We've been meal planning for a few years and we have a system that works really well for us. It's logical, easy, and allows for whim! This method is mostly for dinner meals.
When we started this method of meal planning, we were getting paid every other week. We budgeted for groceries based on a 2 week schedule. For our family, this means we plan for 2 weeks worth of meals which is usually around 7 meals. Most of our recipes make enough food for 2 days but you may need to adjust this number depending on your eating habits, your budget, and how often you want to go to the grocery store. 2 weeks is the perfect amount of time for us to run out of milk, cheese, butter, and produce.
Here's the gist:
- Write down 7 meals you want to eat. Try to allow for variety - for example: don't plan 7 meals containing chicken, instead choose 2 with beef, 2 with chicken, and 3 vegetarian. Put this list on your fridge or somewhere in plain sight.
- Write down the ingredients you'll need to buy for these meals. You might already have a few of the ingredients. I only write down the ingredients I actually need to buy.
- Buy the ingredients. I like to order groceries online as much as possible, whether that means curbside pickup or a produce box, etc. This means that I know exactly what I'm getting and how much it costs. No more going to the store and wandering around aimlessly trying to scrounge up a week or two worth of meals when you don't have recipes memorized. No more looking recipes up on Pinterest in the middle of aisle 7. Stick to your list and you will save time.
- Every morning (or the night before), decide what you want to eat for dinner that night. This is where the whim comes into play. You get to decide what you feel like eating each day. Your meals aren't SO planned out that you have to eat hamburgers on Monday when you really felt like eating stir-fry. You have a list of 7 meals to choose from - hopefully meals you love to eat and love to make! Each day, you'll get to decide what sounds good but you won't say to yourself, "I really want Tuscan Chicken," and then you look in your pantry and realize you have none of the ingredients. Set yourself up for success by planning ahead.
- Make recipes that contain perishable ingredients first. For example, if we are making something with mushrooms, we usually eat that on the first day or two because they seem to get yucky pretty quickly. If need be, freeze meat. Just make sure to thaw it out in time!
When you think of meal planning, you might think of making a bunch of shredded chicken and then using it for various meals all week long. You don't have to do this. I personally cannot eat meat that is more than a day old (with the exception of ham). I think it tastes gamey and gross. So I will not be pre-making 7 shredded chicken meals to eat throughout the week. However, if you want to stretch your meals further, embrace leftovers! We love leftovers and eat them often. But just like meat, I do not like eating leftovers more than once so I don't make so much food that we'll be eating it for several days.
The basic idea with this method of meal planning is to PLAN. Almost everyone I know just goes to the store and buys random ingredients and staples. Then when it's time for dinner, they look in the pantry and decide what to make for dinner. This is ultimately a recipe for failure because you may or may not actually have the ingredients for the meal your heart desires.
I'd love to know if you try out this method of meal planning and how it goes for you!