Thursday, February 16, 2017

How to Plan Meals

I've definitely been learning to embrace my "stay at home daughter" status. The past month and a half I have been helping my parents out by taking on some additional responsibilities around the house. I've been assisting my mom with planning meals, grocery shopping, and cooking. I've come to realize how complex the process can be from start to finish. Today I'm sharing some tips and tricks for making sure you eat healthy, save money, and never have to aimlessly stare at the contents of your fridge trying to find a meal again. 

The first step to planning your meals is to take inventory of what you have.  Check out your refrigerator(s), freezer(s), pantry, and cabinets to see what you actually have. I'm sure you will be surprised at what you find.  Taking inventory prevents you from spending extra money on items you already have, sparks inspiration for planning out your future meals, and ensures that nothing is going to waste. I like to keep an inventory of the food on a note in my phone.  When we use something up, then I remove the item from the note. You could also write everything down or just try to go off your memory. 

Look at the Calendar
Now that you know what food you have, it's time to take the next step.  Checkout your calendar to see what is going on. This will help you know what days you need quick and easy meals as well as what days you can make something that might take a little bit longer.  I like to plan more labor intensive meals for Sunday dinners since there is usually more time on Sundays.  On a day that I might not have time to cook, I plan for leftovers. 

 Disclaimer, I'm not always the best at this.  This week I totally forgot that Valentine's Day was on Tuesday. 

Create a List of Meals
For some of you this might be your favorite part of the process while others this might be your least favorite part. Now it's time to create a list of possible meals. I like to start with the items I have and then move onto other meals that might require me to go to the store.  For meal inspiration I like to browse pinterest, cook books that we having laying around the house, and my favorite food blogs.  Between these sources of inspiration I usually am able to come up with a list of meals much longer than I will actually need to make. Next to each meal on the list I like to list out the ingredients that I need to purchase to make the meal. 
A sample list of meals for one week. 

Choose Meals and Assign Days
Now that you know what your schedule looks like and have found some meal inspiration, it is time to choose your meals and when you will eat them. I like to make a list of all the dates that I will need meals for (my family plans meals for two weeks at a time). I then consult my list of meals to match one meal to each day.  It's best to plan for one meal a week to be leftovers because chances are you aren't going to eat the entirety of each dinner every single day.  I also like to leave Fridays open because I never know what's going on, how tired we will be, or what we will feel like eating come the end of the week. 

Brainstorm Breakfast and Lunch Options
Some of you might like to plan out every single meal (including breakfast and lunch) while others might prefer to use leftovers and whatever your can scrounge up in the fridge. I tend to be a little bit of both types of people. Weeks when I'm busier I like to plan out every meal, but those weeks that I am less busy I tend to go with whatever is in the fridge.  I usually like to plan a list of options for these meals that way I know what I need to purchase at the grocery store. 

Create the Grocery List
Now that you have all of your meals planned out, it's time to create your grocery list.  I start by looking at the ingredients I need to make dinners. Next, I look at what I need for breakfast and lunches. The third set of items to be added are any household items (soap, toilet paper, cleaning products, napkins, Ziploc bags, etc.). Regardless of the form of your list (paper or electronic), I recommend organizing it so that the items are listed in the order that you shop your grocery store. Some grocery stores now have apps that you can download. I like to use the Wegmans app because it organizes your list by isle and calculates and estimate total for your entire list. 

Your final steps would be to head to the grocery store (don't go on a Sunday- it's way too crowded), organize your groceries, find a time to do any meal prepping, and enjoy your stress free meals. 


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