How to: Build a Meal Plan

I think like most parents, I really took my pre-kids life for granted, because little did I know NickJr and DisneyJr would be taking over my life shortly and I’d have grown up things to do but no time to get those things done.

I met a friend for lunch and we started talking about food, because that’s what I do. We discussed how hard it is to figure out what to cook, thus having no real time to cook, especially when you’re already so busy with children, jobs, life and when you have to plan out showers. (Don’t judge!) So I thought it would be a good idea to share a method to create a working meal plan along with an example of one I have at the house.

Steps to creating a good meal plan:

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1. Know your family’s likes and dislikes. You don’t want to copy a standard meal plan and then realize none of that works for you or your family. So if there are things that you guys prefer and dislike, write them down at the top of your list.

2. Generate ideas. I know that this is the hard one because if you could generate ideas for meals then why the heck would you need a meal PLAN!? The point is that generating ideas on the spot is extremely difficult. You end up having to juggle so much so quickly that Take-Out sounds like the perfect plan. Have a book handy or a piece of paper on your fridge and just start jotting down ideas you see on blogs, magazines, food network, cookbooks or whatever. It can be a million ideas, that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is to have a list from which you can choose.

3. Count your cooking nights. This is going to be different for every family. If you cook EVERY SINGLE NIGHT come zombies or not, then you’ll need 7 ideas from your working list.  If you’re like me and you make enough for leftovers the next night or your husband works late and doesn’t need dinner every night, then a meal idea for every other day should be sufficient.

4. Find your meals. Once you’ve figured out how many meals you’re going to make for the week, go to your list and find things you want to make. I try to include fish at least once a week and I personally stay away from processed foods. But that may not be your thing and Velveeta may turn you on like a man cleaning house and so be it. I won’t preach.

5. Get recipes. After pinpointing the meals you want to make, start gathering the recipes. You may already have the recipes close at hand like in a magazine or cookbook, you may have to search it out on the internet, or you may just have to write it down if it’s from memory. Either way, you need a list in front of you so that you can shop accordingly.

6. Pantry check. How many times have you gone to the grocery store only to realize you in fact did NOT have butter like you thought or have returned with yet another pound of powdered sugar because you never thought to check the pantry? Well for me, that was always happening because I was just being too friggin lazy to check stuff out and just going from memory. A pantry and fridge check is essential in saving money and being as efficient as possible. It’s better to do the legwork ahead of time than to regret it later.

7. Grocery List. Have your grocery list set up according to meals. For example, if you’re making pot roast one night, then write out all the ingredients next to that category and that way you can cross reference with other recipe ingredients if one recipe already calls for that particular ingredient and you won’t have to buy extra.

8. Shop. Shop on a day when you usually shop and when you are not as rushed. I know you may chuckle at this thinking “when am I NOT rushed?” But be that as it may, you must shop when you don’t have screaming kids in the cart or a husband asking you for your opinion on the Final Four (trust me, it happens). If you’re focused, you’ll waste less money and time and get out with only the things you need. For your shopping trip, you can certainly buy everything for the entire week all at once and freeze what you need to, but I usually always save the veggies for the day of or as close to the cooking day as possible for obvious reasons. I don’t need spinach wilting on me! So if you find you have a lot of fresh veggies on your list (which rocks by the way) then you can easily split your trip up into two smaller trips (which is actually what I do). But, again, do what works for you!

9. Cook away. Cook on either the nights you’ve planned to cook that particular meal OR the night before, as I sometimes do, when I know I won’t have as much time the next day. It’s up to you. Enjoy and be sure to let me know if I have either left something out or not put something into consideration!

Now here is an example of a meal plan I have done, as well as a list of some meal ideas along with sources of where you can go for meal inspirations! Also, this is just an example, so alter to your needs. Don’t feel like you have to do something every week, etc. I usually make dessert twice a week depending on my hubby’s sweet tooth. Or, upon his instruction, I cut out dessert for the week entirely. XO

EXAMPLE OF A MEAL PLAN:

Sunday: Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Green Beans, Dessert 1: Apple Pie
Monday: Leftovers; either take as is or make pulled beef sandwiches with remaining pot roast and BBQ sauce (Add: buns, BBQ sauce, coleslaw)
Tuesday: Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Ratatouille
Wednesday:  Leftovers; either take as is or make chicken and veggie pizza (ADD: Pizza dough, sauce, cheese), Chewy Fudge Brownies
Thursday: Baked Enchiladas, Black Beans, Spanish Rice
Friday:  Leftovers; We usually eat the enchiladas as is because they’re even better the second day! Yum!
Saturday:  Herb Grilled Salmon, Mediterranean Couscous, Roasted Broccoli

HELP IN LOCATING MEAL IDEAS:

Cookbooks/Magazines:
-Anything by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa); I love her!
-Cooks Illustrated (I swear by many of those recipes b/c they’re really tested over and over again)
-Food & Wine Magazine
-Gourmet Magazine
-Food Network Magazine (They have their own now too)
-Cooking Light

Websites/Blogs: (These are just a few links or else I could go on and on!!)
-www.Allrecipes.com
-www.smittenkitchen.com
-www.joythebaker.com
-www.pioneerwoman.com
-www.sixsisterstuff.com
-www.chef-in-training.com
-www.foodnetwork.com
-www.bhg.com
-www.marthastewart.com

SAMPLE MEAL PLAN/GROCERY LIST:

Download our sample meal planning chart.

Meal Plan

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How to: Build a Meal Plan