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How do you meal plan? How do you organize your week? What is the best way to plan meals, on paper or on the computer?
There’s no right or wrong way!
What IS Meal Planning
Meal planning is creating and organizing meals, whether its breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three for an upcoming set of days. It is about creating a plan before you cook, coming up with recipes, ideas, and creating your list for shopping.
Why Meal Plan
There are so many reasons to meal plan and everyone has different reasons for wanting to meal plan. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Save money
- Healthier Diet
- Save time
- Become more organized
- Encourage everyone to participate in the kitchen
Meal planning is not the same thing as meal prep, although I have seen the terms used interchangeably. Meal planning is the first step – creating your plan for the week.
This is where a lot of people get overwhelmed and throw in the towel before they begin. I get it, there’s so much information out there, and I want to keep the process as simple as possible!
Look at your schedule
What nights will you be eating at home? Do you need quick dinners? What are your needs for the next several days? You definitely need to know your upcoming schedule.
Even though I am a huge proponent of meal prep, there are days that we just can’t cook. When we have to leave the house at 4pm to hit the road for a sports tournament, I will not be cooking. It’s important to be honest about what you can do with the time constraints and energy constraints you face.
Once you know your schedule, you should be able to easily see what nights can include sit down meals and what nights might need quick leftovers. This is when you determine how many recipes you need for the week.
Choose Your Recipes
Once you know your schedule, it’s time to choose your recipes. If you have a family, will they have input?
Will you try new recipes this week? Meal planning works great when you can use family favorites, and throw in one new recipe a week. Now that my kids are older (14, 13, 9), I allow them each to choose one recipe for the upcoming week. When my kids were younger, this wasn’t possible and we ate a lot simpler recipes. You need to do what works for you!
Determine what night you’ll be eating what meal. Some people use Paprika, Plan to Eat while other people prefer paper and pen method. There are great things on Amazon for this, such as this and this.
Create your shopping list
Once you have your recipes, scan the ingredients and create your shopping list. This can be done via paper and pen or online. There are several grocery list apps you can use. We use Cozi for our shared calendar and there is a grocery list, but honestly, we don’t use the calendar although we have in the past. Cozi, though, is an incredible online calendar system and everything is color coordinated so that I can quickly see who is doing what and when.
Now that our meal planning is so streamlined, we only shop on Fridays. I use Plan to Eat to meal plan and this program will pull all the ingredients into a grocery list for me. I just spend a few minutes deleting the items I already have on hand.
For those who prefer paper and pen, I have used a very similar journal to this Meal Planner Tracker. It made things easy to keep everything in one place.
Grocery shop and meal prep
After you have successfully evaluated your week, planned your meals, created your grocery list, it’s time to move on to shopping and meal prep.
Tips and Tricks for Meal Planning
Don’t forget your other appliances – your slow cooker and pressure cooker can make your life much easier.
Think about meal templates – when we first started meal planning, we embraced taco Tuesday and meatless Monday. Wednesdays, we were super busy with three kids in sports at the time, and that was sandwich night. We’d have things like meatball subs, grilled ham and cheese, chicken parmesan sandwiches, etc. Using a template can help simplify the sometimes overwhelming decision making process!
Cookbooks I use for meal planning
I have several cookbooks that are my go to for meal planning. I used to have dozens of cookbooks, as I’d collect them like little trinkets. Over time, I’ve let the unused ones go, yet some still are used weekly, while others only every few weeks. These are my go to cookbooks.
The Complete Make Ahead Cookbook – I love everything by America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve had more cooking success using their cookbooks over any others out there. With that being said, ATK recipes can include a lot of steps and be quite detailed. They’re not always the most simple and can take a lot of time to prep. Now, I do love this one because I can meal prep on Sunday, and this cookbook tells me where to leave off and how to finish the recipe later. It’s great and everything we’ve cooked has been terrific – my kids haven’t complained yet.
Skinnytaste Fast and Slow – I actually LOVE all of her cookbooks! She has a new one, One and Done as well that’s great as well as her original cookbook. But, this one is full of very quick recipes or slow cooker recipes. So, when I need a quick recipe, I turn to this cookbook. Gina takes recipes we’re familiar with and makes them healthier and I do own and use all three cookbooks regularly!
The Food Matters Cookbook – Mark Bittman. This is one of my most worn out cookbooks. There was a long time we were cutting back on meat, when we had an incredibly tight budget. I stumbled upon Mark Bittman who has several cookbooks out there. These aren’t vegetarian, but heavier on legumes and rice, with meat being minimal. What makes this cookbook great is that he offers alternative ingredient ideas on almost every recipe. This cookbook is what taught me about flexibility in cooking. I still use this one regularly!
Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook – The recipes in this cookbook are lower in fat, and although it is several years old and doesn’t have the new WW point system, it is still a GREAT cookbook with excellent recipes. These recipes are simple, and most cook up quick and my kids have enjoyed just about every recipe I’ve made.
Mexican Everyday – Rick Bayless So, this one won’t appeal to everyone and even my kids don’t like every recipe I make. But, I love Mexican food, true Mexican food, not Tex-Mex. Although I enjoy Tex-Mex, it is higher in fat than true Mexican food. Rick Bayless is one of my favorite chefs out there, and every time I go to Chicago, I must eat at Frontera. I LOVE LOVE this cookbook, the taco section is my go to for Tacos. The food is healthy, the recipes vary from simple to more complicated, but the food taste is AMAZING. As my kids grow, they’re coming around to more spice and various flavors, but I love this cookbook.
At the end of the day, meal planning is about find a system that works for you and creating your plan! I’d love to know what cookbooks you love and how you meal plan for your family!!