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**This post has been entered in Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly the Kitchen Kop!**
When most people think of “meal planning,” dinners are what they mean. Meal planning is the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” which is asked by at least one family member every night (at least in my house).
By now you’ve already made your list of ingredients, favorite meals, and looked into some seasonal meals, so it’s time to start actually doing your meal plan. There are a few ways to do this:
Weekly — This is probably the most common. Each week, choose a day to sit down and write out what meals you will make for the following week. The advantage is you can vary what you’re making more often and plan to use up leftovers or ingredients that are getting old from last week. But you will be doing it fairly often and it may take a bit more time.
Bi-weekly — A lot of people get paid every other week, so meal planning at that rate may suit you, too (this is how I do it). You choose a time to sit down every other week and plan out what you’ll eat for two weeks. It takes less time, you only have to do major grocery shopping every other week instead of every week. However, you may find that something you planned for the second week won’t work (because you ran out of an ingredient, something went bad, your family didn’t like it the first time, an experimental recipe didn’t work out, etc.) and therefore your plan needs adjusting.
Monthly – This can be good because once you’ve written out an entire month’s worth of meals, you’re basically done for the month. But you run into some of the same problems as bi-weekly in that you may run out of things, experimental recipes may not work, or other things may cause the plan to change. But, it might be worth it if you don’t have a lot of time to do it this way so that at least you have SOME idea what you’re making each day.
Seasonally — This isn’t really one “way,” it’s something you can add to writing out your plan weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. This idea isn’t mine, either, it came originally from Passionate Homemaking. Basically, you have a “meals list” that varies every 3 – 4 months and you pull meals from each list depending on what’s currently in season. You might have less variety each season but every new season brings with it new meals.
Once you’ve come up with a general plan (and you CAN change your mind later so don’t worry!), sit down with your meals list and start plugging in some ideas. Think about the foods you have in your cupboard already, especially anything that’s perishable and needs to be used soon. I also like to think about the following options as I’m meal planning:
*Amount of meat — Overall, how much meat are we using per week? To keep costs low, we need to keep careful track of this. Some people choose to do meals that are vegetarian once or twice a week, or which have meat as only a small part of the meal so they can use less.
*Types of meat — I like to balance out using beef and chicken so we’re not relying on the same type of meat everyday. I also may focus more heavily on whichever meat I can currently obtain more cheaply (we’re now able to get whole chickens for around $2/lb from a local farmer, which is our cheapest, yet still great, source).
*Other protein sources — Including eggs, cheese, beans, etc. helps to balance out our meals and make them cheaper.
*Including plenty of veggies — I like to include a salad a few times a week, or steamed broccoli (family favorite) or some other veggie in or with the meals.
*Reducing grains — I try to avoid serving grain-heavy meals, like pasta, very often. I also try to have a fruit or veggie as a side dish instead of rice or potatoes when possible. I go over my meal plan after I’ve made it to see if I’ve included too many meals that have grains as either the main dish or a side dish to see if I can’t replace something with a vegetable instead.
*Special circumstances — Are we going to be out of town for a meal? Is someone visiting us? Is it a special occasion? I plan those in too. If we’re going to a party I’ll write down the dish we’re taking if it’s a potluck. If we’re having a party (my son’s birthday is coming up) I’ll write in “party” and plan for that separately. If it were our anniversary I might choose to make something less frugal that we really love, like fish (Ben loves it blackened).
*Prep time — Do any parts of the meals I’ve planned need extra prep time, and will I have time that day or earlier in the week to accomplish it? i.e. to soak beans, bake bread for sandwiches, cook and shred meat, etc. I have had to change meal plans because I got busy and didn’t have time to cook whatever it was by the time I had free time to cook at all. Also because I needed some ingredient (like bread) that I hadn’t gotten around to baking. So remember to think about these issues when you’re planning something. In the winter I always planned soups or something I could just prepare early in the day and stick in the oven on Mondays, because we used to always have appointments Monday nights and we weren’t home until around 6, and then it was dinner time!
Now, if you haven’t, write your meal plan! Double check it, and remember you can always change it last-minute if you have to. If I have to, I think about the ingredients that would have gone in that night’s dinner and see if I can make anything else with them. For example, this week we were supposed to have sprouted pasta and meat sauce with veggies one night. I don’t have tomato sauce or sprouted pasta because I wasn’t able to do a bulk order yet. I will be using the meat and veggies to create something else, and possibly including beans or barley or something else I have on hand. Meal planning is still flexible!
Tomorrow I have a special post for you about an awesome new ebook!
Thursday we’ll talk about snacks and a few other things. Get ready!
What are your favorite meals? What’s on your plan this week?
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