Meal Planning Made Easy
Meal planning can be a very frustrating thing for me; however it can really be a lifesaver as well. I have a love/hate relationship with it to say the least. I go through phases where I wing it when it comes to dinner and then I go through phases when I have every single meal planned out for a month. While I don't really like the meal planning process, I do like the end result - not having to figure out what will be for dinner each night. There are a few different ways to meal plan and let me tell you - I have tried them all.
The first option would be to never have a plan at all. On the one hand this can be the most expensive option if you have to run out to the store for things to make whatever sounds good to you that night. On the other hand, if you keep a very well stocked pantry and freezer then you should be able to make anything or everything with what you already have on hand. If the second way of doing things is how you come up with dinner then that is great. I work this way sometimes, but when I do I frequently find myself in the kitchen at 4:00 wondering what in the world to cook for dinner, so it doesn't last long.
Another way to plan your meals is based on the sales flyers from the grocery stores. I have done this and still do it often. The basic way to do this is to look through the sale flyers and determine what meats are on sale that week and plan your menu around those. I have found that this way doesn't lend itself to much variety. If chicken is on sale then we would be eating chicken all week. I get tired of the same meats every night. I prefer to have chicken once or twice a week, beef once or twice a week, pork once a week, etc. thrown in with some meatless meals.
Variety is the spice of life right? I will shop the meat sales each week and usually have something with the meat that is on sale that week. I always stock up on things when they are on sale so that I can have those items at the sale price for many weeks to come. For example I bought 9 pounds of chicken breasts last week when they were on sale. We did not eat it all last week. We had it once. Then I filled in with other meats from my freezer that had been bought on sale.
The way I do most of my meal planning actually has nothing to do with the grocery store or shopping for food. I take an inventory of all the food items I have in the house, writing down exactly what I have as well as how much. Then I will sit down and make a list of all the meals I can make with what I have on hand. This doesn't mean I am planning out exactly what I will be eating on Tuesday September 2nd. It is just a list to pull from as the weeks go by. I can look at my list in the morning and decide what sounds good to eat that night. I call this flexible menu planning.
Making your big list does take awhile but there are several benefits to using this method. First I am using what I have on hand, before buying more at the store. This way nothing goes bad before it can be eaten. Second, I can usually come up with at least a month's worth of dinners. That means that I don't have to think about dinner for a few weeks at least. Third, I have a lot of variety in my meals by planning this way. Fourth, I can tell right away what items I need to stock up on and then watch for a great sale. This saves me money and prevents me from having to run out and pay full price.
I actually go back and forth between these methods of meal planning, so you don't have to pick one and stick with it forever. Do what works for you and enjoy the benefits of your organization.