Hi, my name is Victoria, and I’m a cookbook addict! Though, to be fair, I think I’m in good company (I’m looking at you Prime Minister Theresa May!).
This is only part of my cookbook collection. The “most used” section. Mostly Paleo, some well-loved non-Paleo cookbooks that I’ve found to be readily adaptable, and some great resource books. I definitely do not lack for choices or inspiration when it comes to deciding what I – and my family – will eat in a given week. The problem is really that of a child faced with too many ice cream choices, who is crippled by indecision.
Whether you own one cookbook or, (ahem) twelve, or keep a binder, or Pin the heck out of recipes, meal planning can be daunting. Before you sign up for a meal planning service (don’t get me wrong – some of them look fantastic!), give my meal planning template a try!
- Find a planner that works for you
This looks different for everyone. My favorite planner is from Refined Side and allows me to plan all three meals each day. You may only need to plan dinners. There are a plethora of blank calendars and planners to be found online and, if you want to sketch it out yourself, the back of the flyer about your kid’s school bake sale works, too.
- Make a list of what you need to use up
When I start meal planning (usually Friday evening), the first thing I look at is what needs to be used first. Maybe it’s leftovers from Thursday that we can have on Sunday (or that I’d rather freeze for a rainy day). Maybe it’s that random half-head of cabbage from the side dish you made last week. If you keep a deep freeze list, also keep in mind what is nearing the end of its shelf life.
- Source recipes for #2 first
Let’s take my cabbage as an example. I recently made the Bacon and Cabbage side dish from Paleo Kitchen. The recipe called for ½ head each of green and red cabbage. Which left me with the remaining half of each (or the equivalent of a whole cabbage) patiently waiting in my veggie drawer. Sometimes, I have something in mind based on a recipe I’m craving or that came across my Feedly or Facebook or Pinterest feed recently (that was the case here – I made Nom Nom Paleo’s Cheater Pork Stew). If not, I grab a few cookbooks off the shelf and turn to the index, or run a search on Pinterest (first of things I’ve already pinned, then widen the search if I need to).
- Decide what else you want to make – starting with dinner
This step will depend on your mood. Is there a sale you want to take advantage of (salmon on sale at Whole Foods for $9.99/lb, for example!)? Something in season you want to cook with or that you have an abundance of from your CSA or farmer’s market? A favorite recipe you’ve been craving? I alternate between these motivations when making my weekly picks. Or (confession!) sometimes I just sit down and drool over my cookbooks like they’re the Tiffany & Co. catalogue until something jumps out at me. Whatever works, right?
- Go ahead and plan what you’ll do with leftovers from #4
The reason I plan dinners first is that, invariably, the leftovers from planned dinners will usually fill in some of the other meal slots. If I make a frittata on Monday, I can count on having at least two servings available for a breakfast or lunch, which is two less breakfasts and lunches I have to plan. This step also shows me when I’m being too ambitious and have too much food planned for the week. Better to adjust accordingly now than when I have a fridge full of food!
- Fill in the gaps
If Monday’s frittata will only give me breakfast on Tuesday and Wednesday, I need to have a plan for my A.M. meal the rest of the week. By now, I’ve filled in dinners, plugged in a few breakfasts and lunches, and I look for something easy to fill in the last open meals. Or maybe I want to build in a lunch out with my officemates.
- Finalize your plan and notate where the recipes are coming from.
I promise, we are almost there! This step is critical! Nothing is worse than coming home on a Thursday and facing a meal plan that says “Orange Chicken” and having no idea (because it’s Thursday and your brain done 50 million things since you made this meal plan) which Orange Chicken recipe you’d planned for or where it is. I make a key in the corner of my meal plan to remind me where to find the recipes when the time comes.
- Make your grocery list.
I know what you’re thinking – Do I really need eight steps, Vik?
Well, I do. I’ve learned the hard way that if I want to use my grocery dollars effectively, minimize waste, while keeping my menu varied, this level of planning works for me.
How do you meal plan? What are your best tips and tricks?