Meal Planning Secrets

The other day a friend and I were talking about cooking for our families and she asked how I managed to plan meals and do the grocery shopping only once a week. Of course I decided to do a blog post on it – what else would I do?

If all things are going well, I try to plan the next week’s meals over the weekend. Sometimes this is a family activity, which can lead to some interesting suggestions. We have had alliterative weeks where every night’s main dish starts with the same letter – pizza, paninis, pork tenderloin, pancakes and pan-fried fish (that last one was a stretch, I’ll admit). What can I say – we are nerds. Alliteration aside, I try to plan for a mix of “meaty” meals and vegetarian meals during each week. We have beef no more than once a week, usually not even that often – the focus is chicken, pork (usually tenderloin), fish or no meat at all.

Once I have the main dish planned, I quit. No, not really; though some weeks, yes. Most weeks I do try to plan the side dishes too, to try and get us some vegetable variety. But we have our favorite veggies, as everyone does. If I need to work on anything, it is jazzing up our vegetable selection. I tend to put my efforts into the main dishes and have fairly plain vegetable or fruit dishes that take minimal effort – think steamed broccoli or frozen veggies, fresh fruit or sliced tomatoes.

After I have our week’s meals planned, I make the grocery list. I think I have mentioned before, I make my list in the order of the store’s layout. Rich makes fun of me, but since I do the lion’s share of the shopping, I make the list my way. And I can get an entire week’s shopping done, including drive time and putting it all away, in less than an hour. Don’t bash the excessively precise store list. I usually take a corner of the list and write in the week’s menu of dinners. I can then refer to the menu list to start my grocery list. This really helps when I want to make something that needs extra ingredients, like the breadcrumbs for breaded fish or homemade chicken fingers.

Like everyone else, we get stuck in ruts and eat the same old things. Once or twice we have taken the time to sit down with a legal pad and made a master meal list of every main dish we make, categorized into chicken, fish, pork, pasta, beef, breakfast for dinner, etc. It is amazing how long the list gets when we think beyond the things we make often.

How do you handle the age-old dilemma of what to make for dinner every night?

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3 thoughts on “Meal Planning Secrets

  1. As you know, I am Dutch. When growing up, the vegetables were the main dish. If someone asked you what you were having for dinner, the answer would be”Oh we are having red cabbage” or “we have cauliflower”. Even now I mention my vegetables first. Meat was a luxury item for eating on Sundays. A nice gravy would be made and used with your potatoes on Monday and Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday there would be meatballs (Large’ baseball size) or maybe some chicken.That would be the extend of the meat.
    Now we do eat almost every day some kind of meat or fish or chicken. But to us the vegetables still come first.
    So, I’ll pick asperges, green beans, cauliflower, beets, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli,kale, sugar snap peas or whatever else looks good. Most of the time I make a cucumber salad with onion, cilantro and tomato to go with it.I have pretty much figured out how much we eat and have rarely left-overs. The meat I make more of on purpose so we can have it for 2 or 3 days (not always in a row)I might freeze some of it to use in a later dish. And that is how it goes in my house.

  2. I wing it. 🙂 Seriously, I recommend a CSA for veggie variety if you have one where you live. Not only do we eat more different veggies, we also get then in different combinations every week, which forces me to be creative with recipes.

    And I love your organized shopping lists!

  3. I keep meaning to get more organized about menu planning – I often end up grocery shopping several times a week, which is very time consuming! I like your tips here – and to vary my veggies I do all my produce shopping at farmers’ markets, where I can only find seasonal stuff, so that way at least I am forced to mix things up as the year wears on.

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