Dinner · Recipes

The Challenge of Meal Planning

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I have a love/hate relationship with meal planning. I’m betting most of you do too. It always feels like so much work on the front end: researching sales, taking inventory of your pantry, gathering recipes, creating variety within the week, and making a comprehensive grocery list—not to mention just working up the motivation to start that process!

But once I’ve finished, my sense of accomplishment, my pride in the savings, and the huge relief I feel at the thought of not visiting the supermarket the whole week makes those couple of hours of planning entirely worth it. Not only that, but I get excited every day when I glance over at my perfect little menu. Excited that all the ingredients are already in my house, excited that I don’t have to ask myself “what’s for dinner?” and excited to prepare meals that I’ve had a chance to look forward to.

I don’t have a magic formula for meal planning. I’ve read plenty of advertised formulas, but the reality is that all of them are very much tailored to the personal needs of one family. So regardless of the tips I share, or other tips you may find, you will still have to figure out what works for you. When you do, you’ll hit your stride and it won’t seem so hard. Do I meal plan every week? No. Should I? Yes. The only reason I don’t is because I am lazy. But I love getting back on track, so here’s to that.

I am happy to say that I planned the above menu, plus some fruit, vanilla ice cream and extra salmon portions in my freezer, for about $100. I’m not going to tell you that you would have the exact same result because your pantry and fridge are much differently stocked than mine. But I will tell you my basic approach to meal planning, and I’d love to hear about your tips and successes!

  1. I choose one (sometimes two) new recipes to incorporate into my menu.
  2. I assess what I have on hand and make a list of the major items that need to be put to use. I then search my recipe database in ChefTap (more about that here) by ingredient and it very quickly pulls up any recipes calling for that ingredient.
  3. I make sure I have a well balanced list of meals that include a variety of meats and carbs, and at least one meatless meal. In other words, I don’t want to cook chicken, ground beef, rice, or pasta three nights of the week.
  4. Easy-Grilled-Pork-Loin-with-Sugar-and-Spice-Rub-and-Grilled-Peaches-by-DelightfulEMade-3
    Easy Grilled Pork Loin with Sugar and Spice Rub and Grilled Peaches

    I choose recipes that have seasonally appropriate ingredients and/or use proteins that are on sale at my local supermarket. For example, now through summer is the perfect time for grilled peaches, not in December. If you have a small grocery budget, also know which proteins are most affordable regardless of sales. Don’t plan 3 different cuts of beef in a week or you will run out of money!

  5. I factor in leftovers. I hate to waste food. So think about how many meals will leave you with leftovers and how much of those are used up at lunch. This will help you plan how many nights off you can have when leftovers will do just fine.
  6. Consider the work load. I like to make sure I have a helpful mix of meals that are more and less laborious. In this case, your schedule will dictate what is best for you. But even if you are crazy busy, try to work in one meal that requires a little more love. Those can have the greatest payoff in flavor! Besides, if you are planning ahead, you will have extra time to prep things, so it won’t take as long as you might think.

hungarian-goulash_10-20-13_6_ca

One of the meals on my menu this week is an affordable, one-pot Hungarian Potato Goulash from The Cozy Apron. My hubby adores this one. I adore how many brands of sausage are now available with no added nitrites and nitrates and all those other ni-type things that are ni good for you :p

I hope this puts a little pep in your meal-planning step! It really does bring me a whole world closer to a week of sanity, so I hope it will do the same for you. ♥

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