This year, I am trying out something brand new. I am meal planning.
I have never done this before but cooking is on the lower end of my favorite things to do and I was weary of having to figure out what to make for dinner every morning and then realizing I didn’t have the right ingredients to make it.
Making dinner is one of the last things I prioritized because I was just unmotivated to cook and would be too busy with other tasks to pay attention to the time. My husband would come home and there would be no dinner made and no plan for dinner. He likes to cook so he will usually make something if I haven’t, but often what he wanted to make wasn’t what I wanted to eat or, again, we didn’t have the ingredients for it.
As part of my 2017 goals, I have made a printable calendar for each month of the year and I am planning my dinner menu weekly. So far, it is working wonderfully and has radically changed my dinner making-blues.
I have reduced stress about what to make
I don’t have to worry at all about what’s for dinner because I already know. It has freed up my mind to focus on other tasks.
There is a handy reference on the fridge
My husband can come home and look at the calendar for reference so he knows exactly what’s for dinner and he can immediately start making it if I am busy with other tasks.
Here are some handy add-ons to enhance your meal planning, including pretty binder and magnet options, sparkle pencils to write in the meals and a check mark stamp to check each day off. I also found a magnetic fridge organizers to hold your writing utensils close by. Affiliate links are below, see full disclosure here.
The ingredients are available
Since the menu is already planned for the week I have already looked over the recipes and made sure that I have all the ingredients and if not, I already made a trip to the store so they are readily available in our cupboards.
It is satisfying
Although my days are still hectic as a work at home mom, I have the satisfaction that dinner is planned and just that goes a long way in giving me the feeling of a larger sense of order throughout the day. Below is a sample of what my meal planning packet looks like:
Here is the process I have adapted to make menu planning work for me. Remember, I have not ever done this before 2017, so I am implementing a new habit right along with you!
The Meal Planning Process
Print out the menu calendar
I have created this calendar that I print out one month at a time and I keep it on the fridge. I schedule the meals out weekly because it’s too hard to schedule out the whole month, but I like to have the whole month on the same piece of paper so I can add to it each week and make sure I am not repeating meals too often. If you can plan out the whole month at once, then go for it!
Schedule a time to plan
As part of our 2017 goals, my husband and I are having weekly couples meetings where we sit at the dining room table with our laptops and schedules to talk about how we are doing on our goals, how our budget is coming along for the month, and what is on the family agenda for the next week. We have it scheduled for the weekend when we are usually home and have some down time, but you can schedule your planning time whenever it works best for you.
During this meeting, I bring out my menu plan and figure out the meals for the upcoming week. I check the calendar to see what events we have coming up and how that might affect our dinner plans. For instance, if we are going to a friends house for dinner one night, then I write that on the printable calendar so I know I don’t have to plan a meal for that evening.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”PcQ4a” via=”yes” ]Grab your free meal planning packet for all 12 months of the year [/ctt]
Decide the meals
I have a rotation of meals I make regularly so I look through that list and just plug them into the week. Since I am simultaneously looking at my family’s schedule for the week, I can decide which days I can make a more time-consuming meal or if I need to make a crock pot meal since I won’t be home all afternoon.
Also, I ask my husband if there is anything he wants to make or a specific day he wants to make it. For example, he really likes to make homemade pizza but I don’t always have the ingredients for it so I need to know that ahead of time in order to be prepared.
Lastly, I look at what ingredients we already have on hand and try to make meals that include groceries I already bought. That way nothing goes to waste and I don’t spend unnecessary money when I do go to the store.
Once you have your meals written down, make a grocery list for the items you don’t have. I write the needed items on the calendar at the bottom as I am going through the menu plan for the week so I don’t forget ingredients and then I add in the date I’m going to grocery shop which is usually the same day or a few days later.
Have you heard of the Ibotta app? It allows you to earn free cash back just by shopping for groceries, clothes, household items, etc. You can sign up through my referral link and start earning free money the next time you go to the store!
Ideally, you want to get all your ingredients in one grocery trip so that you don’t have to go too often and can save money in the process. When I am ready to go to the store, I can snap a picture of the grocery list and save it in my phone or I can copy it out on a separate piece of paper.
Here is a great way to make your grocery list automatically with excel. Plus there is an excel meal planner included and instructions for how to use it. You can get it for 40% off right now. Click here.
No matter how much we plan, life tends to throw curve balls, so ideally you would write out your weekly menu in pencil so that you can erase or change a day if needed. For example, if you have an impromptu take out dinner because you are too tired to make anything, or if you come down with the flu and have to take a rain check on making that fancy recipe.
I make sure to add one “leftover night” to each week so that if something comes up we have a free night of pre-made food, plus that way we are sure to eat all the leftovers before they spoil.
Create a meal rotation
Like I mentioned earlier, I have a rotation of meals I make regularly so I can just plug those in weekly. Included on my list is meatloaf, spaghetti, tacos, chicken pot pie, chicken enchiladas, pork roast, stir-fry, chicken alfredo, cheddar cheese potato soup and loaded shepherd’s pie.
If you have a running list of meals you usually make, then most of the ground work is already done for you. A page to write out your rotation of meals is included in the menu planning packet with space to add new recipes and columns to categorize the type of meals including crock pot, soups, oven bakes, sides, ect.
My goal this year is to try out one new recipe a month, at least, and if it’s something we like as a family, I will add it to the menu plan rotation, if not, I won’t add it.
If you make a certain meal often and you are getting tired of it, then just remove it from the rotation, either temporarily or permanently, and add a different one. I also rotate out meals depending on the season. For instance, I make soup often in the winter but in the summer, we take a break from soup and make food on our backyard grill.
To help us all find some new meals to try, I asked my blogging friends to share their recipe posts. Please click through these as you are making your meal rotation list and print out some fresh ideas for your dinner table:
Chicken Crockpot Dinner (includes instructions on making chicken bone broth)
Are you still with me? As a bonus here are 20 dessert recipes:
I hope you will try out this system and enjoy the results. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.