Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Meal Planning

Begin By Brainstorming: 

Sit down and make a list of all the meals you enjoy on a sheet of paper.  You can ask your family to help you with this as they’ll likely come up with more things than you would have originally thought of.  You’ll also find out what they like and certainly what they don’t.  Periodically I review this list and add additional items as you come across new ideas and recipes.  Cross off the items that don’t work for you.  You will find this list is the most useful for when you get stumped and run out of ideas as you prepare your meal plan. 

Make A Plan: 

I do my meal plans one month at a time.  I used to write them on a month at a glance calendar, then on calendar pages I made myself on the computer.  Now I do them in Publisher so can make them all fancy.  I love that I am able to decorate each calendar with Clip-Art pictures to dress them up a little.  I print them out and post them on the side of our refrigerator with a magnet clip.  I love the creativity that goes into the project and having a plan in place.  You can do it however you like – weekly, two weeks at a time or monthly.  Whatever works best for you is fine just make a plan. 

Sit down and map out your monthly plan on the calendar page taking into account holidays and scheduled events.  You can do this with a variety of methods.  Some like to make each day of the week a theme such as:  Sunday – slow cooker meals, Monday – Taco Nite, Tuesday – chicken, Wednesday – Italian, Thursday – meatless meals, Friday – Pizza Nite, Saturday – leftovers. 

I use these criteria to keep our menus balanced.  I need a protein, a grain, a vegetable and/or a fruit, and a dairy. 

Once you make your plan remember to be flexible.  The less rigid you are about the meal plan the more you will enjoy the process.  I like to be able to shift meals around depending on changes to our routine or if we have unexpected company. 

To save money try to plan your meals based on the items you already have in your pantry and freezer.  Be prepared to change meals if the ingredients you need aren’t available, are too expensive or you’ve run out of something.  I keep a short list of back up menus for when this happens. 

Plan your meals that use fresh produce around your shopping days and canned or frozen vegetables further out.  I do my major shopping trip around the first of the month usually on the 5th and then two weeks later I do a second trip to buy milk and fresh produce.  I always want to use it up before it perishes so I minimize waste. 

Keep It Simple: 

Try to plan simple, quick and easy to prepare meals on the nights when you know will have less time for meal preparation.  At our house these are the weeknights, usually Monday through Thursday.  I will plan more labor intensive meals or meals that take longer to cook or bake for the weekend. 

Post It: 

Having it visible will help you stick to it and remind you of what is coming up so you can defrost meats and know what to expect.  It will also help you stay accountable because when the family knows what is on the menu they’ll expect it and my kids hold me accountable, especially when it is something they really love. 

Meal planning reduces my stress level and keeps our meals more interesting as we have more variety, reducing the chance for frequent repeats and resulting monotony.  You also will find that you are able to get more well-rounded meals on the table and boost your nutrition because you have planned to do so. 

The bonus is I save a ton of money simply by having a plan in place.  I can tailor my grocery list so I make sure I have everything I need on hand and I can tailor the menu plans according to what I already have in my freezer or pantry.  This allows me to shop for bargains more often too. 

I have tried weekly and bi-weekly meal plans but for me the monthly plans work the best.  Meal plans are a valuable tool and if you don’t already do one seriously consider giving it a try. 

The more you do it the better you will get at it and you’ll be able to fine tune it and make improvements as you go along weeding out what works and what doesn’t.  The more you do it the easier it will get too.

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