This post is part 4 of the series Taking Charge of Your Grocery Shopping. Check in here for the complete list.
You know what you have on hand, and you have a list of meals your family likes. It’s time to make a meal plan!
Meal planning is not hard, but there are a couple of tips to remember to make it work.
How often do you want to grocery shop? It’s entirely up to you. I tried doing monthly shopping once, and it was a disaster. Going every week drives me nuts because I don’t want to be at the grocery store that often. I go every two weeks, because that’s how often payday comes, and because I’ve ruled out the other options as not working for me. Once you know how often you want to go, you know how many meals you’ll have to plan for that time frame.
Make sure you look at your calendar as you plan. If your kid has a 4 pm dentist appointment and you want to eat at 5:30, it would probably be a bad day to plan a roast that you need to put in at 2 and baby sit all afternoon.
One thing that I have learned about over the years is that by the time Friday afternoon rolls around, I am out of steam. I’ve learned to plan a simple meal those days, preferably one that can even be cooked by one of my older kids. Keep your own habits in mind as you plan. Do you go for a run every Thursday evening? Plan a lighter meal for dinner so you’re not too full to exercise.
You’ve got a beautiful, time-intensive lasagna planned for dinner, but the baby has a 102 fever. Or maybe the dog just rolled in a dead moose, or got in a (losing) fight with a porcupine. Perhaps your sister just called freaking out because her septic system froze, backed up, and overflowed, and she needs you to babysit her three kids while she hoses her house down with bleach (FYI: all of these scenarios have happened to me, except in the case of the septic system, in which I was the one calling my sister in hysterics). Either way, that lasagna is not going to get made. It’s okay. Switch it out with a simpler meal from later in the week, or dive into your emergency stash of frozen pizza (am I the only one that has that?). Ordering Chinese take-out works too.
Plan for your leftovers. At my house, that’s what I eat for lunch during the week. Anything that is still there on the weekend gets eaten for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday. This helps me because it’s a few less meals I have to worry about over the weekend. It also means that there is less food waste, which means more money saved.
Things like lettuce and cucumbers do not last two weeks. Since I’m not planning to go back to the store again during this time, I need to make sure that any perishable items are eaten at the beginning before they go bad. Items like broccoli and carrots last longer in the refrigerator and can be eaten later.
Let’s get to it!
If you remember my inventory from two days ago, I had a bunch of frozen chicken, a pound of bacon, lots of frozen salmon, and some sausage patties. In my pantry, I’ve got tons of canned salmon, capers and potatoes I want to use up, and the fridge had feta and cream cheese.
Looking at my quick brainstorming list, I know that my Honey Mustard Chicken recipe uses both chicken and bacon, so that’s going on the lineup. The capers I bought a month ago to make Chicken Picatta, which I keep putting off (because:life). I’ve still got chicken for it, so we’ll try again. My family loves breakfast for dinner, so I can add that one night with the sausage and use it up. I’ve got more than we will eat in one meal, but I’ll go ahead and cook it all. This way, I only have to dirty a pan once, and we can have them ready to go for breakfasts for a couple of days.
Because I grocery shop on Mondays, my calendar looks like this:
Things I know I need to take into account:
- I am teaching a class all evening on the first Monday and the second Friday, so I need simple meals that can be made without me.
- Both Wednesdays we will attend Family Night at our church, and this includes dinner, so I won’t need to cook.
- Wednesdays and Fridays are always fasting days for the Orthodox, so those days need a vegetarian menu.
- That first Sunday is Meat Fare (the last day Orthodox Christians eat meat before Lent starts), and we promised the kids a trip to Red Robin that day.
- Since we will not be eating meat after that date, I need to make the sausage early in the first week so we have time to finish all the leftovers.
Here is the meal plan that I made:
- Monday: Mojave Macaroni/Fruit
- Tuesday: Pancakes/Sausage Patties/Fruit
- Wednesday: Family Night
- Thursday: Chicken Picatta/Risotto/Salad
- Friday: Grilled Cheese/Cut Veggies
- Saturday: Honey Mustard Chicken/Rice/Salad
- Sunday: Red Robin
- Monday: Potato Salmon Chowder/Rolls
- Tuesday: BBQ Salmon/Asiago Potatoes/Broccoli
- Wednesday: Family Night
- Thursday: Shrimp Spaghetti/Garlic Bread/Carrots
- Friday: Burrito Soup/Cornbread/Fruit
- Saturday: Leftovers
- Sunday: Homemade Pizza/Whatever Fruits & Vegetables are left
This took me about twenty minutes, as I checked my calendar, rearranged things, and realized how fast Lent is approaching. This threw me for a bit of a loop, because I really have to rearrange my thinking to get ready to be vegetarian/vegan for the next seven weeks. I did not use up all of the chicken, but it will hold until after Pascha. The potatoes and capers are spoken for, as are the bacon, sausage and feta (it goes in the shrimp spaghetti). Whew! Success!
This list now gets written in my planner so I can see each morning what is for dinner that night and plan accordingly.
It seems like a lot of work, but meal plans really just takes some time and thought. Plus, by spending 20-30 minutes planning, you’ve saved yourself time (no more trying to figure out what to make every day!), stress (no more–Aaah! The children are hungry RIGHT NOW and I don’t know what to feed them!), and money (no more last-minute runs to the store!). It really is a win-win.
Now that you’ve got your meal plan, you’re ready to get your grocery list done! Check in tomorrow for all my tips and tricks for making sure you don’t forget anything.