I have covered a lot of information in this Meal Planning series. This post that serves as an example of my thought process when planning a menu for the week. I hope it will be helpful case study, of sorts.
- notepad to write the meal list
- grocery list
- “go-to meals” list
- recipe box
- Internet access to new recipes, weekly grocery ad circular, calendar, and list-making app
Plan the Menu
Most often, I grocery shop on Sunday or Monday, cook throughout the week, and then use up leftovers on the weekend. I list meals on a notepad, so that I can put the list on the refrigerator. I include side dishes and even drinks, if I want to make something particular like lemonade or tea. At the bottom of the plan, I write any snack, dessert, or breakfast recipes I want to bake that week.
I begin by choosing meals for busy days, such as when we have company coming, will be out all day, or want to celebrate a special occasion.
I decide on a new recipe to try, and assign it for a day we won’t be busy. I copy the recipe to a sheet of paper from the notepad so I don’t have to hunt down the new recipe later in the week or cook with my phone or a cookbook on the counter.
I choose meals to fill in the gaps, incorporating a variety of cuisines and proteins. I use my list of favorite meals if I can’t think of what to make.
My list for this week:
- Red beans & rice with baked zucchini
- Breakfast: hash brown potatoes, eggs, sausage, biscuits
- Chicken enchilada soup (slow cooker) with cheese quesadillas
- Pizza with bread sticks
- Baking/other: homemade fruit gummies, granola bars, crumb cake
Make the List
Once I have my meal plan for the week, I can work on making my grocery list. I pull recipe cards from my recipe box.
I look through my pantry and freezer inventory and write down anything I have used up or that is running low. I pull up the grocery store ad circular online and see if these items are on sale that week. If so, I star them on my list. Then, I look to see if anything of these things are needed for the week’s menu. If so, I mark a dash beside it. Everything else gets crossed off the list (and written on the next page of my list pad to be considered next week!). This is difficult to describe. While shopping, I know that starred items are on sale, and I need to buy enough to restock the pantry. Dashed items are not on sale, so I only need to buy enough for the recipe(s) I am cooking that week. I hope this makes sense. 🙂
Then, looking through the recipe cards for the week, I add the rest of the ingredients I need to my list.
Organize and Shop
I clip all of the recipes together, in order of use, with a magnetic clip (shown in the image above) and hang them on the refrigerator. I tear off the menu plan and hang that up beside the recipes.
I enter my menu into a list-making app. I use one called Wunderlist available in the iTunes store for Apple devices. I have a folder for Meals. Each meal is a task, with the due date as the day I plan to make it. I add any sub-tasks necessary, like soaking beans or thawing meat.
Before I found this app or had a smart device, I added sub-tasks below each menu item on my paper list. Then, each evening and morning, I checked the list to see if I needed to do something to prepare for the next meal.
After shopping, I remove every item from the grocery bags. As I put things away, I add them to my pantry/freezer inventory. The app I use makes this easy because I can just scan the bar codes. I have even done this as I add items to the cart in the grocery store, so long as I don’t have kids with me and the store is not very busy (I don’t want to hog the aisle as I scan codes).
Stay Organized and Be Flexible
As I cook meals throughout the week, I mark on my menu that the meal has been made. If there are leftovers, I write “LO” at the end of the line. Once eaten, I cross it off. As I use items from the pantry, I remove them from my inventory. Used recipes are moved to the back of the stack on the refrigerator. I put away the whole stack the next week as I get ready to plan a new menu.
My menu is flexible. I do not hesitate to reschedule meals for different days. Some days during the week are challenging, and I end up using leftovers and shifting the entire menu ahead one day. Or something unexpected pops up, and I change up the whole plan.
Not everything in life is predictable. That’s part of the fun of it all. 🙂