Meal planning is sort of like budgeting. It isn't exactly a fun process, although as with budgeting, there are fabulous people out there who LOVE it. To them we say: please come to our house! Without a meal plan, things tend to fall into chaos around here, especially during hectic weeknights. There's that dreaded question: "What's for dinner?" You, the cook, must then come up with something, when what you really feel like doing is vegging out in front of the television with frozen pizza while your hungry family members fend for themselves.
The trick to avoiding this whole unhappy scenario is to plan ahead. There is beautiful software available to assist you in this endeavor, complete with printable shopping lists and nutritional information. For a review of some of the highest-rated meal planning tools, click here. For us, however, keeping it simple (and cheap) has been the key to developing workable meal plans that we can rely on to get us through the week. We can't tell you how to plan your meals, because only YOU know what you and your family like to eat, what your budget is, and so on.
What we can share are some general principles that have worked well for us. They are, in no particular order:
- Go through your refrigerator/pantry and see what ingredients you currently have on hand. Food waste is a terrible sin. Build your meal plan around ingredients you already have, then shop for the extra bits and pieces that will complete the picture. Too often food gets tossed simply because we didn't have a clear goal in mind for it when we bought it.
- You don't have to make everything from scratch, every night. If you're just starting out in your cooking adventures, don't sweat it if your meal plan for the night includes rotisserie chicken. Or frozen pizza.
- Plan meals you and your family like to eat. If you have kids, bring them in on the planning process...this is a great way to get them interested in cooking!
- Hang up your meal plan in a prominent location. For us, this is the fridge. You may find a whiteboard handy, or a chalkboard. This way, if anyone asks "What's for dinner?" you may simply direct them to the list (in a tone that brooks no argument, of course.)
- If you're just warming up to the idea of meal planning, we suggest that you start with planning DINNER for Monday-Friday. This is only five meals. You can do it! You can always work your way up from there later on. You can plan two weeks worth of meals...then a month...complete with breakfast and lunch plans...dessert...the sky's the limit!
- Never hesitate to break from your plan, as needed. Life is messy. Adjust accordingly.
Please feel free to share your favorite meal planning tips and tricks in the comments section below. We wish you the very best in your meal-planning adventures!