Adventures in Homemaking: Meal Planning

October 25, 2012

This is the start of a little series on topics related to homemaking and taking care of a family. I love DIYs and sharing recipes but most of my time is spent keeping our home running smoothly. Every so often I will post on a homemaking related topic and I would love to hear your opinion so please share! Here we go!

Unintentionally, we conducted an experiment this past month. After traveling a few weekends and not planning our meals for the week ahead, we gave in to our tiredness and desire to not go to the grocery store. Instead, we chose to ‘wing it’ food-wise.

Our finding?

Winging it doesn’t work in our house.

This was doubly confirmed after the second week.

I like plans. I like being prepared. Each day of those two weeks, my mind was completely blank on what exactly we were going to eat. And anyone with children knows that the subject of food and eating is mentioned in just about every other sentence during their waking hours. After our experiment, I have renewed vigor for meal planning.

But I still struggle with it, even after eight plus years. I struggle with deciding what to have. It seems so silly. I love food, I love to cook and bake and I have books and binders full of recipes to choose from but it is so hard for me to decide! I don’t know if it a problem of too many options or just a mental block on nailing down what to have for the week. I am one of those people who could eat the same meal over and over again because I like it that much. I like to try new things but I like eating the favorite often too.

So I force myself to do the planning because I know at some point I’ll get better and it won’t be such a challenge. Either that or I will catch myself one of those kitchen fairies and have her take over the planning. :)

How do I plan for our meals? Just like my mom did when we were little.

I take a blank calendar and fill it in. I choose a variety of main courses/dishes (beef, chicken, beans, soup, egg, all vegetable) plus sides and extras and write those in. It’s not a set-in-stone schedule, more of a visual aid. We choose what we want to eat the day of (or night before) depending on our mood, our level of exhaustion and our schedule. This method of planning helps us fill out our grocery list too. I’m working on a three-month schedule so I don’t have to revisit the planning stage every weekend.

At this point, I am most comfortable with having four to five meals plus three lunches per week. We might not make all of them but we have options. Meals that we don’t make are bumped to the next week. Also, we are a family who eats leftovers. I know not everyone does that but it works for us and it gives me some reprieve in food prep.

So tell me, how you meet this challenge each week? Are you a planner or a wing-it-er?

If you’re a planner, what are your secrets for choosing your meals? Do you have a pattern or rotate a set of meals? Or are you adventurous and fill your schedule with lots of new things?

If you are a wing-it-er, how do you do it? Do you go to the grocery store a lot or do you have lots of ingredients on hand so you still have options?

Tell me, I’m so interested!

Take care.

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Amy Christie

Amy is a wife, mother of two and a maker. Making is her thing whether it is food, DIYs or photos of her children. Follow Amy on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Twitter, and through her once-a-month newsletter to keep up with the latest from this heart of mine.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris Redenius October 25, 2012 at 1:12pm

I do the same kind of planning! I try to do most of the meals twice in the same month so I can make double the first time and freeze the second portion, or at least put all of the pieces together in a freezer baggie so I have less prep time on the second go-around. I also try to plan some meals with like ingredients. That way I’m not busting my budget buying tons of different kinds of ingredients. Oh, and I try to plan meals based on things I already have in the pantry or freezer. No wasting!

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amy christie November 15, 2012 at 12:01am

I love the idea of making lots of doubles. We do some of that but suffer from the dreaded low-freezer space issue. :( But maybe we could just get the parts together. Thanks for sharing the tips!

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rachel swartley October 25, 2012 at 4:33pm

When I got married, I went from cooking haphazardly for myself to preparing balanced meals for a family of four… and that’s when I started planning menus. I’ve always loved to cook, but when I was single and lived alone, it was easy to stop by the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for whatever I felt like eating. Not anymore!

Now I typically go to the grocery store just once a week, so I feel like I need to have my menus planned out so I know what to put on my grocery list. Seriously, how do people know what to shop for if they don’t know what they’ll be eating?! I cook almost everything from scratch, so if I didn’t plan ahead, I’m pretty sure I would either be lacking ingredients I need or I would buy too many perishable items that would end up going bad (which I hate!).

