I’ve always felt like an organized person trapped in a disorganized person’s body. I have an unnatural love of organizing tools, shelves, boxes, files and the like, which I buy, envisioning my new, organized life and then never use. I’m a list maker, a planner, and a thinker. But no matter how hard I try, I always feel a little bit like Miss Geist from Clueless – you know, the teacher who is always a little bit disheveled and could never quite get it together? Luckily, as I get older I am starting to nail down a few basic and key organizational skills – the most important one so far being meal planning. I know. Meal planning is boring. It’s time consuming. It’s hard. And how do I even know what I want to eat next Friday? Those are all excuses I used to make after my (many) failed attempts to adopt a weekly meal plan. But let me tell you – now that I am regularly making a weekly meal plan, I would never go back to winging it every night. Let me tell you why I love meal planning.
This is the number one reason. Yes, you have to spend a little time at the beginning of the week to get everything planned out. But then, guess what? Dinnertime rolls around – and you don’t have to figure out what you are going to make, if you have the ingredients, if you need to stop at the store, how long it will take, not to mention wondering when you will actually get to eat. Nope, you already know what you are going to make and that you have all the ingredients at home. One less thing to worry about.
It Saves Money.
Do you ever wander around the grocery store, just putting things in your cart that look good? And hopefully you didn’t go to the store when you are hungry because OMG, EVERYTHING looks good. Then in a week or two, you find yourself sadly throwing away rotting produce that you never used, wondering how you could have wasted this much food AGAIN. Not to mention, you still find yourself running to the store throughout the week to pick up last minute items. The great thing about meal planning is that you usually only have to go to the store once a week – and you only buy the items that you are planning on using. You can even take it a step further (Advanced Meal Planning) and plan your meals around the weekly sales, or what you got in your CSA.
My husband and I have been making an effort to eat more plant based meals. The problem is that when dinner time rolls around we are both hungry and tired, and stopping at our favorite Thai restaurant sounds much more appealing than going home and trying to figure out a new way to prepare kale. When we meal plan, we know that we have groceries sitting in our fridge that we need to use, and we already know what to do with them. Since we made the meal plan with foods that we want to focus on eating, we are kind of committed to eating those foods. We are much less likely to come home at 7PM and say “Whatever, let’s just make nachos”.
OK, Ok, so you already know that meal planning is a good idea, you just can’t get yourself to do it? I promise you, it really isn’t hard or time consuming. I sit down, usually on a Sunday, and spend some time picking out about five dinners to make that week, and then I make a grocery list based on those recipes. I only plan five meals because I like to leave a little flexibility in there. With two empty days in the week, I can shuffle things around – for example, if on a Tuesday we decided to go out to eat, I can move Tuesday’s meal to Friday. Or, if on Monday I decide I really don’t feel like eating chicken, I can swap it with Wednesday’s meal. It’s important to me to have this flexibility because I like to be able to be a little spontaneous if I feel like it.
The tools I use for my meal planning:
Pinterest – I keep all my recipes pinned here, so I reference it to see what I feel like making that week. I try to take into account what is in season, what the weather will be like, and if possible choose recipes that have some of the same ingredients so that I don’t waste anything. I also have a board called “Meal Plan” that I pin that week’s recipes to. That way they are easy for me to find when I am cooking, and don’t have to scroll through 3 years’ worth of pins to find them. This is a shared board with my husband, so he can easily access the recipe if he gets home before me and wants to get it started.
iCloud Calendar – My husband and I have been using the iCloud calendar since we moved in together to keep track of each other’s schedules, our appointments, chores and the meal plan. This is a shared calendar, so either of us can just reference it to see what we are making that night. It also helps to see if you have anything else going on that week so you don’t accidentally plan too many meals. Of course, you don’t need to use iCloud, you could use any planner or calendar that works for you.
Big Oven – I started using Big Oven when Ziplist went defunct – and I have to tell you, I was devastated to lose Ziplist. But Big Oven is almost as good. It does have a menu planning feature, which I don’t use. The main reason I like it is that you can add recipes from anywhere on the internet and then add the ingredients for that recipe to your shopping list. You can also uncheck items that you already have on hand, so you only add things that you need to buy that week. The recipe importer is not as functional as Ziplist was, and sometimes it is not able to add a recipe. In that case, I just enter the items that I need from the recipe manually onto the shopping list. Once you have your list finished, you can access it from an app on your phone – very important, because it eliminates the possibility of leaving the list at home (something I used to do 99% of the time). I also really like having the app on my phone because when I am cooking and use a staple up, I can add it to my list to restock it next time I go to the store.
The TLDR version is this:
- Pick Five recipes that you want to make in the next week (more or less depending on your needs).
- Make a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for those recipes
- Go grocery shopping for everything on your list.
Done! Your week is going to be so much easier.
Another way that this makes my life easier is that I almost always make a meal that serves four – my husband and I eat half for dinner and take the leftovers for lunch the next day. So by planning five meals, I am really planning ten meals and we are saving even more money because we have a lunch ready to go and don’t end up buying something.
Want to see what I have on my meal plan every week? Follow me on Pinterest! I update my meal plan board weekly, and I pin lots of other cool stuff. Also nerdy stuff.
Do you already meal plan? What do you like (or hate) about meal planning? What is your meal planning system?