Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Top Five Tips for Meal Planning & A Sample Week

Cooking for my husband was one of the things I was most excited to do when we got married! In fact, it's how I got started blogging. Cooking for 2 was challenging, and new! Looking for fresh recipes and trying out different cuisines is truly one of my favorite memories from our first year of marriage. 

After a few years, I feel like an established cook. I'm definitely no Julia Child, and you will never see me cooking an entire duck- but I feel quite comfortable in the kitchen. And it's one of my favorite ways to show hospitality! Having music playing, talking with Blake after he gets home from work, and chopping vegetables together is one of the best parts of the day for me.

There have been those nights when we've both had stressful days at work, we don't feel like doing anything but sitting on the couch and then I realize I didn't plan anything for dinner. The most irritating question, when you don't have an answer for it, is "What's for dinner?" 

The best solution for budgeting, dieting and stress free week nights is meal planning. Having a plan for what to cook will solve so many problems at once. I thought I'd share my top five tips for meal planning that have worked well for my family!

My Top 5 Meal Planning Tips :: Plus a sample meal plan!

1. Don't Get Fancy.
Story time: Once I found a recipe for a beautiful seafood stew. It had about 45 ingredients. One of which was a particular rice noodle, that my grocery store didn't have. I picked up something that looked similar. Well, after cooking for an hour, adding in my substitute noodles and letting it simmer for a few minutes, I came back to what can only be described as a gelatinous soup cube. It was a complete fail. We ended up at Burger King that night. Such a waste of time and food! 

When you are planning out your meals for the week, be reasonable. Are you really going to feel like cooking an elaborate dinner after your longest work day? For example, Blake and I both work long days on Monday and Friday, so those are the perfect days for easy no brainer meals. 

Also, it can be tempting to try a fancy recipe because it looks so good in the pictures. But, be realistic. Can you use those ingredients more than once? Will your family even like it? My tip is to go with a 30 minute meal with minimal ingredients. Save the fancy stuff for a special occasion. 

One more thing! I don't suggest planning out 7 meals for your week. More often than not, you will end up with a ton of leftovers that cannot be eaten. I usually stick with 5 meals, plan for leftovers and eat out once a week. 

2. Make It A Family Affiar
I don't think meal planning or cooking should fall on one person. Blake and I usually meal plan together. It's a great way to find out what your family might be interested in eating that week. Blake will usually mention something I've forgotten about, or something that he really liked in the past. It's also a perfect time to discuss your plans for the week. For example, maybe you have to work late one night, your husband gets a heads up and he knows he has to start dinner that day. Then he has the opportunity to suggest what he wants to cook that night. 

You'll have to pick a day that works for you, but we do our meal planning and grocery shopping on Sunday (typically). It's so nice to have that sorted out and done for the week. 

3. Try Themed Days
This something I've read about, but haven't implemented myself. But, I think it's SUCH a good idea and maybe it will work for you. Try having each day of the week with a specific theme. For example, Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, or Crockpot Thursdays. That way you will always have an easy outline to follow when planning. There is so much freedom for variation in that kind of schedule too. Taco Tuesdays could be: fajitas, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, black bean tacos, chicken tacos...breakfast tacos..seriously I could go on. 

4. Shop Your Pantry
I think this takes a little practice. Once in awhile I like to skip grocery shopping for a week and really try to make meals from things we already have in the pantry or fridge. This is SO good on the budget and it makes me feel good not to be wasteful.

It takes a little creativity, but you can do it! Just a few weeks ago I spent $30 at the grocery store. I was only buying supplemental ingredients to the things I already had. For example, for some reason we ended up with 2 cartons of eggs in the fridge. I decided one night we'd use the eggs and leftover tortillas for breakfast tacos. All I needed to buy was one avocado, and I'd use some leftover homemade salsa to top them off. They were delicious and it was so satisfying to know we used what we had.