I use a calendar just like you do, but my family has a more selective palate than I do… so my menus don’t reflect as much variety as I’d like. Introducing new things to my family always feels like such a big deal, so I tend to avoid it. Plus, being stuck in a rut makes things easy for me… :)

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amy christie November 15, 2012 at 12:03am

I am so thankful that our family is pretty okay at trying a little of everything. Of course we do have favorites and have a few items that the little ones won’t touch and MJ eats just about anything which is such a blessing. Trying to wing it was such a lesson that plans are necessary in feeding a group of people!! :)

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liz October 26, 2012 at 12:38pm

LOVE this series, and specifically this question. Here’s my approach:
I cook a meal almost every night, and we both eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. So each week I sit down and plan out 7 meals (+ a grocery list) that we can make the next week…and which meal I make on which night depends on the day and how much time at home I have…which gives us some flexibility.

So, when planning those meals, I try to aim for 2 “cheap” and low-maintenance meals made entirely from ingredients I already have (or from something that’s majorly on sale; I view the weekly grocery store ad online as I’m planning). These are our “boring” go-to meals that come together quickly and don’t require a lot of ingredients….like tacos or pasta or grilled cheese.

I base another 2-3 meals on the farmers market. So I’ll look through my seasonal cookbooks (or online) based on what I know I’ll find at the farmers market and plan 2-3 meals from that; usually these are my fun “experimental” meals. If I could make a new meal that we haven’t had before every night, I would. So fun :)

And I’ll fill in the gaps with what’s on sale or what I have coupons for.
So a typical week ends up looking like 1-2 cheap, go-to meals, 2-3 fun seasonal experimental meals, and 1-2 easy “on-sale” meals, which is usually something I’ve made before.

My biggest priorities when planning are using seasonal produce and saving $$!
Great series :)

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amy christie November 15, 2012 at 12:08am

I love your ideas!! I am stealing a couple of your ideas. When do you shop though? I always want to go on Sunday, at the beginning of the week when MJ is still home so I don’t have to brave the store by myself with two little ones but the ad doesn’t come out until Sunday morning which doesn’t give me a lot of time to plan. I do need to be better about watching the budget. I think your tips will help!

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liz November 15, 2012 at 4:47pm

Sometimes I go during the weekdays (usually Thu or Friday) since it’s just me and Owen at this point. But if I can, I’ll got on Saturdays since it’s so much faster to go by myself and leave Owen w/ my husband. That way, I’ve got all week to view the week’s current ad and plan my meals before shopping.

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Miss Lindsey D October 28, 2012 at 6:42pm

right there with ya on the meal planning. It always feels like a bit of a pain to do it, but it feels so good to have home cooked food on the table throughout the week. Even if its a soup I cooked over the weekend so we’d just have to heat it up. We look at good home cooked food as something nice to do for ourselves and in the biggest of weeks sometimes its the only thing to make you feel like you’ve got control!

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amy christie November 15, 2012 at 12:10am

I’m totally with you on home cooked food being the best, Lindsey. And I love soups because they seem to last longer!

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Cheryl October 29, 2012 at 6:59pm

Here’s how I meal plan ::
1. Every morning, as I drink my first cup of coffee, I grab a cookbook to see what I find interesting. This last about thirty seconds before some kiddo crisis is in need of, erm, “monitoring”
2. Sit back down with cookbook and second cup of coffee. Realize there is less than thirty seconds (notice a theme?) before everyone needs to be in the car to go to school. I am neither dressed, nor have I packed lunches.
3. Come back home, deal with the littles, look at the clock and realize it’s time to pick up the kindergardener and make lunch. I am still not dressed. Appropriately.
4. Repeat this performance for 3 pm pick up for the eldest sister, come home, make tea, clean up tea, help with homework, give all cereal for supper because everyone was so good(!) and I can’t find my cookbook, a clean spot in the kitchen, or my sanity.

We are bad, so very bad, at meal planning. Even when lists do get made and purchased, the number of meals that get made during the week are not in keeping with the number of ingredients we buy. I’ve found crock pot meals to help with this, as they are easy to start in the relative calm of the morning, and provide enough leftovers for the week. I’ve also found cooking double recipes over the weekend, and freezing half invaluable. My one other trick is to buy two rotisserie chickens, which become a bas for many small meals, then after the bones have been picked over, they become a fantastic stock for soup or risotto.

I would love some ideas for menu planning, as it really is something that drags me down!

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amy christie November 15, 2012 at 12:13am

Haha Cheryl, you are so funny! Crockpot meals are great and easy, I feel like I should use ours more. And I really like the idea of cooking double so there is a second meal for later. We love rotisserie chickens too! Just utilizing those. So great.

I am hoping to do share some ideas for meal planning coming in December. Hopefully they can help you out!

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