Saturday, May 15, 2010

Meal Plan

I'm only writing this post because enough people have asked me questions about meal planning, that I decided to answer on-line so I have it written down for future use. For those who don't care (the other 90%), please hit delete with no guilt.

Q: Why do I meal plan?
A: Because over the course of two weeks it saves me boatloads of time and it cuts down on our grocery bill.

Q: Is it easy?
A: No. It's a huge pain in my rear and I dread it each week.

Q: Is it worth it?
A: Yes. Every two weeks when I sit down with my calendar, cookbook, list that's been growing over two weeks and a cup of coffee, I chant to myself, "You do this because it allows you to go to the gym instead of run errands." For those of you who don't like exercising, insert your favorite time waster in that space and chant away.

Q: What's the process?
A: It's a multi-step process. I'll bullet point it for easy reference. I'll start with necessary supplies:
  • Blank Menu Grid. I made a table in Word that says "Day, Date and Menu." Every time I make a meal plan, I print out a blank menu grid and fill it in.
  • Running list - I keep a running list on a note pad in my junk drawer of stuff I either run out of or will run out of in the next two weeks.
  • Cookbooks - I made myself an electronic cookbook of all my favorite recipes from friends, cookbooks, on-line, etc. so I only have to grab one book for referencing purposes.
  • Calendar - I use my calendar to check to see what nights we have commitments and need to have a quick supper, if we're having people over, birthday parties that I need to buy gifts for, or if we'll need to eat out (something we almost NEVER do - primarily because we always have meals planned so I don't need to dash to a restaurant). I mark special days on my menu grid.
  • Old Meal Plan - I turn my old meal plan over and use it to make my new grocery list. (Applause please for being a recycler.)
Once I've gathered my supplies, I thumb through my cookbook, poll the kids, poll my friends on Facebook, etc. for dinner ideas. I only fill in DINNER/SUPPER on my menu grid and at the bottom of the grid I make a list of lunch options that I know I'll have available. When the grid is full, I tackle the grocery list.

Q: How do you make a grocery list?
A: The only way a ridiculously organized person does: Categorized by store and subcategorized within each store by the layout in which I shop the store. I take my piece of copy paper and write "Costco" at the top, then make sub-headings of all the different areas in Costco. I do this for Target, Trader Joes, Starbucks and Fred Meyer too. (SIGH - can you see why I dread this?)

I then take my running list and fill it in the appropriate blanks, crossing the item off the running list to ensure it actually makes it on the list that goes to the store. When the running list is crossed off, I move to the menu grid. I look up the ingredients I need for each recipe, compare it to what I have in my pantry, and add the items as needed. Once I've done all the recipes, I move to staple items like cereal, milk, bread, produce, eggs, dairy, etc. I look over both my fridges/freezers and add items to my list that I'm lacking and use on a regular basis. When I'm done, I'm ready to shop.

Q: How do you shop?
A: At night, without the kids. Every other Friday night I scarf down dinner and start my grocery run. I map my course out ahead of time and usually base it on right hand turns to save time commuting. Since I have my detailed list and it's in order of how I shop the store, I can run through a store pretty quickly without having to back track much. I hit all the stores and then come home to unload and unpack it all. Start to finish including commuting time, this usually takes me 4 to 6 hours depending on how much produce and meat have to be washed and divided out, etc. It's exhausting, but I come home to the kids already in bed, reward myself with a favorite drink as I'm unpacking and enlist Curt's help as needed.

BENEFITS: Saves money because we rarely eat out and if we do, it's pre-budgeted. Saves time because I'm not running an errand every morning. For me, I use that saved time to exercise which has a plethora of benefits in and of itself.

DISADVANTAGE: It takes me about an hour (sometimes more) to make the meal plan and the grocery list. Then I have to shop for it all and put it away. It's EXHAUSTING. And it takes intentionality to schedule the time needed to make it work. And by the end of two weeks, we're out of fresh produce and eating frozen veggies and canned fruit unless I make a special trip for produce.

I am not a coupon clipper. I shop the cheapest stores that have the products I need which is why I buy the bulk of our food at Costco, Target and Trader Joes. I know tons of ladies who love the thrill of the coupon hunting, but I am not one of them.

Now, to those of you who asked what my menu looks like, here's what we'll be eating for the next two weeks. Please note: I would classify our eating habits as fairly healthy. We definitely are not health nuts nor do we eat total junk.





May 14



May 15



May 16

Burgers on grill, tator tots, pickles, fruit salad


May 17

Dinner at Kelly’s


May 18

Grilled chicken salad, bread and fruit


May 19

Pork chops with sautéed peppers, rice and steamed veggies


May 20

(fast) meatball heros, pickles, melon, chips, veggies and dip


May 21

Cucumber and totmato salad, sautéed shrimp with pasta in olive oil with parm


May 22

Brats/hot dogs, chips, pickles, melon


May 23

Chick salad croissant sandwiches, pickles, fruit and chips


May 24

Spaghetti pie, Ann’s salad and bread


May 25

(fast) chicken tacos, beans and rice


May 26

Turkey meatloaf, mashed potatos and salad


May 27

Chicken noodle soup, salad and bread


May 28

(Curt gone) pizza

Lunch Options:
Mac and cheese
sandwiches: PB&J, deli, chicken salad
ramen noodles
corn dogs

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