5. Stash The Recipes You Like
Sometimes it's hard to be creative and try new things. I love to have a few solid recipes in my back pocket that I know 100% we both love to eat and are easy to make. A recipe binder or Pinterest are great for this purpose. Honestly, if you collected 30 recipes, you could shuffle them each month and have the easiest meal plan ever. 

I like to stick to my favorites, and maybe try one new recipe each week. Sometimes it's a miss, but I love it when I see Blake go back for seconds! 

So would you like to see how I plan, and what we have planned for this week? 

First, we write a list. I'll pull up a few browsers with Pins and think about what we already have a lot of. I use my Erin Condren notebook that I make my daily to-do lists in. 

My 5 top tips for meal planning! Plus a sample week.

Then I transfer the final list to our fridge dry erase board. I LOVE this board. It's easy to change if necessary and we can see at a glance what we have planned. It also helps me remember what to take out of the freezer in the morning. When I was transfering my meal plan to the dry erase board this week, I reconfigured the days a little so that they made more sense with our schedule for the week. 

My 5 top tips for meal planning! Plus a sample week.

This week I went with:
Monday - Tacos (usually we do black bean tacos)
Tuesday - Pasta using my homemade sauce
Wednesday - Sushi Bowls (a fav!) using this recipe, adapted. 
Thursday - Chickpea Taco Salad using this recipe
Friday - Vegetarian Gyros using this recipe
We plan to eat leftovers on Saturday and eat out on Sunday. Although that's completely flexible, because someone may invite us out on Saturday, and in that case we'd just do leftovers Sunday. 

I make our grocery list in Wunderlist, and Blake and I will go to the store together. Fun fact. We definitely spend more money when he goes to the store with me, but I enjoy his company so I will deal with it. 

Don't forget to check Ibotta for rebates! 

So there you have it! Leave a comment below if you have a different strategy for meal planning. Is this something you'd like to work on, or do you have a pretty good system? I'd love a link to your favorite recipes! You can find more of the recipes I've shared: HERE. Even though sharing recipes got me started in blogging, I don't post very many anymore. Let me know if that's something you'd like to see more of! 
This post may contain affiliate or referral links! 

11 comments:

  1. I definitely need to be better about shopping our own pantry! These are such great tips! Thanks so much for sharing :)

    Katherine | www.oneswainkycouple.com

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    1. Think of it like free food! Thanks, as always, for reading Katherine!

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  2. I'm always curious to see how others handle this chore/task :) I plan the meals (typically 3 for the week with an easy 4th [like spaghetti that I know if chilling in the pantry and can be made in emergencies]) and take K's input. We cook together sometimes (K does the grilling and he'll fry to grill stuff on the stove, too) but usually I make it. We typically have a night where we order in and then fill the other 2 or 3 nights with leftovers. We typically have leftovers since we're only cooking for two. Since family is close we usually have at least ONE meal with family so the plan changes all the time :)

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    1. Ah, yes, spaghetti!! It's such a no brainer.
      And, I totally love the summertime when Blake is cool with grilling. I love grilled food and it's usually accompanied by eating outside too-which is my fav!

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  3. Oh Lawd, I hate fancy recipes! I'm all about crockpot and easy, easy! Jerry works nights so I don't do much cooking during the week. I do try to meal plan on weekends though!

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    1. Oh, how interesting! Everybody has a different schedule and we have to do what works! I'd love to hear about your weeknights!

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  4. I find that I'm a crockpot queen during the week- it can be hard to motive myself to cook something fancy for 1! I love that you keep it simple (and everything sounds so yummy)!

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  5. I love your point about keeping it simple! I always am over ambitious and then burn out. I need to save the fancier recipes for cooking with other people!

    ​xx katie // a touch of teal

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  6. Great tips! I need to get back on the whole meal prepping bandwagon... .Sigh

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  7. I really want to get better about recipe planning! It makes a difference that Blake helps you pick out meals. I'm going to ask Terrance about that. ��

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  8. Awesome and interesting article. Great things you've always shared with us. Thanks. Just continue composing this kind of post.
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