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An important aspect of running an organized household is knowing how to make a weekly meal plan. I’m going to share my plan I’ve used for over 20 years to help avoid chaos with the evening routine.
Benefits of Meal Planning
It’s 5:00 on a busy weekday- what’s for dinner? All of us at one time or another have stared blankly into the refrigerator or pantry wondering what on earth there is to cook! I don’t know about you, but this causes me great stress and makes me feel very flustered- two things I don’t enjoy! I determined early on that the frustration of not having certain ingredients, or time wasted staring at cookbooks was not how I wanted to spend my evenings. Aside from avoiding the pressure of not knowing what to cook, meal planning has other benefits:
- Healthier choices: Having a plan will allow you to shop ahead and make well thought-out and healthy purchases. If you’re fumbling around each evening, you become pressed for time and unhealthy “convenience” foods become, well, convenient! Unless it’s convenient to throw together a big salad or a big pot of healthy soup, this is not going to benefit you or your family. This doesn’t mean being perfect but making healthy choices more often.
- Saves money: How many times have you had to run to the store to pick up one or two items you didn’t have on hand? This quick drive may mean going to your nearest grocery store that may not have the best prices. Add in the extra gas money spent doing that driving and it becomes a choice that is not frugal. The easiest solution if you’re not prepared becomes ordering pizza or going out to eat. Did you know that it costs five times more to order a dish from a restaurant than it does to cook that same dish at home? Planning ahead leads to lots of savings for your family.
- Saves time: Aside from the blank stare in the pantry and the running to the store, proper meal planning allows you to visibly see what needs to be thawed, what may need to soak or be prepared ahead of time, and what will allow for leftovers (hello- BIG time saver!).
- Less food waste: The typical family of four tosses out $1500 worth of food every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. My frugal mind can’t even wrap my head around that number! I’ve been known to save only a few bites of something from dinner, because I can combine it with several other things to make an easy lunch! When you plan ahead, it allows you to take stock of what you already have, as well as buy for what you know you will need just for the week.
Step by Step on How to Make a Weekly Meal Plan
Take a Look at Your Week
Look at the week’s upcoming events- are there extra-curricular activities with your kids or days you work outside the home? Even better if they fall on the same day of the week each week. You will know those days mean a crock-pot meal, making use of the Instant Pot, or looking up 30 minute meals.
One thing I utilized early on was having my kids learn to cook! For a period of seven years, beginning when my oldest son was 12, I worked as a nurse one afternoon and evening per week. I physically wasn’t there to provide dinner, so sometimes that meant leftovers, sometimes my husband grilling and the kids doing sides, but more often than not, I had my kids actually dive into a cookbook (the recipe and shopping I had of course planned ahead for!)! This allowed them to learn an important skill and blessed the whole family with a yummy dinner as well! Start early teaching your kids skills in the kitchen, then let them help you independently when needed.
Take a Look at Your Local Sales
I utilize this part very loosely, and here’s why. Most local grocery stores will put out sales papers for each week. Take a good look- what do you see? About 75% is processed food- while easy and convenient, not even close to real food. I find I don’t need to check sales papers because Aldi has everything I need at better than sale prices. I do look at Aldi’s sale paper and stick to the top front of the page where they advertise all their produce. Then, I plan my menu accordingly. Avocados on sale? Time for a Mexican night and my Easiest Homemade Guacamole. Organic apples on sale? Time to stock up. Whichever vegetables are on sale will get rotated through as a side dish. You get the idea. Use it to your advantage while being cautious of what you purchase.
Take a Look at Your Recipes
Y’all, I’ve been at this a long time, as in pre-internet. While most moms now appreciate searching the internet or Pinterest for recipes, I prefer a good old cookbook. I have quite a big collection, along with two cookbooks that contain recipes clipped from magazines and hand written from random sources over the years. Use what works for you and what takes you the least amount of time. The important thing is to write down what you’re preparing on each given day on your choice of menu display (see below). Even more important is writing down the source! Trust me when I say you are NOT saving time if you have no idea how to find the recipe you wrote down! I write down the name of the cookbook and page number on which the recipe is found. Each morning I take a look at what’s for dinner and get out the recipe to prep. Do I need to thaw something? Marinade something? Soak some rice?
Another nice thing about making a meal plan is that some things can be cooked once but used in two different dinners. This can mean baking a large chicken on a Monday to enjoy, then using the remaining meat for a soup or casserole on Thursday. Or planning two meals that need rice, such as Mexican rice on Sunday and stir-fry later in the week. Make a double portion of rice and store the rest in the refrigerator until needed. I do this with oatmeal as well for a quick breakfast the second morning, using different toppings for variety. This is also when you can utilize making a dish that you know leftovers will come in handy on a busy evening when you don’t have time to cook. Prepping ahead for the week is another tactic in preventing food waste.
Make Your Grocery List
As you are looking over your recipes, look at each recipe to see which ingredients you already have on hand. For items that need to be purchased, right it down on your list. Some people utilize a basic shopping list with repeat items one may always purchase but that just doesn’t work for me. I want to see with my own eyes what I need or already have on hand and not depend on a pre-made list done by someone else. This prevents duplicates or running out mid-week. Look at each recipe carefully- remember, the goal here is to have a plan and prevent extra trips to the store!
Write it Down
After you have a plan for your week and your recipes in order, now write down your dinners for each night. Remember to mark out beside it the source of the recipe so you know where to find it when needed. See below for some fun ideas I’ve used over the years to display my menu.
Ways to Display Your Menu
Printable Menu: Are you a printable gal? If so, a cute menu like the one above would work great for you. Print out enough for a month at a time, fill it in, then post it where it makes the most sense and is easily accessible.
Adhesive chalkboard paper: This is what I’m currently using in my home. I love that it can be cut to size and stuck up where most convenient. I have mine sticking on the inside of my large pantry door, which is also where I store my cookbooks, so everything is right there together! This is great if you’re like me and don’t have cute, fancy writing. 🙂
Magnetic chalk menu board: This board is cute and easy to use with the colorful markers, but also front and center right on your fridge! This wasn’t an option for me because the front of my refrigerator isn’t magnetized and there are walls on either side of the fridge, so make sure and check that before you buy!
Dry erase wall paint: This has been my favorite! Our last home we lived in for 10 years had this option on a wall in our laundry room. Because you can paint a large space, I also used one section as a chore chart! This option does take some time and effort on the front end. You’ll need to have a level and some painters tape to prepare your section to paint. The painting time only takes a few minutes, so consider this option if you can also use it to organize chores or your weekly schedule.
I hope these ideas have inspired you in this important step of bringing order to your evenings!