Here's the main reason meal planning is stress free AND enjoyable for me: I look at our schedule of weekly meals as a guide and not a law. Do I follow my meal plan exactly how it is laid out every week? Nope. Sometimes it's Tuesday and I'd rather have tacos than the scheduled beef tips. Or, I've been running errands all day and I'm just too tired to cook so my family opts to eat out. Even though I break the rules I meal plan because 1) It tells me exactly what to cook on weekdays where I just need to get food on the table before Josiah loses his stuff, and 2) my strategy of cooking quick easy meals weeknights and saving the more intricate cooking for the weekends works, saves money, and gives me something to look forward to instead of dread.
If meal planning is something you dread because of the time it takes to plot out your family meals, then this post will not change your mind. My method takes time. However I believe that taking the time to plot it out in a day saves time the rest of the week. In other words if I do not meal plan, I spend time every single day trying to figure out what to do for dinner and having this conversation with Shane way too much: "What do you want for dinner?" "I don't know, what do you want for dinner?" "I don't know, what are you craving?" "I don't know..." This is exhausting.
I begin a grocery list of things I need combined with BOGOs to stock up on. I then set that list aside and get on Pinterest. More specifically, I have a board I go to titled, "Tried it, it's legit." This is where I store all of the recipes I have cooked and my family has enjoyed. (I don't have everything I cook on there, but I have enough variety to remind me of other recipes I enjoy cooking/ eating while scrolling through.) When looking through my Pinterest board of family approved meals, it's easy to sort out, pick and choose what meals I'll cook. You might be asking here, "What about trying new recipes?" I try new recipes ALL the time! If I don't particularly crave or desire to cook what I have listed for dinner, I give myself the freedom of subbing the meal out with a new recipe.
Now that I have matched meals I want to make from my Pinterest board with ingredients I have and the grocery sales, I make my grocery list. I'll show you this week as an example since I just finished grocery shopping.
*Note: I normally only plot out my meals one week at a time. However I went $30 over my $50 budget at the store this week, so I decided to plot out two weeks in advance. I will have to go to the store next week for little things like milk, but I have no need to buy anything for dinners because I have over two weeks worth of shelf stable and frozen or freezable food.
What I had...
- about a cup of cooked, shredded chicken
- a few pounds of ground beef (I buy, divide up, and freeze meat from Costco)
- one bag of precooked and diced chicken and sausage for jambalaya
- 1 pound shrimp
- beef tips
- diced and frozen veggies (green beans, broccoli, bell peppers, and onion)
- homemade, made in advance and frozen french bread
- frozen red beans (pre-cooked in advance)
- cheese (mozzarella, mexi blend, and cheddar)
In the pantry:
- 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
- red potatoes
- baking basics (flour, sugar, etc)
You'll notice above I had a few things in my freezer that were pre-made and frozen. This makes putting dinner on the table during the week quick and easy. I take a couple of Saturday afternoons a month to prepare things like dinner rolls and breads. As for the red beans mentioned above, I slow cooked enough for 6 people last time I served them for dinner and froze the leftovers. Making double the servings I need for some meals gives me future "heat and serve" dinners for the times where things are just too crazy to cook. I do this most often with spaghetti and meatballs.
What was on sale...
- ham steaks (used in Ham and Cheese Rotini. It is a fabulous, cheap, and quick meal!)
- lots of Pasta: thin spaghetti, elbows, and ditali for a soup
- hot dogs and deli meat for lunches
- bread and hot dog buns
- Not on sale but needed: milk, more eggs, bananas
- other basic necessities
What I decided to cook after I checked the sales ad, my inventory, and perused my Pinterest board...
Here are other things I look at when I am arranging meals for the week...
- The Weather forecast. It's still in the 80's here in Alabama, but the high will only be in the 70's on Friday. I will celebrate this by making chicken soup. It's going to rain on Saturday and I find Jambalaya comforting on gloomy weather days.
- Events and expected moods. Sundays are football days in our house (we don't care about college football here... all about the NFL) so I let those be junk food days. Pizza is also something I only cook on weekends because I have to warm my pizza steel in the oven for an hour before putting the pizza in. (Plus I have to make the dough in advance). Mondays are my busiest days during the week, so I always plan Monday meals to be ready in the slow cooker, or a "heat and serve" entree.
That's all there is to it. What tips or advise do you have to make meal planning less stressful and more enjoyable?