When it comes to meal planning, I know a lot of people like to wing it each night, but I’m not the type of person who does well with “Winging It.” It gives me anxiety , As you may have guessed, I’m the plan-and-organize type of person. I’ve tried many types of meal plans for my family, and I finally found one that works for us! It might take a little bit of extra time up front, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really no trouble at all! I’ve found that it helps us not be tempted to eat out as much (we don’t want to waste the food we already have, plus we start to look forward to that night’s dinner) and therefore it saves us money. Eating out even once a week can add up fast! This may not be what works for your family, but I thought I would share how I plan our meals in hopes that it could help you out.
I plan my menu two weeks at a time. One week is too short… I’m not about to drag the munchkin through the grocery store EVERY week to get groceries…He’s not particularly a fan of grocery shopping… and a month is too long for me. My produce goes bad, I inevitably run out of eggs or milk or bread or some other staple and end up having to go back to the store anyways. Plus, Little Man does better with one quick(er) trip to the store every other week instead of a LOOONG trip once a month. Bi-weekly it is.Step One
My Food Storage Pantry
Every other weekend, I set aside time to plan our family’s meals for the week. I start by going through my pantry, fridge, and freezer. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a food storage type of pantry, which means that I store food long term. I keep track of every item in my pantry on a clip board (because I’m a charts and graphs gal), but I’m also a very visual person. Therefore, I put my oldest food towards the front of my pantry, and the newest stuff in the back. This makes it super easy to glance around and see what it about to expire or go bad. It’s all right up front! If I know an ingredient needs to be used up in the near future, I put it on my list for the menu. Same with the fridge and freezer. If something needs to be used, it goes on the list. This doesn’t have to take a ton of time…just a quick glance will likely remind you that those Quaker oats have been there quite awhile, or that the two bags of frozen chicken you bought on sale a few months ago need to be eaten.Side note: If you’re a couponer, you’ll want to go through store ads at this time and add sale items (Big, Big Bargains) to your list of ingredients to use.Step TwoOnce I have my list I start jotting down meals that could be made with those items. If I draw a blank, I ask Hubby what he’d like for dinner, and he’s likely to give me 10 different options. A “quick” browse on Pinterest never hurt either. (Although Pinterest tends to suck you in… Be careful that you don’t wind up spending an hour pinning different kinds of chocolate treats instead of finding good recipes! haha)
I also created a menu template that also gives me ideas for each day. They aren’t set in stone (except Pizza night…We don’t like to skip that one), but it helps to know that every other Wednesday we usually have some sort of breakfast for dinner, or that every other Monday is “Mexican Monday,” which is basically Taco Tuesday for people who have other things to do on Tuesdays. 😉
Download my Family Menu Template as a Word Document HERE: Family Menu
As you can see on the template, I only plan Breakfasts and Dinners. We eat a fairly large breakfast and save plenty of room for dinner, but for lunch we usually have leftovers from the night before, sandwiches, or salads. Something that is quick and easy to grab.Step ThreeWhen I’ve decided on my meals for each day, I gather the recipes all in one spot. I create a simple Word document with all of the recipes I’ll need, in order, so I can just flip through and start cooking. I make notes on the side if they need to be defrosted the night before or prepped ahead of time. For example, I’m not going to get up 2 hours early to make homemade cinnamon rolls (a rare treat in our home,) but I can prepare them the night before and let them rise in the fridge, or even better: make them at the beginning of the week, freeze them, and be done for the whole week! But I have to make a note on my menu and recipe pages to remind myself that they’ll need to be made early. Otherwise we’ll end up with coffee/tea and cold cereal that morning instead.
Download my Menu Recipes Template as a Word Document HERE: Menu RecipesStep FourAfter creating my menu and having my recipes all together, I’m ready to make my shopping list. I go through each recipe and write down everything I’ll need in my Grocery List document. I have each ingredient listed according to the areas of the store (i.e. produce, cold items, frozen, canned goods, etc) so it’s easier for me to navigate the store. I also write down any side dishes I may want or other items that might be needed, such as extra snacks or non-food items.
Download my Grocery List Template as a Word Document HERE: Grocery ListStep Five
Once my list is complete, I go through my pantry/fridge/freezer one last time. I check to see if I already have any of the ingredients on my shopping list, and cross them off if I don’t need to buy anything extra.Step Six
Last, I print everything off. I know, I know, I need to get an iPad or kindle to use in the kitchen so I don’t kill all of the trees, but I don’t have one, and this is working for us right now so I’ll stick to it for a while , The Menu and Recipes go in a plastic sheet protector and are magnetized on the fridge for easy access. I can view the menu on one side, then flip it around to view my recipe for that day on the back.
Menu on the Front…
…Recipes on the Back!
The grocery list goes in my purse for my next shopping trip, usually the following Monday. And then I’m done!Using Coupons
I don’t usually take time to find coupons, mostly because I’m not afraid of the store brand, and often it is cheaper than name brand even with a coupon, but sometimes, if I have extra time (which, let’s face it, is very rare) I’ll look for coupons after I’ve already done everything else. The key to couponing is to only get/find coupons for things that you ALREADY need. Don’t get a coupon just because something is on sale. Thinking like that won’t save you money. You need to combine store sales (as I mentioned above when checking your pantry) with coupons for things that you already planned on using. That’s why coupons are dead last on my list. They don’t have a place anywhere else.
Warning: Rant. The “Extreme Couponers” show bugs the crap out of me because the majority of them buy a bunch of worthless junk that they couldn’t possibly eat or use before it expires. End rant.Changes Coming SoonIf you downloaded these templates, you may notice that they start this coming week! And if you looked further, you may have noticed that although I JUST posted about my favorite pizza dough recipe and spaghetti sauce recipe, these recipes only include meat, veggies, and fruit. No grains, no pasta, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol. Know what that means? That’s right! Hubby and I are starting our first Whole30 program this week!
We bought the book, It Starts With Food. We bought the cookbook, Well Fed, and we are jumping on board! This is going to be a huge challenge for us, but we are ready to start making more changes in our diet, and we are ready to see where this leads! While I doubt we will adapt our entire food lifestyle to Paleo when we are finished, I think it will help us learn to make better food choices in the future. My goal after Whole30 is to have our family eating clean 80% of the time, and enjoying our favorite, traditional southern comfort foods 20% of the time. I left my menu “categories” as-is so you can create a menu that your family will love without having to switch to Paleo , Minus Pizza Night it all worked out pretty well!
I’ll post more about our journey with Whole30 as we go along. Feel free to come back and join us!
**All recipes in the Menu Recipes Template come from Well Fed and/or the author’s blog: The Clothes Make The Girl, unless otherwise specified under the recipe.**
Please see my Disclaimer about affiliate links.