I love almost everything about cooking. I love trying new recipes and making food to nourish my family. I even enjoy meal planning.
I just don’t enjoy meal planning more than once a month. Even worse is the “what do we have for dinner” moments at 4:30 on a Wednesday.
It has been at least four years since I started monthly meal planning. I started back when life was crazy with three kids three and under. Now, life is equally crazy with homework, sports, and other commitments. I just don’t have the time, or patience, to think about dinner more than once a month.
Not only does planning a month at a time save my sanity, it also saves money (more on that later). When I have a plan that takes our schedules into consideration, it’s written down and I have shopped for it either Jeff or I can pull the recipe and get started.
Here’s what I do.
Towards the end of the month I print the next month’s calendar from iCal . This gives me an idea of what our schedule looks like (sports, parties, after school activities) as well as when Jeff is working. I try to keep things really simple on the nights he’s not home to free me up to help with homework and the general school night busy-ness.
Then I grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and sit down with the calendar, my cookbooks, recipes I’ve ripped, printed or PINNED and a pencil and start filling in the squares.
There are a few “guidelines” that help me as I go.
:: Every Friday is pizza night. This is usually homemade but sometimes we switch it up and head down the street to the pizzeria.
:: We love Mexican food so I make it once a week. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, nachos the list goes on and on.
:: I plan for at least two vegetarian or vegan meals a week.
:: On days that Jeff works, I use the crockpot, plan leftovers, have soup and sandwiches or other equally easy meals.
:: I take requests. I ask everyone if they have any ideas of things we should eat. Granted, not everything necessarily makes the cut but it wouldn’t be unusual to find chili dogs on our menu. Along with that, since Jeff enjoys cooking I ask what he’d like to make.
With all of these in mind, it really goes pretty quickly and I have a plan. I usually note which cookbook the recipe is in so that Jeff can start cooking if needed.
I also use this time to make note of snacks I’d like to make to have on hand like graham crackers and peanut butter power bars), lunch items for the freezer (a recent fav is Mad Hungry’s savory chicken pocket pies which Jeff likes to take to work and pop in the microwave), special events or other things to consider when in the kitchen or at the store (like the 200 cookies I am baking for the cookie drive). I jot down when I will likely bake/cook those items on the calendar.
Keep in mind, sometimes a new commitment gets added, we get sick or you know, life happens and we switch days or scrap the plan all together. And that’s ok. But for the most part we stick with it and I know the answer when someone asks “what’s for dinner.”
More in a few days on my shopping strategy.