I hate cooking. Let me get that out there in the open. Baking, yes. It is fun to bake bread, cake, pie, cupcakes … but cooking, as in “meal preparation,” is not my thing.
I have trouble thinking up meals, especially on the way home from the YMCA homeschool swim and gym when I suddenly realize … again … that I forgot to plan anything for dinner. And when I actually do remember to plan, I have trouble getting everything ready at the same time so the potatoes don’t get stone cold while I’m waiting for the chicken to finish cooking.
But that’s not all.
I also have have trouble remembering to get what I need at the grocery store when I’m there. And I have trouble cooking the right amount to satisfy my family for one meal instead of leaving leftovers for the next five days.
Enter meal planning.
I have to admit, I’m not crazy about it because of the whole “thinking up meals” thing. This led me to other peoples’ meals, thinking that was the solution. I tried E-meals (used a half-price Groupon) and a website called Make Dinner Easy (free – which did give me some fabulous ideas for recipes and meals), but I still had to pick and choose which meals suited our family and come up with some ideas on my own since no one has our family’s exact taste in food.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought, and it didn’t totally solve my dilemma.
Now, I am taking a different approach to meal planning, using a bunch of ideas from various meal planners out there in the blogosphere and trying to make them work for us. I created some easy, custom forms (seen below), which you can download for free. Finally! Something I can easily use that will really work for our family!
4 Easy Steps for Meal Planning
1. List your family’s favorite meals, in categories of beef, poultry, fish, meatless, Mexican, Pasta, whatever suits you. Aim for thirty. Also list your favorite sides (starches and vegetables) and desserts.
2. Fill out a chart with what kinds of meals you want to have each day of the week and what regular activities will impact meals. For us, that means we eat a quick meal on Wednesdays before church activities and I prepare a slow cooker meal on our Classical Conversations community day, which is also when I need to bring lunch. Include breakfast (cold or hot cereal, other hot foods like eggs or pancakes, fruit, etc.) and lunch (sandwiches, soup, salad, etc.). Indicate if you will have “dinner” (a larger meal) as the noon meal or evening meal – you do have a choice. For those dinners, write down if it should be poultry, fish, beef, etc. — the same categories as your meal categories. Aim for a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of meats. Don’t eat chicken every day. 🙂
3. Fill out your “Dinner” (remember, think “big meal”) chart. First copy in your beef/chicken/fish preference, and with your list of favorite meals in front of you, start writing down three or four weeks of meals. Think about ways to include leftovers in lunches or what to freeze for another time. Include side dishes, too!
4. Congratulations! You have planned three or four weeks of meals! Now to make things even easier, use your chart to make your shopping list for each meal and, consequently, for each week. No more forgetting items at the grocery store!
To those who wonder if this much repetition will bore your family — well, you are probably repeating your favorite meals anyway. I know our household does, but without a plan, I get into a rut of repeating the same ones ALL the time. This way, the repetition is planned and I don’t feel guilty pulling out the “spaghetti” easy meal because, hello, Monday is pasta night anyway and we haven’t had spaghetti for four weeks. And if a certain meal is just bugging you, then change it. Find a new recipe you haven’t tried yet. Make one day a week a “new meal” night.
If the idea of “meal planning” makes you cringe, too, give this a try, and let me know how well it is working. I am hoping it will make my fall a little less hectic and a lot healthier!