Meal Planning 101

486465_10151334402036921_176978986_nIf you’re into cheap, healthy, easy, yummy food (and I know you are, because why else would you be reading a blog called cheap.healthy.easy.yummy.?), it is essential that you plan what you’re having for dinner during the week. Doing this makes dinner time a lot easier, allows you to choose more efficiently from sales and your stockpile, and eliminates the need to run out for pizza. Unless, of course, you want to run out for pizza. We all need to do that sometimes.

I love meal planning. I really do. I think it’s also because I love to cook, and I love problem solving. I get to plan different recipes to try, and create family pleasing meals at the same time.

Some people do a monthly or 2 week plan. I prefer to create a meal plan for a week only, so I have a better idea of what’s at the grocery store and what’s currently in my pantry. I meal plan on Saturday evenings, after the circular for my favorite store comes out.

Here’s some things to take into consideration:

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  • What you have planned right before dinnertime. This may be a weekday/weekend dichotomy, when you need five quick and easy meals, and two meals that can be prepared more luxuriously. Or the difference between quick and really quick – do you have a soccer game that takes you all the way up to dinnertime? That would be a great day for a crock pot stew!
    How this usually looks for me: I scan the weekdays to see if we have any plans right before dinner. If so, that is an automatic slow cooker meal or salad night. If not, I cook something that is quick, so my baby doesn’t scream too much. On the weekend, hubby is home, so I can make something with more preparation since he can keep an eye on the baby.
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  • What’s on sale. Always meal plan with the current grocery store circular in your hand (or loaded on the computer). You can easily get ideas for simple meals by glancing at the sales. Pasta on sale? Have a spaghetti night. Basil and mozzarella? Have a Caprese salad on the side. You get the idea.
    How this looks for me:
    I usually plan one meal a week by looking at the ad. I tend to stockpile meats (in my freezer) and non-perishables (in my pantry) when they go on sale, so this isn’t quite as big a deal for me.
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  • What sounds good. Simple as that. What do you want to cook? What do you want to eat?
    How this looks for me: I ask hubby and my older son what they would like for dinner every week. Some of the time their suggestions are not doable (I’m not turning on the oven when it’s hot outside, and no, we’re not having yogurt for dinner), but it keeps everyone happy when they can eat what they want. Also, I tend to pin a lot of recipes on Pinterest (follow me here) so I look at my recipe boards as well for something that looks fun and easy.
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  • The weather. The weather affects what you might want to eat – make sure to look at the weather forecast and plan appropriately.
    How this looks for me: If it’s warm outside, I plan salads, sandwiches, light slow cooker meals, and things for the barbecue. If it’s cold, I plan casseroles and hearty slow cooker meals. If it’s just raining? I don’t worry so much about the weather then (except we obviously can’t pull out the grill).
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  • Themes. Some people find it’s easiest to set a meal for each night of the week. Sunday roast, Monday spaghetti, Tuesday tacos, and so on. This works best when you have some tried and trues, and don’t particularly like cooking or variety. Others work with themes: Mexican Mondays, Casserole Tuesdays, Out to dinner Saturdays, what have you. What kinds of foods does your family consistently like? Work them into your schedule on a regular basis.
    How this looks for me:  The biggest theme I use is Meatless Monday. Meatless Monday is a national movement to remove meat from your diet one day a week, for nutritional, financial, and environmental reasons. As my older son has stopped liking meat so much, I’ve started celebrating Meatless Monday on other days of the week as well.
    Fun Food Friday consists of comfort foods that are simple to make. Santa Fe Chicken is one of our favorites, as are chicken strips. And Saturday’s usually reserved as a flex day, in case we have leftovers that I haven’t planned for or if hubby wants to go out.
    We formerly had fish at least once a week for dinner, but I’ve stopped scheduling it so much. I’m not sure why – maybe had to do with all the complaining, haha. I do need to put this back on our schedule.Growing up, we had Pizza Friday. My brother and I loved Pizza Friday.

What about you? Do you meal plan?

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