned Items, etc. Then add your list items under each heading grouped together for efficient shopping!

Life changing!

Once you get your shopping done, all that is left to do is enjoy your delicious meals all week long.  And with a few minutes of planning one day per week, this can be a reality!

Bon Appetit!

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If that was helpful, wanna see What’s In My Fridge?

How To Meal Plan – Part One: Pre-Work

If I had to pick one organizational tip to shout from the rooftops to anyone who wants to save time, stick to their health goals and cook AMAZING food it would be this: Plan Your Meals.

How To Menu Plan

I used to resist this idea thinking it seemed a bit restrictive — Why plan, I’ll probably end up wanting something more exciting than what’s on the menu! I don’t want to be boxed in! Nobody puts Baby in a Corner! — Well, you get the idea right? But inevitably I would come home from work too tired to be creative and would end up spending lots of time standing in front of the fridge sighing and ultimately slapping together one of the same old recipes (or if I was lucky, talking Garrett into going out to dinner!)

Having no control over creativity is one of the most common concerns I hear about meal planning, but after a few years of doing it successfully, I can honestly say I cook more exciting things (and more often!) because I take a little bit of time to do some planning once per week. This week I thought it would be fun to break down how I do it, and today we’re going start with the Pre-Work that ensures your Meal Planning becomes and efficient, well-oiled machine.

Pre-Work

These are the 3 small habits that you can easily cultivate that will help inspire an awesome Meal Plan that you will want to eat.

1. Set Aside Time and Make A Routine Of It

I spend 30 minutes to an hour meal planning every Sunday morning and then I shop Sunday afternoon — the same routine each week. Sundays work for me, but maybe Tuesdays work for you. Cater it to your schedule but keep it consistent because carving out a bit of time makes it easier to stay in the habit. Sure I have to deviate when we have other stuff going on, but since it takes the same amount of time to Meal Plan as it does to watch an episode of Real Housewives, I know I can find the time.

It may seem super luxurious to have an hour to yourself to sit down and think about What’s For Dinner, but really when you factor in the time you spend standing around and wondering what to cook, moving things around in the fridge, figuring out if you have the right ingredients, asking your partner what they feel like eating — over 7 days — you are actually saving time here.

2. Read Your Grocery Circulars
How To Menu Plan

Ours come every Wednesday and usually I flip through them to see what catches my eye as soon as they arrive. It’s the lazy-man’s way of figuring out what is seasonal and bonus points if you can find a few good deals to score. I’m not an extreme couponer and we have lots of room for improvement on our grocery budget, but I find starting with the grocery circulars give me some inspiration for what types of protein/veggies/fruit will be in abundance for that particular week. Then I just marinate.

I start brainstorming potential menu items that might sound good. Peaches in abundance? Maybe it’s time to try that Peach BBQ Sauce I’ve been eyeing. Is chuck roast on sale? (Buy One Get One Free this week – HEY-O!), so maybe I can bust out one of my good chuck roast recipes. Let the circulars spark your creativity.

3. Continuously Curate A Recipe Arsenal
How To Meal Plan

There is nothing I love more than finding new recipes, whether it is on the internet, from a cookbook, from a magazine, or from friends. While I do use electronic bookmarks like Delicious and Pinterest, I also keep a recipe binder in my kitchen with printouts, cutouts, emails, and old school recipe cards. It’s my catch-all of cooking inspiration.

It’s just a 3 ring binder with dividers and a few plastic pencil pouches (for index cards and scraps of paper) and whenever I print out a recipe to make (or cut one out of a magazine) if we end up liking it, it goes in the binder. That way I always have a large database to pull from.

Do what works for you — read food blogs, call your grandma, talk to your coworker about what they had for dinner — whatever will get you excited about dinner!

Then of course, it’s time to sit down and get to planning…

Check out: How To Meal Plan Part Two: Getting Down to Business

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