I have been getting a lot of questions lately about how I meal plan. It's actually a pretty simple system, but a little planning does go a long way in saving time and money when grocery shopping and cooking. If you follow Fab Everyday on Facebook you see my #DinnerTonight posts where I share what I am cooking for dinner each night, which can be a great source of inspiration for your own meal planning. Now, here are my simple steps to meal planning (like a boss):
1. The first step is to get out a pen and paper along with your calendar. Start making your list by counting meals that you will need to make between now and your next grocery shopping trip. I like to count them out by labeling them as "B," "L," or "D" (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Be sure to exclude meals for any days you know you will be eating out, or will otherwise not need a homemade meal. As you can see in the example above, I needed two breakfasts (for the weekend days), one lunch (for a weekend day), and six dinners for the week. I personally don't count weekday breakfasts or lunches, since those are essentially the same everyday, and don't need advanced planning.
2. The second step is to go through your recipe collection to choose recipes. As you can see in my Friday Faves: Key Ingredient Digital Recipe Reader post, I like to organize my recipes in my account on Key Ingredient so that I can access them on my digital recipe reader, the Key Ingredient website, or the Key Ingredient mobile app. Other ways to collect and store recipes are Pinterest and in your email box. I get regular emails from AllRecipes.com, Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart, and BHG. When I get an email with a recipe I want to try, I will flag the email and save it in an email folder called "Recipes" until I have a chance to try it or add it to my Key Ingredient account.
3. When selecting recipes, immediately add the needed ingredients to your grocery shopping list (which I keep in the same notepad for ease) before moving on to the next meal so that you don't have to go back to each recipe later when making your shopping list.
4. It is also helpful to choose additional recipes that contain some of the same ingredients. For example, since I know the bag of frozen breakfast potatoes I get is good for more than one meal, I included it in both breakfasts this week. Similarly, I know I get about four meals' worth out of the club-pack size chicken breasts I get, so I know that I can plan four chicken meals. Additionally, if a meal calls for a unique (or pricy) item like white wine, a particular herb, etc. try to include more than one recipe that calls for this ingredient. This will not only save you money, but it will also prevent wasted food since you would otherwise likely just have to toss the rest of the ingredient later. On the meal plan for this week I was able to use two recipes that included pesto, two recipes that included jack cheese, two recipes that included butter round crackers, and (as mentioned previously), two meals that included breakfast potatoes. Talk about making an efficient and cost-effective shopping list! Since I keep my recipes in Key Ingredient, this is particularly easy for me to plan because you can search your account by both recipe name and by ingredients.
5. After choosing the main entrée recipes for each meal, I like to go back and add the side-dishes to the menu plan (as you can see above I added asparagus, broccoli, or green beans to the meals I felt they would complement), and then add them to your shopping list. I didn't list a starch side since my starch side is always rice unless the meal specifically needs something else.
6. Go shopping for your ingredients. I take an extra step for grocery shopping efficiency by organizing my shopping list by aisle. After I am done writing the list I go back through and label each by aisle ("V" for produce, "M" for meat, "D" for dairy, "Br" for bread, "F" for frozen, "Bak" for baking, "C" for canned, etc.).
7. As you may have noticed by my final menu plan, I didn't determine the exact day for each recipe. This is because my family and I find it fun to choose off our "menu" for the week each night. Occasionally I will plan a specific meal for a certain night. For example, if I know I have an after-work errand, I will plan a slow cooker meal for that night so that I can prep it the night before or morning of, and it will be ready when I get home. Another example would be if I know I am having company and need to plan a larger quantity meal for a certain night.
That's it! For me, this system works really well. I don't have to waste time and energy standing in my fridge or pantry each night wondering what I can make based on what ingredients I have. Plus my grocery trips tend to be pretty cost-effective as I am only buying items that I know I will be using, and not a lot of extra things that would go to waste. Mind you, there are certain things I always keep in stock (baking ingredients, frequently used seasonings, milk, bread, etc.), but otherwise, I am only purchasing the meats, veggies, and specific ingredients for meals that I am going to make that week.
I hope this helps inspire you to try meal planning! Don't forget to follow Fab Everyday on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for recipe inspiration!