When Bonnie contacted me about doing swapping posts about organizational methods for my blog, I could hardly stop laughing.
I would love to call myself an organized person. In fact, I’m sure many people who know me would also call me an organized person. And then, they would walk into my house and laugh as I hard as I am at the thought.
I think I’m compartmentally organized and so while I racked my brain for ways that organization helps to simplify my life, it came down to this: meal planning.
In truth, making a monthly (yes, monthly, not weekly) meal plan simplifies my life in so many ways, helps me to save money at the grocery store, and ensures that I always have a viable answer to the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?”
I started planning out a monthly menu for our dinners about a year ago. Anyone who has ever attempted to do this knows that it must be done with a modicum of flexibility as you never know when you won’t feel like cooking, or you’ll forget a vital ingredient, or when you’ll be invited over for dinner instead. But, having a plan helps.
You can look on Pinterest for lots of ideas for meal plans and budget friendly ideas. For me, having a plan to begin with can (and will) shrink your grocery bill and help you utilize the items sitting around in your cabinet more than ever.
I share my monthly meal plans on my blog, and several other bloggers do as well. Using something like this as a framework can help you begin to develop a meal plan for your family. To help, I’m sharing my process today, but it mostly comes down to what works for you. If planning a month at a time seems overwhelming, just do it week by week. Even that will add a bit more organization to your life.
So, here’s what I do:
1. I always start with a list of meals that we enjoy or haven’t had in awhile. I call this our “On Deck” list and it sits in a central place on the counter for my husband or I to add to as necessary. I have recently started keeping a list in my phone as well since sometimes inspiration strikes me while I’m not near the paper list at home. (Often, inspiration strikes me while I’m in the grocery store getting supplies for the week ahead.)
2. When I’m ready to make my initial plan, I grab a sheet of paper and write out all of the days that we will need dinners for the month. Given travel schedules, social engagements, and get togethers we are invited to, I usually don’t have to plan dinner for every single night of the month. We also plan on eating out at least once a month. Since we recently moved her, we are trying to eat at a different restaurant in town every time so that we get to know our favorite local spots.
3. I also take note of the specific day of the week some meals are being planned. On Wednesdays, I try to do something in the crock pot because I have choir practice. On Fridays, we try to make meals with little to no clean up in the kitchen so we can enjoy our night. (This is a popular take out night for us as well.) Sundays we eat a bit of a heavier meal or more labor-intensive meal because we usually have more time for cooking and clean up – so a meal with more components is always possible.
4. Once I have a good list of meals, I just start filling in the blanks. I try to make one day a week meat free. (And when I say “meat-free,” it does mean that we’ll sometimes substitute in seafood – my husband isn’t big on being totally vegetarian…) I don’t really have any reason for doing this other than that it makes me think of new meals, come up with creative ideas to balance our nutrition, and increase our produce intake. We’re Catholic so this is a practice that isn’t necessarily new to us, it’s just something I thought we could make a habit of.
5. I put all of this on a dry erase calendar (ultimate flexibility!) and try plan things in such a way that we end up with a nice variety. Not too many Italian meals at once or too much red meat in one week. I also try to spread out meals cooked in the slow cooker so that I have time to let it soak after we use it. (Anyone else HATE cleaning their crock pot? I need to invest in those liners.)
6. I make my grocery lists one week at a time and usually do all of my shopping on Saturday mornings. If I need some meat from the butcher or fresh produce, I will sometimes purchase things on my way home from work to cook them the evening of the meal. Otherwise it is always my goal to not have to go back to the store more than once. (Every time I enter the grocery store, you can almost always guarantee I will buy more than what is on my list. Better to keep it to just one day.)
7. I also make my grocery list while looking at all of the things I have in my pantry/refrigerator/spice cabinet. Eventually I’d also love to plan stuff around what we have in a produce delivery, what we find at the farmer’s market, or what we grow in our own garden. (This will likely happen next year when I actually have time to plan a garden.) All of this helps keep me under budget so I don’t overbuy things.
8. We all eat lunches on our own. My son eats at school and both my husband and I eat at work. I can usually be counted on for bringing some sort of leftovers at least once a week, but for the most part I basically brown bag it. I do not plan those meals.
9. The same goes for breakfast. Sometimes on weekends, my husband will cook up a big breakfast and we’ll talk about that ahead of time so that I can get the necessary accouterments, otherwise we are all pretty content with bowls of cereal, breakfast smoothies, or oatmeal. And coffee. Of course, coffee.
10. I do not coupon. When I tried to do it, I spent way more money than I ever saved by buying things we didn’t need, didn’t use, or already had. (The exception is for toiletries. I don’t have to worry about those going bad before we need them.) If you have the patience for couponing – go you. This will make meal planning a little bit less flexible, but will work all the same. (In case you were wondering, I say “koo-pon” rather than “q-pon.” Both pronunciations are listed in the dictionary – so we all win.) If you’re good at looking for meat/produce sales at your local grocer that will work wonders for you as well. (Fortunately, everyone says “sale” the same way.)
Finally, and most importantly, be flexible. I planned a full meal around some stuff I saw in the store only to find they discontinued one of the key components. Because I wasn’t flexible, I literally stood in the store for 15 minutes until I finally picked up a frozen pizza. Have a back up plan or two in place. You can also move meals around in the month if necessary. When we have to cancel a meal because we get invited out last minute, I’ll use those ingredients for a similar meal later in the week or in place of another meal. More flexibility.
Now, who’s hungry?