I hate meal planning. The trouble is: I love to cook, and I love to have meals planned so that Jesse and I can eat together at home during the week. But, the idea of spending an hour on a Sunday afternoon flipping through cookbooks, coming up with recipes (preferably a combination of ones with similar ingredients . . . so that I don't end up with a full head of lettuce or a bunch of broccoli at the end of my week), and jotting down a grocery list sickens me. What a waste of time. Aren't Sundays for laying on the couch or enjoying a picnic outside? I think so.
So . . . being the planner that I am I created a lovely little system for our household. Here goes. (This could be a long one, so you must actually be interested in this topic to continue reading.) Consider yourself warned.
The first necessary item in this process was a new recipe organizer for all of the internet-found-and-printed recipes. See all of them to the left of the cookbooks? They are taking over my life.
For this I was inspired by someone who wrote a comment on one of my favorite blogs pinkpicketfence. The comment was left too long ago and I'm too lazy to find out who actually wrote it, but here is how she organized her recipes:
I have a 3-ring-notebook system. I actually have 2 notebooks, one for sweets/baked goods and one for more savory food. The savory one has the following categories: fruit/drinks, soups, salads, vegetables, sides, potatoes, pasta, misc. main dishes, chicken, pork, beef, ethnic, and seafood. The other notebook has: cookies, bar cookies/brownies, cakes, frozen desserts, pies, other misc. desserts, breakfast foods, breads, quick breads, biscuits. The way I organize: If I see a recipe I want to try, I print it or clip it and punch it with the 3-hole punch and put it in the front of the appropriate tabbed section. If I try the recipe and it's a keeper, I put it in a sheet protector in the back of that section (I put them back-to-back in the sheet protectors to save room). If it's not a keeper, it gets tossed. I LOVE my system! I plan my menu & grocery list each week and I try hard to include a variety of flavors. So maybe I'll do one soup, a chicken dish, a seafood dish, a casserole, etc. It's so easy to just look in each section of my book and decide if I want to try something new or make one of the repeaters. I love that the recipes are in plastic so that I can wipe them off. I love that recipes are now on full sheets--no more cramped handwriting on recipe cards, plus if it's from the internet I can often download a photo as well so I can see what my food is supposed to look like. Works for me! :)
I love it. So, into a 1.5" notebook went my recipes. Well, only the ones I use. The others went to recycling-land. I only bought one set of 8-tab dividers. These sections work for me: appetizers, soups & salads, sandwiches & sushi, sides, entrees, cookies & desserts, breads & breakfasts, and beverages. Each recipe is stored in a sheet protector too.
Next, I had to conquer my meal-planning dilemma. I started by writing down the recipes that Jesse and I like and would eat regularly. I came up with 35 recipes and then chose 5 of those that I could repeat once - for a total of 40 recipes. That means that I can make 5 meals per week (which I rarely even make that many) for 8 weeks. I also wrote down some side dishes that we like off to the side of my paper.
Then, I looked up each recipe (if necessary) and wrote down any ingredients that I would likely have to make sure that I had on hand or have to grocery shop for that week (i.e. broccoli, chicken, beef, cheddar cheese, cilantro, celery etc.).
Then, (this is the hardest part) I began to group together the recipes into groups of 5 trying to find recipes that require similar ingredients. Therefore, if I was going to buy cilantro I would be using it for more than one meal that week. Or, if I was going to buy shredded parmesan I would also be using it for more than one meal (i.e. chicken cesar salad and spaghetti). In this step I also paired up some side dishes with the meals.
Lastly, I drew up grocery lists for each of my weeks. In this step I compiled one list for each week. The list consisted of all the ingredients for each of the meals that I would likely have to make sure that I had on hand or have to grocery shop for that week (see step three). I also double checked the recipes to make sure that I hadn't forgotten anything important. I figured this would give me the basis for my grocery shopping each week. Then, I could always add the more obvious items like milk, bread, soda, etc. before I went to the store.
Here is a picture of the meal plans for each week on the left and the grocery lists on the right. We have gone through three weeks so far. We haven't eaten 5 meals in one week yet. But, that's okay. At the beginning of the week I see which nights we will likely be at home, I count them up and then I choose that number of meals from that week's list. Then, I just cross out any ingredients from the grocery list that don't apply to the meals that I chose.
It's working well so far! I'm already enjoying my Sundays without the nagging feeling of "meal planning".