A few weeks ago Trish posted about her meal planning woes and Heather recently posted her weekly meal plan. I thought I’d share my meal plan system I’ve been using since September with only minor tweaking.
First let me say that I’ve tried every sort of trick to get healthy meals on the table, on the cheap, using foods we love, for minimal costs for AGES. I’ve tried freezer meals, but the upfront time and cost and the storage I need makes this impractical (small apartment fridge, yo). I’ve tried settling in with my cookbooks, grocery ads, and coupons and doing weekly meals, but the time suck was amazing. I would paw through cookbooks, copy ingredients, and clip coupons and it took about 2.5 to 3 hours A WEEK to do things this way. Ugh.
Luckily, my mom is brilliant. She’s used an index card system for ages and it inspired me to create my own system.
- First, I bought some index cards, a plastic card box, and some dividers.
- Next I spent a weekend or so making ingredient cards. I took an index card and wrote the title of the recipe, the page number and cookbook, and then simply listed ingredients NOT directions. For recipes not in cookbooks I wrote “file” in the upper right-hand corner and this refers to my recipe notebook where I keep recipes I’ve collected over the years. This part was a bit time intensive, but can easily be done while watching TV.
- I divided my cards into categories 1) casseroles and bakes, 2) pasta, 3) quinoa/rice/grains, 4) tofu/beans, 5) veggie sides, 6) curries/chilis/stews, and 7) soups. I place the cards behind the corresponding divider in alphabetical order.
- I drafted a “template” for my meal plan on an index card and placed it in the front of the box.
Once a week I make my meal plan. I take out a card that correspond with the daily meal themes for the next week — for example Tuesday is pasta day — and put it in a little stack. I really only need four recipes for the week. Since all the ingredients are listed on the card I can look for a recipe feature sweet potatoes for when my Dad blesses us with seven pounds of sweet potatoes from his garden (happened this week). If I know something is on sale I can look for that as well. When I have my four recipes selected I make a grocery list of the items I need that I don’t have on hand.
I pick four recipes to make for the week because our weekends are kind of crazy. We get home an hour later on Friday, I work on Saturday, and on Sunday we have our small group meeting for church and that is usually a potluck. I know that I will probably not be able to cook those days. On Saturday nights we’ve been putting the kids to bed and then ordering takeout or pizza and watching a movie for a “home” date. Saturday evenings Sam usually makes spaghetti or frozen pizza for the kids while I’m at work. I have a list — in my head — of easy meals that we can make on Friday – Sunday nights:
- breakfast for dinner (eggs and toast or pancakes)
- frozen veggie burgers and tater tots (or soy dogs)
- tomato soup and grilled cheese
- soft tacos with black beans and veggies
- frozen pizza or pizza rolls
- “chikn” (fake chicken) nuggets and mac’n’cheese
Honestly I figure if the kids are eating four healthy, mostly vegan meals a week I am winning. The other three days I don’t worry too much about it. I decide what easy meals I will make based on what’s on sale at the grocery store. For example, last week Campbell’s Tomato soup was on sale at Kroger 10 for $10. I have plenty of soup so we will certainly be having grilled cheese and soup sometime next week.
After writing down ingredients from the cards and checking the sale papers for easy meal items, I do a quick check for other needed items. I check the fridge for yogurt, milk, and condiments. I check our pantry area for things like coffee, baking items, granola bars, oatmeal, etc…. Then I check for non-food items like cat litter, laundry detergent, and diapers. Lastly, I check my digital coupons on my Kroger app and take a peek at my coupon box for any coupons I can use.
My last step is to hop onto Nature’s Garden Express to create my weekly produce box. I typically plan meals on Thursday and do my box order and my grocery shopping on Friday. The box is created on Friday and delivered on Tuesday. I check Nature’s Garden Express and make exchanges for anything I need. The box is pre-determined, but I can make five exchanges so I may swap out the kale for the butternut squash I need for a recipe. I mark the produce for Tuesday night – Thursday night recipes that I’m able to get via Nature’s Garden Express off of my shopping list.
I shop and (because I’m not trying to shop for a crazed, mish-mash of meals) I end up buying less and that gives me more money to stock up on Manager’s Specials, clearance items, and really good sales on pantry staples.
How long does this take?
From the minute I open the card box up to the creation of the grocery list takes fifteen to thirty minutes. That includes picking my recipes, writing my plan for the week, making a grocery list, going through the shopping ad, checking my digital coupons, and checking for fridge, pantry, and non-food items needed. BAM!
Do I like it?
Hell to the yes! If I decide to try a new recipe a few times a month it is so easy to add it to my cooking repertoire. Let me know how you plan your meals; do you have something that works for you?