Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monthly Meal Planning Success!

It's that time again.  I've been consumed the last couple of days working on my meal planning.  Not only have I planned meals for the next 4 weeks, made shopping lists and my monthly trip to Trader Joe's, but I've also created an electronic copy of my last 2 monthly menus to share.

Planning 4 weeks worth of meals is an investment of time up front, but I'm finding that it's paying huge dividends. There are a ton of benefits. One of the biggest for me is not getting to 5:00 at night and having no idea what to make for dinner.  Not only is there less stress involved with getting a healthy dinner on the table, but I'm not making the same thing over and over because I don't know what to fix.  My husband commented just the other evening that it was nice to have a variety of meals.

It's been fun to look through my stacks of recipes that I've accumulated over the years and choosing dishes that I've always wanted to try.  If all of the ingredients are in house and the meal is scheduled for a day that we aren't slammed with afternoon/ evening activities, it's not hard to try something new.  I choose at least 2 meals a week that leave leftovers and schedule those for the busy nights. With good planning, I only cook 4 to 5 meals a week.  I also pick recipes that I can double and freeze so that several meals a month are going straight from the freezer to the oven.  Lastly, I try to schedule a crock pot meal a week. I found this great cookbook with 5 ingredient crock pot recipes. That's been extremely helpful.

We're eating healthier, trying new dishes, I'm less stressed and I'm also saving money on our grocery bills.  I'm keeping track of my purchases, trying to eliminate trips to the grocery store and throwing away less food that's gone bad because I never got around to fixing it.  Even better, I'm cooking more from scratch.  I've now made my own taco seasoning, Italian breadcrumbs, cheddar cheese soup, buttermilk, Italian dressing mix, pancake & baking mixes, etc.  If I have a recipe that calls for something that I know is going to be heavily processed with lots of ingredients that I don't want my family to consume, then I Google for a substitute or "make your own" recipe.  I've yet to find something that didn't have a recipe for a healthier version.

So, I'm sold, and so glad I decided to give this a try.  I've had several friends ask to see my meal planners.  I've saved them in Google docs.  Here's my Weekly Meal Planners if you want to check them out also. The first tab is my blank planner.  The rest of the tabs are the bi-weekly meal plans.

I'd love to hear of your meal planning successes!


laura said...

I forget to come check in our your blog, but I do enjoy hearing what you are up to and how Abigail is doing.

Sounds like we plan really similarly! One of the perks of living overseas is definitely that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and make almost everything from scratch. while there are definitely times I miss the convenience of canned and pre packed foods, I know that what I gain in taste and healthiness far outweighs the inconvenience.

I also shop about once every two months at the "grocery store" (a half hour drive, minimum) for dry goods and some imported ingredients (peanut butter, spaghetti noodles, etc). All my fruit, veggies and meat I get at a local farmers market. Since our fridge is small I plan around bi-weekly trips to the market. It's a five minute walk from our apartment, and my house helper goes every Monday and Thursday.

Depending on the week, I plan meals seven to ten days at a time, making grocery lists for the market trips as I plan. I can also usually get away with at least one night of leftovers (usually Friday, when Matt is not home for dinner).

Another huge kitchen help to me is a meal switch I do with my neighbor who lives in the building next to me. One week I double my wednesday night meal and take a meal to her. The following week she doubles her wednesday night meal and brings me a meal. For us, the additional work of doubling a meal one week is minimal. And the advantage of a piping hot meal arriving at 5:45 one night the following week is HUGE! We are close friends, and I don't feel a ton of pressure to make a "gorgeous perfect meal" - just nourishing, hearty, healthy, yummy. This would only work if you could do it with a really close neighbor, but we LOVE it.

anyways, this is a super relevant topic for me. so it's fun to hear what you are doing.


laura said...

almost forgot my other favorite meal trick! The deep freezer :) a 8 inch square casserole still feeds our family, so I typically make a 9x13 recipe and divide into two pans and freeze one. I also double or triple soups and sauces and freeze. it's like having a can of soup in the pantry, but it's homemade soup in the freezer. a great quick meal. and i freeze salsa and applesauce and ground sausage (it's easy to make up your own) and cakes and cookies quick breads and yeast rolls and ..... well, I freeze almost anything.

love it!

Julie Redfern said...

I currently just plan meals out for a week. I loved looking at your outline and menus. I was talking to my mom this morning about planning for the month and was going to give a try! Thanks for the info!