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

22 comments:

Mary said...

You and I follow the same methods, except I often use your blog as a source of inspiration as well! You've added several recipes to our list of family favorites.

Miranda @ One Little Minute said...

You've been a meal-planning inspiration for us over the last couple years, and I've got it down pretty well now! The key for me is to WRITE IT DOWN! Occasionally I think I've got it, and go totally brezerk when I hit the grocery store, trying to piece together meals.

Your Baked Ziti, along with some of your other favorites, are on regular rotation around here!

Thanks!

ashley maureen said...

i love your step-by-step method. i basically do the same thing, but this has confirmed the order and method in which i should go about it. (and all of a sudden, i'm yearning for farmers' market season!!)

Erin said...

Always love a good organization post. A few years ago I created a word document that fits on a mini clipboard and has the names of the stores/markets I frequent the most. I just add what I need from a certain place under its spot on the paper. I also added a magnet to the back of the clipboard and store it on the side of my fridge for easy access.

debbie said...

I also have a binder for my favorite recipes. My goal is to break it down into various binders - main dishes, appetizers, desserts etc.

I plan 4 to 5 meals a week. Then fill the other days with takeout, dinner out or leftovers.

It definitely helps to plan the meals. So much less waste and frustration.

Anne Living Life said...

Roasted broccoli is delicious. This time of year, I eat it a few times every week.

Becs said...

I've also heard roasted broccoli is amazing, but haven't yet taken the plunge!

likeschocolate said...

How do you decide what recipe to use? I have such picky children that I tend to stick with recipes I know they love which means we eat month after month the same things. I tried this new recipe this month for a corn soup by Nigella and it was a total flop for my family. I ended up making everyone something else because they were hungry. I thought they would love it since it was soup, but they complained it smelled like fish.

Liz Stanley said...

yes! i do almost the exact same thing every sunday or monday night. although I usually only plan four meals but i have less mouths to feed. the only downside is that sunday is often at the end of my meal planning and ends up being leftovers or something lame. i miss nice sunday dinner

Anonymous said...

I follow a similar method (with an overflowing binder) but I always give a shout out to the husband on what two meals HE would like to MAKE next week :) I usually give him a briefing on what we have in the pantry. He's never been good with making use on what we have - stopping into the grocery store on his way home from work for dinner ingredients (and his chocolate fix).

MelancholySmile said...

That's exactly how I do it.... when I'm on top of things. Otherwise, we eat eggs from our backyard chickens and fresh fruit smoothies for dinner. :)

Dying to know, where did you get the beautiful paper for your lists?

Jessica said...

I go through fits and starts when it comes to meal planning - some weeks I am super organised, other times meal time can be a bit dull. For a while I've been meaning to create my own recipe binder to organise my magazine tearouts. And your post has re-energised me to get it done! I would love a binder with recipes organised by season.

kelli said...

I think my EAT pad from Knock Knock is what most motivates me to meal plan. Really.

And thanks for coming to the rescue this week- I'm doing the vegetable stir fry and baked ziti and cherry crumb cake. (I found some frozen pie cherries at whole foods, by the way! $8.49 for 2 lbs.)

InCircle Interiors said...

i find it fascinating to know how other people go about their meal planning. this is really great! especially segmenting it out into types of meals each night (vegi, fish, etc.) my meal planning takes way too long but i hope to get it down to 30 min. someday. thanks for sharing your methods. p.s. my sister was just raving about roasted broccoli. something about sprinkling sugar on it before it goes in the oven? weirdy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a meal planner but am amazed at how many of my friends just wing it each week...maybe they have a better stocked pantry? (Or freezer?).
I'm glad someone else mentioned the adorable notepad...I hope you will let us know where it cam from!

Brooke Reynolds said...

I do the same thing.. and often follow your second method as well when it comes to produce. If you buy what's on sale you get a nice variety or fruits and veggies in your diet (since the items on sale are always changing) and it forces me to use ingredients I normally wouldn't pick up on my own (like bok choy! and kale! and cauliflower!).

Stephanie said...

Melancholy Smile (so nice to see you!) and Anon: the notepad is from Modern Palm Boutique (also a sponsor). Find it here:

http://www.modernpalm.com/shop?page=shop.browse&category_id=21

And may I say that you all have some seriously great ideas here...you are all amazing cooks/planners/etc. Thank you for sharing your ideas here. xo

Carrie said...

I used to be a broccoli steamer, but I am 100% on team roasted broccoli now. A little olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, chopped garlic and red pepper flakes go such a long way! Yummm. Now I am craving broccoli.

As for planning, I live in Seattle and am lucky to have grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh. I have a regular delivery of a few staples (onions, bell peppers, potatoes)and when I get the reminder email I go into my account and add in whatever else I need for the week. They don't have everything but such a time saver!

Thanks for sharing your meal planning tips!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I use Approach #1. Re: #2 - Whole Foods sells plastic bags (cheaper than Ziploc and just as good), Seventh Generation diapers (who needs chlorine in diapers?) and lots of natural shampoos and conditioners!

Nicole Grotepas said...

But how do you get your kids to eat all those amazing meals you're making all the time? I'm starting my own family and wonder if I'll be able to make the real gourmet stuff or if my kids will turn off that desire because they want mac and cheese and whatnot.

stephmodo said...

Nicole, while kids will always be kids (i.e. pickier than grownups), they usually take cues from their parents. If you act like they might not like it, they usually won't. However, if you get excited about it and just act like it's a normal thing to it, they typically eat it just fine. Yes, mushrooms, zucchini and the like will always be at the bottom of my kids' list, but I make one nice meal a day and they've learned to not just eat the food I prepare, but find things they enjoy a lot along the way. Just in case the main dish isn't a winner, I always have a veggie side for them to fill themselves with, as well as a crusty bread or something. Every now and again, they enjoy Mac n Cheese, but it's the Annies Organic :) Start 'em young!

jacquelyn | lark & linen said...

It's funny because this is one of those posts that seem like common knowledge, but when it comes to meal planning I am totally at a loss! I waste SO much food and never know how to do it properly. Thank you for your tips - I will definitely have to try out your method!

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