My meal planning all started after I drove to town to get chicken supplies on Monday. Then back to the pet store on Wednesday for the dog’s food before her dinnertime. Then my daughter and I went on our weekly shopping trip to the grogery store. And after a long wind through the grocery store maze, I simply said “never again, if I can help it,” on the long drive home.
I enjoy the pleasure of driving as much as anyone, and maybe more so when I’m alone in my car, singing to some great music… but I felt a little bit trapped in my vehicle for all of those trips in one week. I wondered what else could be done. Obviously, if I had known about the pine shavings and paid attention to the dog food, I would have just planned better and made one trip. AHA! One trip, a little forethought and planning and I can make that happen. I have established my rhythm for the week for housekeeping, so, why not make the shopping day really work for me and set aside a little time to plan out the week’s meals?
When I was just starting out I began following posts about budgeting and planning and eating REAL FOOD on a few blogs and websites. I did some searching and came up with tons of ways to meal plan on a budget, or organically, meal plan for huge families, and meal plan for specific diets (gluten free, vegetarian, dairy free, the lists go on and on). There are many ways to meal plan and plenty of recipes and guides. But, what I’ve found is it really juts takes these simple steps:
Figure out your budget.
It really doesn’t matter how much you want to spend, it’s different for everyone and every family. What IS important is to have some goal or estimate in mind for what you WANT to be spending on food every week. You can observe this in your credit card statements, or by saving receipts or using only cash. I have found that having a goal or a limit to grocery spending helps me think about the meals I will make, the snacks in between meals, and then I don’t impulsively buy silly things that I never eat or that I eat on the way through the grocery store maze.
Figure out what you have.
This part is what takes up most of my “meal planning time”. I try to see what is left in the fridge, what is down in the freezer, or tucked back in the cabinets. Then I try to make use of at least some of these ingredients by incorporating them into the weekly recipes. This saves a little money, saves wasted food, and avoids spoiling food in the cabinets or the dreaded bottom drawers of the refrigerator.
Figure out what you like
We enjoy a lot of simple meals that incorporate our seasonal vegetables and meat and that can be varied as ingredients shift and change. So planning meals flows with what we have and what we like and actually only a few things vary. Pulling out the favorite cookbooks and playing in the recipes is such a fun activity for me!
We bake our own bread weekly using a sourdough starter, so when that process begins we use half for pizza dough for dinner on Friday night. Pizza is also a great way to use up whatever leftovers you like as toppings. For example, we had great gouda cheeseburgers this week and the last burger was crumbled up on top of the cheese, onions, peppers and homemade tomato sauce along with the shredded ends of the gouda to make an amazing cheeseburger pizza!
We have it down to a Monday through Friday system of a pasta night, bean night, a rice night, a meat night, and a pizza night. Saturday and Sunday are saved for either big or more complex dinners or simply a leftover meals.
Our family enjoys eating this way, and if you are curious about meal planning just start with your closest family member and ask them what their favorite dinners are and build a list for all your family members. Then everyone gets included and thrown in the plan at some point and everyone is happy!
One site I really recommend with lots of guides and helpful tips is 100daysofrealfood.com. Let us know how your meal planning goes and any more tips you have in the comments!