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How I Meal Plan


It's taken me a while to figure out a meal plan system that works well for me.  For many years, I've kept a list of all my greatest hit recipes to refer to when planning the next week's meals, but I always agonized over what to choose that week (Didn't I just make tostadas? Is that too much chicken in one week?) and often ended up forgetting an ingredient (because sometimes I'd forget to check the ingredient list for each recipe before going to the store) or tossing out a perishable ingredient that didn't get used up.

Then I created a 2-month plan, broken into 7-meal cycles and their accompanying shopping lists. Each 7-meal cycle was supposed to last me about 10 days, which was how often I envisioned going to the grocery store now that we live a bit farther from my true love Trader Joe's.  This was a great plan in theory because it ensured that I rotated through all of my meals, repeated the favorites a few times before rotating in a not-so-favorite, and planned all the meals that needed bacon or basil the same week so that all the perishable ingredients got used up.

My first attempt at systematic meal planning.  It didn't work for me.

But it didn't work out.  Because sometimes I didn't feel like having the 7 meals that were slated for the upcoming period.  And sometimes I wanted to cook based on what was at the Farmer's Market.  Sure I could substitute, but that threw off the whole rotational common-ingredients scheme.  It also screwed up the shopping lists.   The 10-day shopping period didn't work out very well either, because sometimes we ran out of milk or had some other life-threatening grocery emergency before the 10 days were up.

So here's my new system.

My Meal Plan Calendar (click to view spreadsheet)
I have a list of all my recipes organized by category with columns for each week (see above).  My categories are Ground Turkey (we nixed ground beef long ago, and have since nixed beef completely), Chicken Thighs (I buy organic chicken thighs instead of conventional breasts -- they cost about the same), Other Chicken (drumsticks, whole chicken), Tofu, Beans, Other (mostly vegetarian).

I put a dot in the appropriate box when I am planning to make the meal and creating my shopping list, and then write the day of the week (or a check) when I actually make the meal in the box later (this facilitates using up oldest leftovers first).  With this chart I can easily visualize when I last made a meal.  The chart also helps me easily plan a 50% meatless menu:  we eat about 2 vegetarian meals (from the tofu, bean or other categories) for every 2 meaty meals (usually one ground turkey and one chicken).

My Meal Plan Shopping List (click to view spreadsheet)
The accompanying shopping list guide (see above) has the meals in the same order, just so they are easy for me to find.  It lists the ingredients according to Shopping List (perishables) and Pantry Items -- a simple yet ingenious idea I got from Life as Mom.  This guide also helps me to know which meals use basil as well as which meals I can make with just the ingredients in my pantry should I find myself in a pickle. 

This system is working out splendidly.  It is somewhat structured, but also flexible.  Occasionally I make a recipe that is not in the regular rotation, and sometimes I throw in a completely new recipe.  And it all works out fine.

How do you meal plan?

Stay tuned for future recipe posts (including Meatless Monday posts) , when I'll be featuring our favorite meatless recipes from my meal plan.

This post is part of
Midnight Madness Meatless Monday
Works for Me Wednesday
Frugal Friday 
Homemaker Monday