One of the best things you can do to save yourself some time and money in the kitchen is create a weekly meal plan. If you have never made one before, it can seem like a daunting task. Besides, who wants to think about what to have for dinner next Thursday if you’re not even sure how the rest of today is going to go? I started making weekly meal plans last year and found them to be a big help. I didn’t always stick with them in the beginning and I still have days when ordering take-out instead of cooking makes me the happiest person alive. Start small. Work your way up.
Here’s what you can do to create your own.
- Pick a date and time to create your meal plan and stick to it. For some people the weekend works, for others it’s a weeknight. I like to do mine on Saturday. It doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as you pick a time and do your best to stick to it.
- Check your freezer, your pantry, AND your schedule. I like to look at what I already have on hand before planning out the week, especially if it is a busy one. This is why it is important to check your schedule – if you have to work late one night, or know that you are pressed for time on Wednesday’s before a dodgeball game (that’s right, I said dodgeball) then you should take advantage of that soup you made when leeks were in season. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to your grocery store’s flyer when doing your meal plan to take advantage of sale prices.
- Use a format that works for you. An excel spreadsheet, a template you found online or a meal planning app – it doesn’t matter. Again, what matters is that you find a system that works for you and fits your lifestyle. Usually, I use Notepad (I have an app on my iPad) because it’s easy for me to add meal ideas and recipes from the web throughout the week and during my planning session. Sometimes I will copy a meal plan from a previous week if I am short on time or creativity. I also have one of those meal planning notepads, which can be handy. I’ve been known to scribble on the back of a receipt I found in my junk drawer as well.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need to be making gourmet dinners every night of the week (or ever). Salads with chicken breast come together quickly and pasta dishes can provide you with lunch for the next day if you make enough. A strategy that works well for some people is to have the same type of food on each night of the week. For example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Fish Friday. Doing this doesn’t mean that you have to eat the same thing over and over again either. Tacos, for example can be made with chicken one week, beef the next, and pork the week after that.
- Create your shopping list from your meal plan. This is where a digital format comes in handy. Saved meal plans and saved shopping lists. Make sure you take note of what you already have on hand so you aren’t buying things you don’t need. Again, scrap paper works too.
- Plan to take one night off per week. When I’m in school my husband cooks one night a week and it’s great. Sometimes he goes to the store and gets just what he needs to make what he wants, sometimes I tell him what he is cooking. We used to take turns at dinner when I was working full-time, but now my schedule is a bit more flexible than it used to be. For right now, this is what works for us. Have only one chef in your house? Grab some takeout or plan a night out.
If you keep track of your meal plans and grocery lists you can make adjustments to your system as you go along. It doesn’t take long for this to become routine and it is really nice to not have to think about what to make for dinner every day. I find that taking the time to do this each week is what inspires me to try new foods and new recipes. If a full week seems like a lot, try doing 3-4 days at a time. The point is to make it work for you.
Still sounds like too much to handle? Don’t do it and enjoy the spontaneity. There is no rule that says you have to make a meal plan each week.
Do you create a weekly meal plan? If so, what works best for you?
New to planning your meals ahead of time? What concerns do you have?