Deciding what’s for dinner can be a daunting task. Here’s a simple meal planning tutorial…this is how I do it, and maybe it will work for you!
When Philip and I got married, my version of meal planning consisted of (1) driving to the grocery store; (2) buying whatever looked good; (3) going home and trying to figure out how to use said things I bought at the grocery store. Needless to say, this resulted in a lot of excess trips to the grocery store, wasted food, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Granted, I hadn’t really gotten my sea legs in terms of cooking yet (though if you’d asked me back then I would have told you that I just loved to cook) so we ate a lot of Homestyle Bakes, Hamburger Helper, and Ore-Ida fries.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that this was not going to work, so I started doing this crazy thing called meal planning. Meal planning in my house has taken a lot of forms. For a while I wrote all the meals on a calendar. Then I wrote them in a notebook….or a series of notebooks, never the same one (I wish I could claim to be as consistent as Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story, whose cookbook is pure inspiration and encouragement and who has written down in a diary every single dinner that she has eaten since February 1998. Granted, writing down what you had for dinner is not exactly the same as meal planning but that’s some serious consistency!). I used a couple of different websites, but always forgot my passwords. There was always a long pad of paper with a magnet backing stuck to my refrigerator on which I scrawled a list (and prior to the current meal planning method, which I’ll get to in a minute, I was writing my meal plan on the second column or the back of my grocery list).
However, I eventually got really, really tired of finding those long skinny pieces of paper crumpled in the bottom of my purse because I am terrible at cleaning it out regularly, so when I got around to it there would usually be no fewer than ten grocery lists. I looked at my iPhone and said, “There’s got to be a better way.” And there was. Here’s my simple meal planning method.
Now, I’m really sorry for all you non-smart-phone users. You can use my menu option but I guess for grocery lists you’re stuck with the paper list method. For those of you with smart phones, though….all I did was look up “list app”. Now, there are lots of apps that are dedicated to grocery lists but (a) I wanted something free; and (b) I wanted something that I could use to make lists of things other than groceries. The first thing I came up with was Easy Note, which I use to make lists of things that I would like to cook for the blog (categorized by season), restaurants I need to review (categorized by area of town), books I want to read, things I need to buy at Target (though I’ve started using my reminders for this because I always forget to look at the list!), etc., etc. Easy Note is far from being the only option, but it’s the one that works for me for simple meal planning.
As far as writing out menus, I bought a pack of chalkboard decals from WallCandy Arts (another idea I got from Dinner: A Love Story). They can be easily moved from one area to another and I have three separate ones: To Cook, To Do, and To Buy, though admittedly I only regularly use To Cook. As I think of things I want to make, I write them on the list until I have enough meals to get us through a week. I’ll always ask Philip what he would like to eat through the week and he usually has one or two suggestions (when we first got married, he always said spaghetti which always made me want to strangle him). If I don’t have anything I’m just dying to eat, I’ll refer to my list of things I want to blog about, then look at my Pins and/or a cookbook or two. When I have a full menu, I start making a list. As we eat a meal (and its subsequent leftovers, if there are any) I draw a line through it.
I used to make a new list every week, but I decided around October or November that this was a silly waste of time when I buy so many things regularly. As I check items off the list, they are sent to the very bottom. When I need to add something to the list, I can scroll through to see if it’s already on the list and then I just uncheck it. When I finish my list, I arrange it by sections of the grocery store. Laugh if you must, but this prevents the otherwise inevitable running back to the produce section because I forgot to get a jalapeño when we are already in the dairy aisle. Now, no more annoying pieces of paper floating around in my life.
I realize that none of this is earth-shattering information, but simple meal planning looks a little different for everyone. There are people who are way more organized than me when it comes to groceries. This works for me, though…we always have the food that we need (aside from the occasional grocery trip to buy milk because our itty-bitty fridge doesn’t hold two gallon jugs very well or half-and-half because we drink a lot of coffee) and can quickly refer to our menu to decide what to have for dinner.
Do you have a simple meal planning system?