Meal Planning 101 – Part 2
Welcome to Part Two of my meal planning how-to series! In this post, we’re going to be talking about finding recipes and planning for the week ahead.
After you’ve completed Step One (see that post here), you know what you have in your kitchen and can start to build your menu for the week. I always try to work with the list of what I already have on hand first and then make a list of any extras I need after I set my menu.
I start by looking at my week. There are a few questions I ask myself when I sit down with my calendar:
- What time will I get home each day?
- How much time will I have to cook each day?
- Will I need to cook extra (to use for later meals like lunches and recipe recreations later in the week)?
- Is there anything special going on this day/week that I need to keep in mind (a birthday, anniversary, party, game, or something else that is not in our normal schedule)?
I look at my week and try to think about these questions first. This helps me decide if I need to plan 15 minute meals, slow cooker meals, or if I’ll have more time to spend in the kitchen and make something a little more fancy.
For example, here’s what my upcoming week looks like:
(My planner is the Big Happy Planner made by Create 365 and is available at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. I love it because it has three rows for each day, which makes it easy for me to keep everything in one place. I use the top row for work, the middle row for personal and family plans, and the bottom row for blog planning. I use the notes section in the margin to jot down my meal plan.)
- Since Monday is a half-day at work, I’ll have a little extra time that afternoon, so I will have plenty of time to cook and can probably do some prep work for the next few days while I’m cooking that afternoon.
- Tuesday is my first full day back at work and I have a workout class that afternoon, so I will most likely be dead on my feet when I get home. That makes Tuesday a slow cooker day. That way, I can just toss everything in the slow cooker in the morning and dinner will be ready when I get home.
- On Wednesday, I’ll have to meet my mom to pick up Jack after work, but I should still have plenty of time to cook (especially if I plan ahead), so I’m going to make one of Jeff’s favorite meals.
- Thursday is another gym day, so I’ll get home later than normal. That’s another slow cooker day. It is also Jack’s first day of daycare, so I will need something REALLY easy to toss in the slow cooker in the morning because it will be the first time I’ll have to get us both ready and out the door in time for me to be at work at 7:30.
- Friday is usually date night, so if we can get a babysitter, Jeff and I usually go out to eat. If we don’t go out, I’ll use leftovers and change them up a little bit for dinner.
I don’t plan my meals for the weekends because I use those days for trying new recipes that I want to test for the blog or going to events with family and friends. If you need to plan for all seven days, then you would include the weekends in your plan as well.
Now that I know how much time I have each day and what my schedule looks like, I can plan the actual recipes. I’ll keep my current kitchen inventory in mind as I am looking for recipes and will try to use what I have on hand first.
Here are a few tips when you’re looking for recipes:
- Search for recipes using ingredients you already have. I try to rotate my proteins so that we don’t have chicken three days in a row and then beef four times.
- Remember your time constraints and make sure to read through the recipe so you know exactly how long it should take. There’s nothing worse than getting started with a recipe that you thought would be quick and easy and then realizing that you needed to let it chill or set up for an hour or that it should have been marinated overnight. Make sure you know how much time you need to dedicate to that meal before you put it on your weekly plan.
- Consider your culinary skills. I love learning new things in the kitchen, but Tuesday night at 6:30 when my husband and I are about starving because we just got home from the gym and haven’t eaten since lunch is not the time for me to learn a new culinary skill. Save the fancy recipes for the weekends or special occasions when you have extra time.
- Keep it simple. The goal is not to make a five-star restaurant quality plate that will get 500 likes on Instagram. The goal is to get healthy, good food on the table for your family. Stick to the simple meals during the week.
- Be mindful of your family’s dietary restrictions, allergies, and likes and dislikes. You don’t want to end up making two or three meals. You are not a short order cook. Try to find meals that everyone will be able to enjoy together. *OR, try to find recipes that you can easily modify a part of for that one person who has a special dietary need. For example, I am trying to eat a more Paleo-ish diet these days, so if I make something with rice as a side, I can easily make regular rice for Jeff and cauliflower rice for myself. I’m still only cooking one meal, but making just one small modification that only takes a few minutes (thank goodness for microwaveable cauliflower rice).
Here are some great resources for finding easy meals for your week:
- If you love casseroles and freezer meals that you can put together ahead of time and then thaw and pop in the oven at dinner time, check out The Pioneer Woman’s blog and cookbooks. She has always been one of my favorites.
- For Whole 30 or Paleo meals that can be cooked in the slow cooker or Instant Pot (which saves SO much time), check out The Real Food RDs Instagram page and blog. They have great recipes and most of them are pretty easy to put together.
So what did I plan for this week? Here is my plan, with links to the recipes:
- Monday – Octoberfest Sausage Soup (recipe coming to the blog this Wednesday!)
- Tuesday – Slow Cooker Pot Roast
- Wednesday – Grilled Chicken with Zoodles and Pesto
- Thursday – Spicy Slow Cooker Pork (I’ll make this into tacos for Jeff)
- Friday – Shredded Beef Stuffed Baked Potatoes (using leftovers from Tuesday)
Check back tomorrow for Step Three: Shopping and Preparing Ingredients for the Week!