Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to welcome the new year by improving your meal planning habit.
I’m signing on for this one for sure. With travel and hubbub during Christmas break, I found myself wondering if we could grab Little Caesar’s pizza WAY too often in the past week or so! It’s the perfect mission to get me back on track and keep my family healthy this winter.
Photo from su-lin
Works for Me Wednesday readers: I need your help! Check out the comments section for a question on organizing your recipes and meal planning data. I’m clueless! UPDATE: There’s some pretty good discussion going on down there… Thanks, KS readers!
We’ve talked meal planning before. For your review:
- Menu Planning Resources and my interconnected meal planning style
- The original Menu Planning Monday Mission: a Choose Your Own Adventure mission with three levels:
A – I don’t meal plan.
B – I meal plan every so often.
C – I am a meal planner already!
*Go here to choose your baby step for this week, and check below for some new inspiration!
- Special Situations:
- And a reminder about not letting the “perfect plan” gone wrong stress you out: Balancing Time, Family and Food (I had forgotten I wrote this post – boy, did I need to read it today!)
Why Meal Plan at All?
Meal planning helps you eat healthily because it gives a great motivation to cook good meals, even when you don’t feel like it and might not have the energy to follow your plan by the time you actually get to the end of the day on a Wednesday.
Once you’ve thawed the meat, or committed to using up something you cooked the night before to prep for a meal, or purchased the fresh produce that is losing nutrients every day it sits in your fridge, you just have to cook. There’s a certain pressure not to waste food or money, so you push ahead with your plans, energy or not. I feel like there’s a momentum to the week once I’ve got ingredients in the house. Meals must be cooked, and if the plan is in place, I am likely to follow through with it.
My motivation hit a huge dip as the season for the Farmer’s Market ended. I no longer had a glut of fresh produce that I couldn’t help buying to push along my meal planning. I didn’t know what I wanted to make. Although I had a house full of food, I couldn’t hear anything crying to be eaten, so I had to gear up and dredge the motivation from the depths of my mind to rifle through my recipes and find something I wanted to eat and for which I had all the ingredients.
I’m definitely back in a rut, but I’m doing a modified version of Life as MOM’s and Money Saving Mom’s Eat from the Pantry Challenge, so whatever I see on the shelves or the freezer list must be my inspiration. Potatoes and beans, anyone? 😉
If you really, really struggle with menu planning, you can find someone else to do the work for you. I’m much too much of a control freak to use someone else’s menu plan (humility alert!), but I think it’s a fabulous idea for those who would rather have a little hand-holding in the process. Here are some options from colleagues of mine:
- Traditional Foods Menu Planners (weekly)
- Plan it, Don’t Panic! how to menu plan ebook
- Allergy Free Menu Plans from Heart of Cooking
- Freezer Cooking (Grain-free) Menu Plans
- Grain-free Monthly Menu Planner (& eBook of best recipes)
The best part? Feed a family of four for under $350 in monthly groceries. Plus – save more! Tiffany has graciously offered an exclusive coupon for Kitchen Stewardship readers. Just enter the coupon code KS15 before checking out for 15% off the 3-month or annual packages. If you aren’t yet ready to commit you can download a 2-week sample menu OR purchase a single month to give it a go. You have nothing to lose!
Meal Planning Inspiration
Last fall I received a reader question by email: “I need help meal planning! I’ve taken a blank calendar and written down meals for each day, but I just end up falling back on the same few familiar recipes. Where do I start??”
Don’t worry, I didn’t wait until now to respond to her. 🙂 Here’s what I shared at the time (which I need to re-read now):
1. Start with something that inspires you – is it a good sale on meat? Some local produce from the Farmer’s Market? A recipe you stumbled across that sounds divine? Or just a healthy food you know you should eat more of?
2. Keep a list of recipes you like, perhaps organized by the main meat or protein involved, to help you keep a balanced week. This list will also help you out when you think: “Hmmm, dinner. Spaghetti, tacos….or spaghetti.” Ask your husband and kids what their favorite meals are, too. Put stars by those! The Happy Housewife challenged folks to track their top 15 family favorites. Not a bad idea!
3. Try new recipes. A friend of mine has a goal to try one new recipe every week. She and her husband then decide if it’s a “keeper” or…not. In order to add new recipes to your meals list for the family, you have to find some you want to try. You can start with the Recipes at Kitchen Stewardship, of course, or just Google “recipes” and the food you want to use. Use blogs as resources – you know real people tried the recipe for sure!
4. Intersperse your new recipes with the tried-and-true meals as you plan, so that you’re not biting off more than you can chew, getting overwhelmed, and giving up.
5. Start with a familiar recipe and see if you can find a new recipe to piggyback onto a favorite. Maybe you have a recipe that uses half a bag of spinach – time to find another recipe to pair with it in the same week to use up the spinach. Your family favorite might include beans – find another recipe and double your batch of dried beans on the first day. Having some recipes that connect to each other is a nice way to set a new routine and use the new recipe again when you think of your old standby. This week we’re having my famous duo: Sausage, Bean and Spinach Soup and Sausage Spinach Pasta Toss a few days later. I’ll brown all the sausage but save half for the next day and split the box of spinach I bought today between the two dishes.
Stephanie at Keeper of the Home talks about making simple meals that work together to simplify meal planning, too. She also shares her Recipe Organization System and Homemaking Binder. It’s a great example of someone who is doing what I need to do with her recipes!
6. Put your meal planning on your *real* calendar. I really think this is key. If you don’t look at your meal planning except at dinner, you might not remain inspired (or on the ball with prep!. Here are some ways I incorporate meal planning into my regular week-at-a-glance calendar:
- There is a list of categories on the side: beef, chicken, fish, broth/stock, beans/legumes, eggs, meatless, budget
- I plan backward to make sure I’m prepared, and I write it down on the calendar. For example, when I put in a meal for Monday that includes beans and ground beef, at the end of the day for Sunday I write: “soak beans, thaw meat.” Then Monday morning I write “cook beans”.
This week I’ll share an update about some of last week’s posts around our house, a how-to on storing produce for short and long term, and some long overdue continuations of the Eucharist and “My Story” series.
Disclosure: The links in the bulleted list are affiliate links. I will receive a small commission if you purchase through KS. Thanks!
Find lots of Menu Plans at I’m an Organizing Junkie.