A couple of months ago, I opened our cabinets and freezer that were packed full of food and bemoaned the fact that there was nothing to cook for supper. I realized that I should have plenty of meal options, but we just had so many little bits of leftover ingredients, many of which had been purchased for special meals that I don’t regularly make. I was getting tired of seeing food, but coming up with nothing for supper.
This led me to approach meal planning differently and I’ve been doing this for several months now with success. Our grocery bill has been lower, our meals have been healthier, and I’ve actually used the food in my cabinets as well as what I’ve purchased.
I’m not going to pretend like this is a quick meal planning process, but it does get easier as you implement it regularly.
- Make a list of all the ingredients you have and the amounts. List everything – partial bags of beans, grains, condiments, packaged food, etc. Literally EVERYTHING. Keep this list because you will update it as ingredients are used.
- Make a list of any upcoming events for which you need to provide food. Potluck, company, birthday, special meal requests, etc. I try to plan for two weeks of meals, but look ahead at the calendar 2.5-3 weeks in case I don’t make it to the store before that event.
- Brainstorm meals that you can make using the ingredients list. This can take a very short time if you enjoy cooking or days (weeks?) if you don’t. Continually update the ingredients list from step 1 as you “use” ingredients in your meal ideas. Try to come up with meals that use what you have and need the fewest additional ingredients.*I like to write my meal ideas on note cards and list all the necessary ingredients on the card. Put favorite meals on brightly colored cards, so they are easily found to make frequently. This makes steps 4-6 a lot easier!
- Make your grocery list. Using your note cards and ingredients list, determine what you’re missing and how much you need. Buy only what you need for the meals planned. I always buy an extra can or two of veggies or jar of spaghetti sauce just in case.
- Keep your original ingredients list and update it during each meal planning session and repeat steps 1-4. Except, this time, you have several meal ideas that you brainstormed already on note cards.Meal planning is an ongoing process. If I think meals throughout the week, I go ahead and write it down. Also, if I run out of something basic (flour, sugar, rice, tea bags, coffee, milk, eggs, etc), I add that to my grocery list as I use it up
- Put your note cards or list of meals on the refrigerator. I prefer a list of our meals, so I have it all available at a glance and use the note cards more for planning. I also write recipes on note cards (these are different from my meal ideas cards) and clip those on a magnetic clip beside my list. I personally don’t use recipes often, but when I do, I like them easy to find.
- Miscellaneous Tips:
- If you have meals that use fresh ingredients, find a way to note that so that you will make those meals first.
- List special meals or event food separate from your regularly breakfast, lunch, and supper ideas.
- I don’t like assigning particular meals to a particular day, because sometimes you just don’t want pasta on a Monday!
- Be realistic: At some point you may eat out, eat at your mother-in-law’s, eat leftovers, or just want a bowl of cereal. I don’t plan 14 suppers for two weeks; I probably plan around 8-10 main meals, which last us anywhere from 2-3 weeks.
Happy Meal Planning!!