Meal-planning is one thing that seems to take a lot of my weekend time but is just one of those evil necessities that I can’t entirely eliminate. When you have certain foods you want to eat or avoid, and are trying to eat within a food budget, planning is necessary for maintaining both. I’ve been using eMeals over the past couple of months, choosing a few recipes that sound good from the most recent weeks’ lists. While I like a lot of things about that meal-planning app (the meals and grocery list are already there, I can filter at least somewhat by diet preference and family size, and we have found some yummy meals on there), it hasn’t been a perfect solution for us. Not every meal turns out to be something we all really love, and it’s a bit deflating to regularly try new meals that don’t quite turn out to be all you hoped they would (imagine disgruntled faces from my family me wanting to leave the table and cry into my pillow). And as much as I like trying new things, it does take more time and thought to do so, especially if most of the meals you’re making are new. I decided to try another route.
Last week I started taking back some of my time that is spent weekly on meal-planning by beginning to sort through recipes and creating a list of meals that could go into a monthly calendar rotation. As I mentioned in that post, I never wanted to do a monthly rotation in the past because I DO like trying new meals (sometimes) and I like to plan meals based on the weather (soup on cold days, for example). But starting from scratch each week or weekend, going through my recipe collection (my recipe box, cookbooks and/or Pinterest boards), deciding meals for each day of the upcoming week that fit our schedule and my diet criteria, making the list, and finally getting to the store takes so much time. It occurred to me (finally!) that if I had a core list of meals that were free of processed ingredients that I could create a basic monthly plan from, that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the recipe selection each week, planning for my diet would be less difficult and stressful, and maybe with some of that freed up time I could actually check ads and coupons!
I’m letting myself take a month or so to prepare this because I want it to work and if I don’t do all the steps now, I may only do it halfway and it won’t be as effective. Whether you joined me last week or not, feel free to do the steps at your own pace but set a goal for having it completed so that you’re sure to actually get it done. I started by going through recipes and making a rough list that I could use for my monthly meal plan. I want to also include healthy snacks and lunches, but thus far I have the supper list completed and have been transferring recipes that I printed or clipped onto cards. Some of the recipes that I’m transferring are in the meal list that I created, others will be available for the times that I feel like venturing out and trying something different (maybe once-a-week or once-a-month rather than most meals!).
I stopped at a list of about 20 meals and here’s why. Even though I want 30 or so, because I hope to have leftovers for lunch the next day (especially over the summer while the daycare girls are back), several of my meals can be repeated more than once-a-month without being exactly the same. For example, I can make chicken drumsticks a number of different ways (once with thyme, once with garlic and herbs, maybe one barbecue…you get the idea) and serve them with different vegetables. Same goes for roast beef. Stir-fry could have spiralized noodles one week and chopped veggies another, and I can vary the sauce. Looking at a list of 20 things that I knew I could rotate out and that we’d enjoy was really freeing and exciting!
Here’s my list:
- cauliflower crust pizza & salad (every Saturday night)
- roast chicken & veggies (crock pot)
- Greek meatballs & Greek salad
- drumsticks, mashed cauliflower, other veggie
- chicken strips (homemade, grain-free), sweet potato fries, other veggie
- fish strips (homemade, grain-free), roast veggie sticks, slaw
- Mexican quinoa (crock pot)
- roast beef & veggies (crock pot)
- burgers, roast veggie fries (jicama, root veggies), slaw
- meatloaf, mashed cauliflower, other veggie
- Italian chicken meatloaf (freezer meal), zucchini chips
- spaghetti squash with beef marinara, salad
- tacos/taco salad (taco meat can be frozen)
- burrito skillet (could be meatless)
- salmon, veggies
- chicken stir fry (spiralized noodles or chopped, Thai or Chinese)
- steak, potatoes, veggie/salad
We tend to do pizza every weekend and for a “movie night” at home, so that easily takes care of four meals! 😉 I left the side dishes less specific with the idea that I’ll vary the veggies (even the slaw recipes) with what’s in season or on sale. There are probably other meals on this list that I can make freezer meals so I need to think more about that.
Once you have your list it’s time to start putting it into a monthly calendar for next month. (Or if you want, you can plug some meals into the remaining weeks of this month…I will likely be doing that informally for April but for the purposes of this thought it would be easier to make a clean start in May when we have completed all of the steps.) Sit down with your planner and figure out which nights you need something ready in the crock pot, or which evenings you have more time to cook a meal and plan accordingly. If you have a paper planner, you can write meals in the monthly section, or if yours has a meal-planning area, write them there. If you use Google calendar, you can put meals directly into that (maybe as a reminder or all day “event”). And some of you may prefer to have a calendar in the kitchen, maybe dry erase or chalkboard. Do whichever will WORK for you. For me, having a portable planner will work best so that if we are out-of-town on the weekend or if I want to work on it over my lunch at work, I can put my grocery list together and mentally prep for the week away from home.
Continue this week transferring recipes, if you need to (I need to!), and purging ones you know you will never make (see the guidelines for sorting and purging recipes in the last post here). You don’t have to do this step, but I also plan to make a healthy snack list and a lunch ideas list as a go-to for when I need inspiration.
I was hoping to be a little farther ahead on my own meal plan but with Easter I just didn’t have enough time. I think most of us felt like we started out this week behind. I was rocking through housework yesterday when we got home from school and thought I might actually get caught up, but I lost about an hour when I discovered that my daughter had not been putting clothes away in her closet or drawers very well (if at all) and I wound up doing some unplanned organizing! As it stands right now I haven’t been to the store yet this week, which is pretty typical when we have weekend plans away from home. But as I work on this list I’m so excited at the prospect of making planning meals and getting to the store so much simpler!