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Monday, August 1, 2011

How Do you Do it? Plan your meals

"What's for dinner?"

I have a love/ hate relationship with that question.  I love it when I have an answer and I hate it when I don't! I especially hate it when it is being asked in a tired, whiny voice after a long, busy day... and I don't have an answer!

I learned a while ago the value of having a meal plan but what that plan looks like has evolved (and is still evolving) through the many changes of our family. I will explain what I am currently doing striving to do but before that I want to share some things I have learned about meal planning (and any form of organizing for that matter).

1. Each family is unique so another family's meal plan or system of planning, while inspiring, may not work for your family and it may even be a source of frustration. There are lots of great meal planning websites and  blog posts about meal planning both free and paid.  They may promise to make your life easier and have great suggestions but you have to know what will work for you.   If you are just starting out, look for a plan that you like, implement it and then tweak it to meet your needs.  Don't abandon something that is working just because you come across someone else who does it differently.

2. Your meal plan doesn't have to look pretty.  Maybe this isn't an issue for you, but for me I would spend way too much time creating charts and lists and making them pretty,  use them for a week and then find something else that seemed better (see point one :)  Now I focus on functionality first and then if there is time I make it pretty.

3. Any plan you choose takes discipline to follow.  I am still learning this one!

So here is what works for me right now:

Step 1
I have a meal planning binder (sorry no pictures here of a pretty, organized binder :)

In the binder there is:
  • a list of meals that our family likes.  I asked everyone to tell me what they like and I created this master list that is my "go to" list. 
  • a calendar
  • scrap paper
  • recipes 
Step 2
Before grocery shopping I gather my binder and computer (I use iCal for my schedule).  I look at the schedule for the upcoming week and figure out what meals we will be having (if I have time I plan two to three weeks at a time).  I use my "go to" recipes for the most part  but if I have time I scan the internet for interesting recipes.  I have started using Pinterest and I have a recipe board to make it easier to collect recipes I want to try.

Step 3
I have a meal calendar in iCal where I plop in the meals for the week.  I have dinner as a recurring event and just update the entry on each day.  I have a email reminder set so I get an email each evening telling me what is for dinner the next day.  This helps me to remember if there is anything that takes extra preparation (i.e. crock pot, defrost meat etc.)

Step 4
I take out all the recipes in the binder that I intend to use for the week and print out any new recipes and then put them in order in the front of the binder.

Step 5
I use these recipes to make my grocery list.

Once I have shopped I am always one step away from dinner!

When it is time to make dinner, I pull out the recipe and put it in the front cover of the binder (I have a clear view binder)  This keeps the recipe clean while I cook. When I am done the recipe gets filed back in the recipe section of the binder.  If it is a new recipe I only keep it if it gets at least 4 thumbs up (out of 6 possible votes).

Sometimes the week doesn't go as planned. With this format, I can always switch things around if I need to.

How do you tackle dinner?  Any tips you want to share?

This is part 2 in the series How do you do it? 
You can read the previous posts here:
Intro post
Part 1

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