As I said in the Thoughts on... Budgeting post, since we started budgeting we have started getting serious about meal planning and grocery shopping. So I finally feel like I'm prepared to share what I do for meal planning. I am by no means an expert and there are some master meal planners out there, but I may have some tips that others don't use.
I use a couple of tools to find new recipes. First, I follow a few blogs that share recipes that fit with our eating preferences and cooking style. Pioneer Woman, Skinny Taste, and Shutterbean are a few of my favorites. Along with those I use pinterest to find inspiration. Sometimes I'll search for keywords pertaining to the kinds of meals I am looking for or sometimes I will just browse until something looks good. I have found that pinterest just wasn't cutting for me when it came to keeping meal planning ideas organized so I started using evernote. Once I find a recipe that I like through pinterest, I clip it to evernote.
So this is what evernote looks like. It's pretty amazing. It's kind of like a private web clipper. Even though you can share some of your "notebooks" you don't have to. This is definitely an area where pinterest falls short. You can also upload your own notes and things to keep yourself super organized. I use it on my iPad in the kitchen and clip things on my phone and at my work desk to read later. Another great thing about it is that it lists your tags so you can easily group things together. I like to tag recipes so that I can easily see all the entrees I have to try or all of my favorite recipes at a glance.
I mean plan and grocery shop once a week usually on Sunday morning. I find that this is best for us because we usually don't end up making all of the meals I plan for and then I just roll those over to the beginning of the next week and go from there. If we meal plan for multiple weeks the fresh food always goes bad before we're ready to use it.
I really only meal plan for dinners. Sometimes for breakfasts I'll cook up a batch of breakfast burritos or sandwiches for us to take to work through the week but lately I've been on a smoothie kick so I just buy enough frozen berries, bananas, yogurt, and almond milk to last a week or two. Sheldon doesn't always eat breakfast but he'll make something if he has time in the mornings so I just make sure we have some breakfast staples on hand. For lunch, we either bring leftovers or bring sandwiches. Again, sometimes I'll make a batch of soup or something that we can bring to work through the week, but that's on weeks where I'm on top of my game or have a lot of extra time.
I plan for one crockpot meal a week and I know we will probably eat dinner at our friend's house once a week so I don't plan to make meals every night. I also adjust if I know a meal is going to have a lot of leftovers that we'll want to eat multiple evenings.
The tools I use for the actual meal planning is (surprise, surprise) Google Documents. I have set up a meal plan/shopping list spreadsheet that I can print out once it's ready and take to the store and post the menu on our fridge. I usually print out the recipes too just in case Sheldon has to cook one night. This will be even more important now that I'll be working some evenings with my new job.
My grocery list started out as a list separated by categories, which worked for me because I was used to where everything was in our store.
I quickly realized this wasn't the best option if Sheldon needed to do the shopping without me though because he took my list one time and said it took forever because he kept needing to go back and forth throughout the store. So I decided to write down the aisles of our store and make the list match the floor-plan of the store we shop at most often.
I used this list for the first time last night and oh my it helped sooo much! It made shopping go a lot faster and I absolutely hate grocery shopping so anything that can get me out of the store in 45 minutes is the best thing ever.
Confession: I'm not a bargain shopper. I don't spend time trying to figure out where the best deals are nor do I clip coupons. I do most of my shopping at a local store, Crest, and if we need anything special or if their produce is cheaper that week, we go to Sunflower Market for a few things. Like last night, I did all the shopping at Crest and Sheldon went to Sunflower Market on his way home from the gym to pick up some things I knew Crest didn't have.
I do usually buy the cheapest item at the store so we get a lot of generic unless I know it doesn't taste as good. Since we barely ever buy those "convenient" more expensive items, we don't spend what I would call a lot on groceries. I usually manage to get out of the store for less than a hundred dollars and I get everything we need for a week of meals. For us this is big because we'd usually spend more than that on our lunches alone for a week when we were eating out every day.
So there you have it. I know it looks technical and time consuming but I'm used to it so it doesn't take me very long to get it all together every week. And it definitely makes dinner time a lot less time consuming because I know exactly what needs to be done and that I already have all the ingredients on hand.
Do you Meal Plan? What are your tips or tricks? Share them in the comments.