October 13, 2011

How To: Meal Plan

Posted by Kristin

Most Saturday mornings Mike and I can be found doing a very sacred ritual around our dining room table (Bom, bom, bom). We.....meal plan.  I know, intense right? There's many reasons why we do this but the top ones are:

1. It helps us stay on our food budget (about $60/week).
2. It helps us not have to think about what to make at the end of the day when we're both tired and brain-dead.
3. It helps us eat healthy.
4. It helps us get out of eating the same things week in and week out.

We started meal planning right after we got married and have pretty much stuck to it. We've gone through different phases depending on our financial situation and work schedules, like coupon clipping, alot of crock pot dinners, and meals that make good leftovers. Here's the overall process we follow and some helpful hints. We're not experts by any means but its served us well so far.

1. We usually start off by taking an inventory of what we have on hand. This includes dry goods in the pantry (like pasta, sauces, and snacks), veggies, fruits and dairy in the fridge, and meat and other items in the freezer. We always try to use what we have on hand first so it gets eaten before it would go bad. This summer, this also included what we'd gotten from our farm share for that week or what I've picked from my own garden.

It all starts with taking inventory of what we've got.

2. Next, if we do need certain items, we see what's on sale in the local grocery fliers. Usually this revolves mostly around what meat is on sale. Sometimes we'll stock up on on different cuts of meat if there are good sales. So some weeks we'll spend $40 on just meat and other weeks we'll spend nothing.  We give ourselves $60 a week to spend but are flexible about how to spend it. Some weeks we spend it all or above $60. If that's the case, we don't spend as much the next week.

3. Once we know what we've got on hand and what's on sale, we start picking out recipes. We talk about the week and figure out what nights we'll need to make dinner, whether or not we'll both be home, and what kind of meals we can make. We also decide who will cook on what nights.We also try to figure out what meals will make leftovers so we know how to use them, like for lunches or dinner another night.

Some of our Saturday morning reading material.

Planning out meals is also a great way to try new recipes. One way that we've done this pretty effectively is to make a recipe binder. We are magazine junkies so our piles of Food Network and Rachel Ray magazines were starting to take over the living room (not quite getting to a Hoarders level though....we have standards) so we started by ripping out the recipes we actually wanted to try. We then made a binder with section tabs broken up by different types of food. The sections include beef, pork, poultry, pasta dishes, sides, desserts, and more.  That way we can just look through the chicken recipes if we know that chicken is on sale.  We also have a couple shelves of cookbooks that we refer to often. Mike is really good about randomly picking out a cookbook we haven't used in a while and finding some recipe in it to try.

This recipe binder helps keep our foodie magazines from taking over our living room.

4. Once the recipes are planned, we make a list of items for dinners, lunches, snacks, and other staples.  While at the store, we try at best as we can to stick to our budget. We usually have a few items on the list that are more wishes than necessities, so if we're starting to go over budget we'll knock those off first.

5. Once we're home with the groceries, I try to do any prep to the food to make it as ready as possible to be cooked later in the week. This includes breaking up large packages of meat into multiple portions and freezing them, washing produce, or slicing bread before freezing it.

6. Throughout the week, we just reference our meal plan list on the fridge and pull anything out of the freezer the night before so that its defrosted when we need to cook the next night.

This meal planner pad from Anthropologie helps remind us what to cook each night.
And that's about it. Does anyone else meal plan or have any other tips or trick that work well?

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