Efficient Meal Planning

• 22 February 2011

I've mentioned meal planning a handful of times on this blog over the past couple of years, but I've never outlined the manner in which I meal plan in such detail before. I thought it might be helpful if I did...so here it goes, my guide to efficient meal planning! Allow about 30 minutes to sit down and do this start to finish.

There are two paths to I like to take when planning meals; I've outlined them both below.

Method 1:

1. Look through pantry, freezer and fridge--get familiar with what you are working with this week. Do you still have panko left? a few boxes of pasta? some frozen corn? half a bunch of cilantro? I've learned that I spend less money, and enjoy nicer meals, when I consider what I should be using up before I purchase new ingredients.

2. I gather my recipe binder (basically a recipe version of this) and two other cookbooks I'm in the mood to reference that week. If I bookmarked a recipe online, I'll try to throw that in as well. As I peruse my recipe binder, I look for recipes that call for the ingredients I need to use up that week.

3. Then, I create 5 meals for the week allowing 1 night for leftovers or "brupper"* and 1 night for takeout/date night. The 5 meals are typically broken down like this: 2 vegetarian, 1 pasta (which may or may not include meat), 1 fish and 1 chicken entrees. About once a month I throw in red meat too. At this point in the planning I also consider simple side dishes...usually roasted vegetables because they are easy, delicious, and put those vintage cast iron pans of mine to good use! Think: roasted asparagus, potatoes, brussel sprouts, etc. I even hear roasted broccoli is good, but I've never prepared it that way--I'm a die-hard steam-the-broccoli-kind-of-girl.

4. Next, I create a shopping list outlining the ingredients I still need for the meals I've planned, trying to keep the items in some kind of order as I write them down. For example, I group the dairy items together, meat/seafood together, produce together, etc. Oh, and don't forget to write down non-food items on your list too (or items needed for your kids' lunches). I often re-write the list twice if I'm in the mood for a tidy, super-organized list. If the week includes a Costco run, I set aside a little corner to indicate items I plan on purchasing there instead of the standard grocery store.

OR Method 2:

Go to Whole Foods and buy only what is on sale; then proceed with steps 2-4 as indicated above. This is a great way to procure organic produce for the same price as conventional produce. I love the feeling of walking out of Whole Foods with a bag or two of fresh, organic produce that didn't cost more than the conventional fruits and vegetables I'd purchase otherwise.

The only downside with Method 2 is that it adds one more store to visit that week. If I need Huggies, Pantene, or Ziploc bags, I still have to make a trip to the regular grocery store. In the Summer, when you're more likely to hit a farmer's market or two, this is method to use too--just substitute "Whole Foods" with "Farmer's Market" and move forward with your meal planning from there.

I hope this helps you plan better meals, save money at the grocery store, and feel more organized about your eating habits! I know it's made a huge difference in my life over the past couple of years. If you have any other tips, feel free to share! One last note, if you are needing further inspiration as to what meals to plan for in the first place, feel free to peruse my "recipes to love" post or any of the "menu of the week" posts. Bon appetit!

image 1 - Stephanie Brubaker / image 2 - James Baigrie + Randy Mon for Sunset / image 3 - Stephanie Brubaker / image 4 - William Meppem for the Carefree Cook


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