Does this look like your weekly meal plans? Do you start the week off with good intentions and then have a hard time following through? For me, I can spend hours on Pinterest drooling over new recipes, but there is only so many new recipes I have the energy to make each week. Life happens, you get busy and 5:00 rolls around and you find yourself staring into the refrigerator wondering what to cook because the kids are just too hungry to wait for Mommy to make Beef Bourguignon (and let’s face it, you don’t really want to either). Chances are much greater that you will either give in and feed your family that frozen pizza or go out for burgers.
Here are a few simple tricks that I’ve found help me simplify the meal planning process and keep me from reaching for the phone to call for pizza.
Taco Tuesday has become kind of a cliche, but there is something to be said for having some sort of framework. You can do this multiple ways. You can designate a type of regional cuisine for each night (Mexican on Monday, Italian on Tuesday, Chinese on Thursday, American on Wednesday and Friday, etc).
Another way to do it is to designate a different category of food for each day: soup, pasta, salad, sandwich, casserole, etc.
Finally, you can create a meal plan around your protein. Each day could use a different protein (don’t forget about meatless protein options like tofu, beans, nuts, etc.).
No matter which theme you choose, you will have a framework to guide you, yet you have enough flexibility to be creative and enjoy variety.
Work with What You Have
My husband has learned over the years that the appropriate response to my question, “What should we have for dinner this week?” is “What needs to be used up?”
Every summer the kids and I take a trip to Idaho to spend a week with my family. My husband usually has to stay home and work. Before I leave I make sure that my hubby has home cooked meals in the freezer and fresh produce to accompany them. When I came back from my first trip to Idaho I was dismayed to find that some of the produce had gone bad. I quickly realized that my better half and I had a different outlook on how to choose what food we eat. I came from a family where wasting food was nigh unto sin. I took for granted the philosophy that you eat what will spoil fastest, first. My husband just ate whatever sounded good to him at the time. Over time he has learned to be more conscientious about what food needs to be eaten up.
So when I plan meals I think about what produce is in my refrigerator and base meals off of that. For example, if I have bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, and celery in my refrigerator I will make something with the zucchini first, followed by the peppers, and then the carrots and celery because the root vegetables will stay fresh longer.
Designate a Day (or Two) for Meal Planning
Some people prefer to plan the whole week out, but I prefer to plan half a week at a time. On Sunday I plan for Monday through Wednesday. On Wednesday I plan the rest of the week. This allows me to take advantage of the produce sales on double ad day at Sprouts before planning the rest of the week. It doesn’t really matter which day you choose as long as you are consistent.
Plan Your Menu at the Same Time You Make Your Grocery List
Because I plan our menu based on the grocery sales for the week, on Wednesday mornings I look at the new ads and write down the sale items I want to purchase. Then I look at what is in my refrigerator and note what needs to be used up. With all of that information, I pair ingredients in my head and come up with our menu. After I have decided what meals to make I update my shopping list with any ingredients that I lack to complete a recipe. It may sound like a complicated process, but in actuality, it only takes a few minutes. I post our menu on the side of the refrigerator as a reminder.
Are you up for a challenge? Try planning your menu this week using the tips above. Let me know what was successful and what might have been challenging.