Ever since having my third kid I feel like I’ve just been going through the motions of dinner planning making the same 5 recipes every week. Always running out to the store to pick up last-minute ingredients and generally just not doing a great job at something I used to love. I spent some time getting organized and figuring out how to meal plan and here are the best tips I learned in the process.
Develop a Recipe System
- I’ve been collecting recipes for decades; some lived in a binder – half of those recipes were just shoved in. I had an index file folder and literally just a plastic bag full of recipes. It was just not functional so I wanted to come up with a manageable system and for me, that involved two components: electronic and physical.
- As much as I would love to print out every recipe it’s just not realistic. I store my online recipes on Pinterest and then I have a binder for my printed recipes.
- I organized my recipes into basic categories; used sheet protectors to keep them clean and organized and most importantly I only keep recipes in my binder that I have tried and want to make again.
- Do not waste space on recipes that are untested.
- The other part of my recipe system is keeping a master list of all my recipes. I keep my master list online so I can access it anywhere – home, work, or from the market.
- I keep recipes that I love and new ones I want to try right in there.
- I keep my recipes in tag categories and then add descriptive columns to make sorting easier. You can really put as much or as little as you want into this but this is my go-to source for inspiration.
Set Up A Calendar
- I like to keep one that’s accessible on the go, so I toss a planner into my purse.
- You can also use something like an online calendar, and I keep my main calendar in the kitchen. I set up a legend at the bottom so each color sticky note represents something different. I aim to plan out about 7-10 days at a time. I just really like the visual, because if there’s a balance of color that generally means I won’t be overwhelmed. If it’s all purple we’re eating out too much, and it’s all pink I have definitely overcommitted.
- I like how the entire family can see what’s on the menu for the week. It might help Alan decide what to grab for lunch, the kids get excited about their favorite meals, plus it holds me accountable.
Create A Weekly Action Plan
- Once your recipes and calendar are in order assess your routine and come up with a weekly action plan.
- First, you want to plan what day you will plan and what day you will shop and try your best to stick to it. Next, set some goals for yourself. My first goal is to cook 3 times a week and fill in the other days with things like leftovers and previously made meals that I’ve frozen.
- Questions that might help you come up with your plan are things like “what days do the kids have after-school activities,” “what nights can you eat together as a family,” but really each family is different so this is by far the most personal element of meal planning.
Keep Lists Handy
- I keep my grocery list right on a sticky note next to my refrigerator that way anyone in the house can write down items that need to be picked up from the store…maybe a little too easily.
- I also keep a pantry tally list on the inside door of my pantry cabinet. You can snap a pic of this list before you head to the store but it’s also great in helping you use up overstocked items.
Check the Weather
- People gave me a strange look when I first said this, but the weather can serve as an amazing inspiration to use up recipes that aren’t usually in your regular rotation.
- In LA it hardly ever rains, but the past couple of weeks have given me a great excuse to use some of my favorite soup recipes.
- If you live in a snowy area and a big storm is predicted it might be time to make doubles and freeze or even change the day of your shopping trip.
Plan For What You Need to Cook (Not What You Want to Cook)
- This was a big eye-opener for me because it helped narrow my options and I really find the biggest battle in meal planning is overwhelmed with possibilities so now if I have a bag of spinach leftover in my fridge from last week I plan to use it this week.
- If I know I’m gonna have Taco Tuesday and have leftover beans then Thursday night I’ll use a recipe that uses them all up. Completely unrelated recipes means wasted food.
Make Doubles & Freeze
- We all need to be smart about our time, so it’s extremely time efficient to make doubles of your favorite foods and freeze them.
- Get yourself some disposable pans and make a double batch of your favorite freezer-friendly food like baked ziti and you’ll be able to round out your meal planning with homemade food but do less cooking.
Finally, don’t give up! It will take some time to perfect your system (I’m still working on mine!), but I have started cooking more and stressing less that is huge. Hope you give this a try!