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!