I truly believe that meal planning is an art. I may not be a perfect cook or baker, but I can meal plan with the best of them. It took me a few years, but I think I found the best meal planning techniques for me, and I thought I would share them with you.
As with a lot of my organizational techniques, I like to put in as much automation as possible. So, I have themes that run throughout my week. On the days I volunteer at the SPCA after work, I used the crockpot. On days where I might have more time, I try new recipes that I found on Pinterest. I always try to incorporate Tex Mex into our week (because, hello, we live in Texas, how could we not?). And I always try to incorporate some kind of pasta (because, hello, we are Italian, how could we not?).
Then, throughout the week, I spend time on Pinterest, looking for meal ideas. I have three Pinterest boards that I try to keep updated. The first is my Recipe Lists. These are all those lists that show up on Pinterest that sound interesting (100 no process crock pot meals, 10 easy dinner ideas). I don’t always vet these right away, and they may not work, but I look at them later when I have dedicated meal planning time.
The second board is my Things to Make or Try. These are recipes I either got from a google search, one of the recipe lists, or a pin that I saw on Pinterest. These have been vetted a little more. They meet all of my personal criteria which is as follows:
- Serving size 2-4 people, although sometimes if it sounds good I will make it and try to eat all the leftovers (but let’s be honest, I only usually eat one, maybe two days of leftovers per meal).
- Very few, or basic, ingredients. I may buy the odd jar of capers, but I don’t want to fill my pantry with things that become more expired than essential to my needs. I do try to stay away from processed food (aka aisle food) but sometimes time plays a bigger factor in that night, and I need something quick.
- Very little time at the stove. I don’t mind leaving something to simmer or bake in the oven, but I’m a very distracted cook, so the less time I have to stir and watch, the better.
- Very few, or basic, tools. I don’t like to buy tools that I will only use once or twice (unless they are holiday specific recipes). While I think it is quite impressive to have some special gadgets, I can’t justify using them for only a couple of recipes I might make a few times a year.
Then, once I make the recipe, and we actually wouldn’t mind making it again, I put it in my third board, Tried it, Liked it. So, when I have a particularly busy week, and don’t have time to sift through recipes, I go to these recipes.
Another factor as to which recipes I use each week is of course what meats are on sale. I try to keep it pretty balanced as well. At least one day we will have fish, one day red meat, one day poultry, and one day no meat at all. Sometimes we might double up on one type of meat depending on sales, but if I had my choice, I would eat seafood exclusively. It’s my favorite. Produce sometimes plays a factor, but more so as sides to the main dish than the main dish, itself.
I stick to week by week plans. There are some nights I know I won’t have to cook very much at all, mostly weekends and the night we go to the grocery. So there are breaks in there that I don’t have to plan. Most of our grocery bills run about $80-90 dollars a week. Some weeks it’s more, some it’s less. And of course, remember that there are just two of us, and we buy our household goods (toiletries and cleaning supplies) once a month on a different budget.
One last thing that I’ve started doing, and that is saving a PDF version of the recipe to my computer. I don’t know if you have had this problem, but on some of these recipe sites, there are so many ads and extras, that I have a hard time finding the recipe on the actual page. I still like to use my Pinterest to pick the meals, but once it’s moved to Tried it, Liked it, then I usually will also have a back up copy on the computer as well.
What is your meal planning technique? Do you use requirements to pick your recipes?
What has been your favorite meal to make in the last year (and you have to have made it at least twice)?