I meal plan every week. Since I live with my in-laws, that means that once a week my mother-in-law and I sit down and talk through what to make each day of that week. This usually happens Saturday morning. We plan through the week up until the next Sunday. I find planning a bit more than an exact week is important. Otherwise, you could end up needing to meal plan for the week and on top of that, for dinner that very same night. I find that stressful. I never like waking up not knowing what I’m going to make for dinner because that automatically means a good-sized chunk of my day is going to get eaten up deciding what to make.
That honestly is the biggest reason I meal plan: it gives me peace of mind.
I don’t function well having the question: “What will I make for dinner?” loom over me all day, multiple days in a row. It rests like a heavy weight on the back burner. Especially if I have a busy day, I don’t want the further stress of coming up with dinner.
Another big reason I meal plan is to keep the budget down.
If we get all our groceries in one maybe two trips, we don’t need to run out to the store every other day. If we sketch out the week, it also lets us make something one day (say, chicken soup) and use bits of it (shredded chicken or stock) later in the week (for enchiladas, maybe, or risotto). I’m definitely a planner generally…so this fits right into my lifestyle.
Enough about why — how do I meal plan?
I think the easiest way to explain it is by breaking our meals into three categories: ONE: weekly staples, TWO: many regulars, and THREE: a number of once-every-month-or-sos.
ONE: Our weekly staples are meals that stay the same each week: soup (flavor will vary, generally on Mondays), pasta (type will vary, usually homemade, since we’re Italian, and typically on Sundays), and rice & beans (almost always on Fridays).
With this pattern locked into place, almost half the week is essentially planned before we even sit down.
TWO: Our regulars are meals that frequently make an appearance. These meals tend to be variable to work with what we have or what’s in season. We also try to divide the week pretty evenly into meat and meatless (or meat-light) meals, so these regulars fall fairly evenly under both categories. Further, when we have these regular meals, we can stick to a shorter list of spices, herbs, condiments, etc… which means we can buy items in bulk and aren’t restocking our pantry again and again. (Hint: This REALLY helps keep down the budget.)
With these meals to draw upon, 3-4 more days are easily taken care of.
THREE: Our once-every-month-or-sos are meals that are more time-consuming, for special occasions (often using pricier or more unusual ingredients), something that caught my eye (since I like making a new recipe every week or so), or from more exotic cuisines.
These fill in the last gap, when needed.
Now you know why and how, time for list inspiration!
Meatless/meat-light: Knish, galette, risotto, pasta fagioli, pizza, rice casserole, veggie burgers, mac n’ cheese, quiche, potato kugel, stuffed peppers, pizza/calzones, strata, beans on toast, couscous salad (like this)
Meat: Meatloaf, hamburger buddy, cuban shredded beef, sandwiches, shredded BBQ, steak salad, sausage links with peppers & onions, biscuits & gravy, chili, shepherd’s pie, tortilla casserole, hamburgers
Every-month-or-sos: Gnocchi, falafel, enchiladas, sausage roll, goulash, chicken potpie, stuffed shells, curry, chicken Italian, eggplant parmesan, brisket, steak, tortellini, ravioli, ribs, carnitas, stuffed burritos, ratatouille
I feel like this post was a long time coming. I hope too that Sarah & Maria will chime in with their own methods of meal planning, kind of like we did with our fitness posts.