The question I get asked more often than any other is about meal planning. My normal routine is to plan 2 weeks worth of meals and then only shop once/pay period. Because really, who wants to grocery shop more then they have to? So today I am spilling it all for you, all my tricks and all the steps I take to plan two weeks worth of meals. Here are my instructions for how to meal plan, it’s actually really easy!
Step 1: Make your recipes easily accessible. This is really important because if your favorite recipes are not easy to access then you won’t be motivated to pull them out.
You have to find a system that works for you.
Personally I’m not a very big fan of cookbooks. I have a few that I love but I find it so hard to get motivated to look through pages and pages of recipes I don’t like to find 1 or 2 that I do like. What I discovered works the best for me is cutting recipes I like out of magazines, cookbooks, etc. and taping them onto 4×6 cards. I keep all of my favorite recipes in 2 recipe boxes that are categorized: Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Shrimp, Pasta, Breakfast, Desserts, etc.
I’ve also seen people make recipe binders, but like I said you have to find a system that works for you.
Step 2: Get a blank meal calendar. This is what my calendar looks like and if you’d like one you can print it HERE.
I think it’s important to have a separate calendar for your meals so that you can write all over it, keep it with your recipes for that week(s) and then toss it when you are done. I have 6 weeks listed on the calendar but I typically use mine for 2 pay periods (4 weeks) and then start a new one.
Step 3: Have a designated shopping list. If you’d like to print your own click HERE.
I like to bargain shop so I actually shop at different stores for different things. I personalized my shopping list and created categories for each of the different stores that I shop at. I’m a total “list person” so having it separated like this makes it easier for my mind to keep it all straight. 🙂
Now that you have everything you will need, let’s get planning…
Step 4: Count out how many meals you will need for that pay period. Look at an actual calendar and count each time because every pay period is a little different. Sometimes I need 14 meals, sometimes only 12.
I think it’s important to give yourself at least 2 “lazy days”. What I mean by that is give yourself 2 days that you don’t have to cook a big meal. Have on hand a few quick and easy meals that you don’t have to put a lot of effort into. If you give yourself a break once in a while you will enjoy cooking dinner on the other nights a lot more! I always have on hand frozen tortellini, black beans and tortillas, and chicken quesadilla makings. You never know when something is going to come up and you won’t have time to cook a big meal!
Step 5: Next look through your recipes and pull out the number of meals you will need.
I like to actually take the recipes out and put them in a separate pile, I even take the pages of the cookbook out and add them to my pile. This way when you are getting ready to make dinner all of your recipes are together in one place and you’re not stuck looking through your recipe box or cookbook trying to find a recipe! If you can’t take the page out of your cookbook then write the page number on the calendar so that you can find it easily.
Step 6: Once you have selected all of your recipes go through each one and add the ingredients that you don’t already have to your shopping list.
If you do this you will find that you save money at the grocery store because you are only buying what you need. When I started doing this I noticed a HUGE difference in how much less I was spending at the grocery store. Having a system like this takes all the guess work out of going to the grocery store which makes it much more enjoyable!
Step 7: Write all of the recipes you have selected, for that 2 week period, on your calendar.
Here’s my rule: write each recipe on any day you’d like, you are not restricted to making that recipe on that day. If you want to be strict about it you are welcome to do that but I know for me sometimes I feel like making a certain thing and other times I don’t. The calendar is important because it’s a visual tool of what you know you have on hand and what your options for dinner are but, for me, that’s about it.
Step 8: Keep it all together. I like to keep the recipes I took out for the pay period right next to my meal calendar. This makes it really easy for me: I can look at the calendar and then quickly grab the recipe I pick for that night.
Step 9: Relax. After you have planned all your meals, made your grocery list and set your recipes aside now you can relax. You no longer, at any point in the next 2 weeks, have to worry about what you are going to make for dinner! Yippee! The only time I ever stress about what I’m going to cook is after my recipes have run out, the pay period has come and gone, and I still haven’t had time to go to the store!
It’s so worth it to take 10 minutes and sit down to plan your meals for 2 weeks so that you can enjoy the freedom of not worrying about what you are going to cook for the rest of those 2 weeks!
After you get the hang of this system get the family involved. I like to have my husband sit down with me and give me a few ideas of what he would like to eat in the next couple weeks. He always says chicken quesadillas (they are one of his favs) which I like because that’s an easy one for me. 🙂 Let everyone pick a few meals out, the kids pick 3, your hubby picks 3 and then you pick the rest. This will get them excited and looking forward to when you are going to make “their” meal. 🙂