So you want to make a meal plan, but you need help and ideas of how to use it. A meal plan is nothing more than knowing what you are going to make and when. How you use it will depend entirely what works for you and your lifestyle. A meal plan may be created for two days or two weeks. You just have to make a meal plan that works for you, but the way you plan won’t really change much.
How to Actually Make a Meal Plan
Pick a Time Period
You’ll first need to decide what time period works for you or your family. I generally divide my week into two periods. The first being Monday through Thursday, the second Friday through Sunday. This method sends me to the store twice a week and just works for our family. You might prefer to make a plan for only weekly visits to the store, and need to plan for 7 days. Once you pick a time frame, you can start the next step. Remember it doesn’t have to be big. Pick two days, 5 days, or two weeks. It’s up you to decide how much you can plan ahead, but make it manageable. If you don’t have time to plan, take the time you have and do as much as you can with it.
You can use the handy worksheet calendar to sketch out your meal plan.
Check Your Calendar
Surely you don’t want to plan for 5 meals in a row when you won’t even be home to make two of them, so check your time frame for any meals when you won’t have time to cook or won’t even be at home. This step is so important and will actually make the planning easier.
After finding those days that just won’t allow for a traditional meal, you can get creative with what you decide to make. Leftovers, cold cuts, and fast food are all valid options for meals.
Now you have your time frame and your calendar, it’s time to fill in the holes. Just match up your recipes with the open time slots and voila, it’s done! Yes, it really can be that easy.
This is when you can get creative and create theme days like ‘taco Tuesday’ and ‘new recipes night’, have your kids pick out recipes for you, or give yourself a break by scheduling to order pizza. You are the creator of this schedule and you can make it as fun, crazy, challenging, or easy as you want.
Another idea is to rotate through your whole recipe book. Check out my other post about how to make your own collection of recipes. This may be a good way of testing out those recipes that you just don’t make very often.
Meal Plan Done, Now Be a Chef
There are a few ways to take you meal planning to next level of awesome and become the chef of your kitchen. If you master these things, go ahead and buy yourself a chef’s hat because you deserve it.
Strategic meal planning: When you start strategically thinking about your meal plan and how you can save even more time or combine your effort to get more done, you’ll think of more and more ways to skip hard labor in the kitchen. Here are a few tips to help become the chef of your kitchen.
Ok we all know prepping does pay off in the end. When you have several items to prepare just to make your recipe, you have to decide when to do it. Obviously you can prepare it and directly turn around and cook it, but you could have done all that in the morning or when you were cutting carrots for lunch. It’s just a matter of time management. Some ideas might be washing all your produce just after you get home from the store, cutting up a bowl of lettuce for the week, cooking something earlier in the day just to be reheated later.
I made a Thai curry fried rice with chicken last week and because I didn’t prep anything early, I started making dinner around 5:00pm and didn’t finish until around 6:30. There was just a lot to do, make rice, cut chicken, make sauce, cut and cook onions, etc. In the end, I realized everything I did except the onions and the final heating of everything together can be prepped as far as the day before.
Make More than You Need
Planning for a future meal by purposely making leftovers can save you time by already having part of the next meal done. For example, you could have roast beef one night and make steak tacos the next night. Or if you like to freeze leftovers, just make a double batch and freeze the rest for the next time you make the recipe.
Assign a sous chef. And you may wonder what a sous chef actually is? Well now that you are the chef, you need somebody under you that you can boss around in the kitchen. Have members of your household do some of the work like cutting veggies or setting the table. Everything you don’t have to do yourself will ease your burden.
My husband will often finish eating before I do, and he starts to clean up my cooking mess while I finish my meal. So helpful help is awesome, but sometimes training your children to help isn’t always directly helpful to you right away, but it is so worth it when they get to be the age when they can entirely clean up after dinner.
Have significant feedback for yourself? Take note and update your recipes with changes. I find it so hard to remember what changes I did to recipes that made them good or bad, and I wish I’d write them down more often. Also, maybe you need a rotation schedule for your recipes. Do you have enough to create diversity and still have room for family favorites?
Create a way of keeping track when you last cooked the recipe either by simply rotating regularly through your recipes or writing down the date you last made it on the back of the recipe. If you have a recipe box just move the card to the back and box and don’t skip any recipes, or if you use a recipe notebook write the date on the recipe every time you eat it.
Prep Time and Scheduling Ahead
If you are going to make stew, don’t look at the recipe at 5pm! It may only take 15 minutes to prepare, but has a long cook time. Remind yourself of what your next meal is and how long it’s going to take to prepare and make it. This also applies for days when you have no time to cook so fill it in with quick or no-cook dinners.
Sometimes even the best made plans go awry, and we need to reassess. There are problems that can crop up when making a meal plan that we sometimes don’t see coming, like accidentally planning chicken four nights in a row. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chicken. Just think, you’ve had chicken a few nights in a row and now you are staring at your plan, and realized you need to make chicken, but all you want to eat is steak. Just check your plan for variety of types of food and types of cooking.
Another problem you may face is recipe fatigue. You may need to refresh your recipe book with new recipes, or new versions of some of your classics. A couple ideas: buy pears for your salad instead of carrots, choose a gourmet cheese for your grilled ham sandwich, or try hoisin sauce instead of teriyaki.
Continue reading other topics in the Meal Planning series.
2. Meal Planning: Make a Meal Plan (Oh, that’s this one.)