I love planning meals! But then again, I'm a list-maker (not to be confused with a list-follower). I've been consistently planning meals for our family for years, and I forget how daunting it can seem for others. I've planned meals for more people than I can count, and I've even considered starting a meal planning business... But who knows if/when that will ever happen! So in the meantime, I thought I'd put together a list (!) of how I go about planning, in hopes of helping anyone out there who might be interested:
1. List as many of your family favorite meals off the top of your head.
2. Go through cookbooks and websites to help jog your memory and/or come up with meals you’d like to try.
3. Organize your meals into seven categories. For example: Mexican, Italian, Vegetarian, Soups, Salads, etc.
4. Decide on your food-related goals: Eat fish once a week, have a leftovers night, incorporate more meatless meals, take-out, etc.
5. Create theme nights based off of steps 3 and 4. Assign each day of the week with a type of meal to plan around. Use silly names to make it fun and exciting: Mexican Monday, Oriental Tuesday, Twisted Wednesday (recycled leftovers), Authentic Thursday, TGIFriday, Super Simple Saturday, Special Sunday.
6. Refer back to your list of meals from steps 1 and 2. Start plugging meal ideas into your theme nights, while keeping your nutritional goals in mind: Fish once a week = fish tacos for Mexican Monday one week, and shrimp scampi for Authentic Thursday the following week.
7. Make sure to schedule date nights and intersperse difficult/experimental meals with fast/easy meals. Save the fancy stuff for the weekends, when you have more time. Make new meals out of old ones (leftovers), so you're left with minimal prep work while diversifying your meals: Leftover pot roast from Sunday will make for a great beef stew on Wednesday.
8. Start with scheduling 1-2 weeks at a time. Gradually build up to a month’s worth of meals, then four months. Repeat your rotation of meals every three months and before you know it you’ll have a year’s worth of meals planned!
9. Print out your year’s worth of meals and file away in a binder. Include a calendar for each month, with its corresponding recipes and shopping lists for future use. Keep pages in clear sheet protectors to protect them from spills and such. OR if you’d rather have your meal plan in a digital format, look into ZipList or RecipeBox. There are a lot of websites and apps available that help keep your meals organized, which makes it readily accessible if you keep a smart phone or tablet with you.
10. Print out a weekly calendar and display it on the fridge to ward off the dreaded “What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?” question(s). This way kids know what they’re eating and when they’re eating it.
11. Make it easy: Keep breakfasts, lunches and snacks simple so you’re not burned out come dinner time.
12. The other way to plan meals is to plan around your grocery store’s current deals, or after you visit your local farmer’s market, or CSA pick-up. This makes planning a year’s worth of meals more difficult, but you should be able to think ahead and plan around the seasons’ harvest. Or better yet, use your meal plan to help rotate through your food storage!