Friday, August 16, 2013

Meal Planning

One of my most hated chores has become meal planning, especially during the school year. I like to do it weekly and shop for the entire week so that I always know what's for dinner and have all the items I need at hand. I tried shopping on Fridays on my way home from school this past year, so Thursday nights, often when I was already dead tired, I had to try to figure out what to serve for dinner the following week. What a headache. This summer I finally came up with a way to simplify it. It was a lot of work up front, but it will save me the weekly stress of planning. I've used it for seven weeks now this summer and love it!

First, I wrote down the name of the recipes I use most often from my cookbooks. It's funny how I have over 3 dozen cookbooks (I counted), but I use just a few recipes regularly from only about ten of them. I really should purge, but it's so hard to part with cookbooks!

Next, I pulled the recipe cards I use most often. My favorite recipes in the past few years have come from, so many of my "recipe cards" are actually printouts from that site. Altogether, I pulled together about 50 recipes--dishes I cook several times throughout the year.

I then made a meal planning template and began to plan. I decided to use a system: Crock pot Sundays, Mexican Mondays, Soup Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Anything Goes Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays. We always go out on Saturday nights after church. I chose to serve beef or pork/ham just once a week, chicken twice a week, and fish or vegetarian twice a week, not counting pizza night. I plugged in the names of the main dishes as well as side dishes for nine weeks worth of meals. On most weeks, I also have alternates listed to allow for more variety.

On the templates, I included the page numbers of the recipes I use from cookbooks. I didn't include the cookbook title because I can remember without it. I put the recipe cards in quart-sized zip lock baggies labeled by the week (Week 1 through Week 9). I put the baggies of recipes in a pencil bag like students clip into their binders, and I keep that alongside my cookbooks.

Each week on the night before I plan to go grocery shopping, I simply look at the week's plan, pull out the baggie for the week, and check the recipe cards and cookbook recipes for ingredients to write on my grocery list. I keep most nonperishables and frozen meats on stock at all times--as soon as I take something out of the freezer or pantry, I write it down on my grocery list--so I usually just have to add fresh produce and dairy products to my list for the week's meals.

I actually have begun to make a document listing the ingredients for each recipe so that I can just look at that, but it's far from finished. I might have to work on that next summer since this one is almost over, and it's back to school for me. At least now with this system I have one less thing to stress about each week.