Monday, 30 April 2012

Meal Planning 101

I make a monthly meal plan.  Upon finding out this fascinating fact about me, people generally have two reactions.  They are incredulous and can't understand how or why I make my monthly menu.  Or they're torn between a combination of admiration and jealousy that I call jealmiration.  Either way, I feel an explanation is in order. Why do I feel this way?  Because my sister-in-law said she thought such a post would be interesting to my readers, and seeing as she makes up a full 25% of my readership, I cannot ignore her.  
So, the method behind the madness:
Step 1 Organize your Recipes
I use a binder with plastic sheet protectors and dividers marking out categories like soups and sauces, side dishes, meats and poultry, etc.  My recipes are torn out of magazines, photocopied from library books, handwritten, or printed off (thank you Pinterest!).  A new recipe does not make it in to the binder until it has been tested and approved by Cee Lo and Christina.  Or just Jimmy and I.  This collection of favourite recipes then becomes your reference guide for building your menu.
Step 2 Give Yourself a Framework
To make this whole process easier, I like to give each day of the week a meal type.  At our house Monday is pasta, Tuesday is meat and roast vegetables of some kind, Wednesday is soup (which will become salad for summer), Thursdays are for stir fry, Friday is "fun" night, meaning homemade pizzas, quesedillas, or nachos (I know, woo hoo!). Saturdays are a "wild card" day meaning it's the day I usually try a new recipe or we go out to eat (the good times never take a break around here).  Sunday is the day my dad makes dinner, and I love leaving that day blank.  Of course, this framework should be customised to fit your schedule.  I purposely plan a lighter meal on Wednesday because that is yoga night.  You may want to plan to make a larger meal one night and have left over night the following day when you are busy with some activity or other.  You could even come up with a set of meals for two weeks and just keep rotating through them, adding something new in every once in awhile. To keep things fresh, I try not to repeat the same dish within a two week span, unless it's one we love.  
Step 3 Lay it Out
Get yourself a calendar of some kind and write your meals out so you can see them.  This is crucial!  I like typing my meals into my iCal.  Then I have them on my phone if I'm out and about and need to pick something up at the store.  
Now that you've got your plan laid out, take a look at your meals and start the master shopping list.  I use a ready made list like the one below to simplify the job a bit.  
I look at my calendar and tally how many meals I'll need chicken, beef, or pork chops for.  Likewise, how many packages of short or long pasta will I need for the month?  And so on.  Since most of the recipes are familiar to me, I can think of the main ingredients off the top of my head, but sometimes I reference back to the binder to double check.  I always look through my cupboards to see what I already have and which staples (spices, olive oil, etc) I'm running low on. In terms of produce and other perishable items, I look at what I'll need for the first week or so of the plan.  Add to this the breakfast, lunch and snack foods you normally buy, and you're ready to hit the store.  I usually go to Save On Foods for the first Tuesday of the month to get 15% off my entire purchase.  Superstore also offers a $25 gift card when you spend $250 once a month.  The only thing is, I don't like to buy my meat at Superstore, so it can be hard to get to $250, and it means I have to go to another store.  But sometimes it's worth it as Superstore has such great prices on other household items like dish soap, laundry detergent, and toiletries.  And I can always find something in the Joe Fresh section to bump up the tally.  Either way, I do only one big shop per month.  I freeze all of my meats and cheese to make it last, and I buy produce and other forgotten items on a weekly or bi-weekly trip as needed.
A friend once asked me "What about freedom of choice?  What if you don't feel like having spaghetti and meatballs on a given night?".  Others may wonder what will happen if you decide to go out last minute (again, I say others because I never decide on anything last minute).  These people are just trying to find an excuse to avoid planning.  It's incomprehensible to me, but there you have it!  My answer is simple: if you don't want a planned meal on the night it's written, you swap it for another night.  And if you go out instead, maybe you just drop that meal all together.There's room for flexibility within the plan, really!  But knowing the plan is there far outweighs these petty worries about so called "freedom to choose".
And there you have it!  It takes some work, but I find the less often I'm at the store, the less money I spend.  And I love having a ready answer to the question "What am I going to make for dinner?".  It's like the runner's high for people who like to organize.  Jimmy raves on and on about what a marvel I am.  He really appreciates all the thought I put into the meal plan.  Or not.  Let's face it, this whole system is built around satisfying my OCD tendencies.  Jimmy wouldn't mind if we had the same meal every other day.  He does, however compliment my cooking on a regular basis.  He just isn't interested in the planning that brings it to his plate.
If you're still reading, I applaud you.  This seems very long winded and uninteresting, not to me because I love planning, but other, non-planners probably needed a nap half way through step 2.  We'll see if my sister-in-law was right through the page views and always plentiful comments left by my mom and her desk mate at work, each representing another 25% of my readers.
Always striving for new heights of neuroses,


  1. OMGnss who wouldn't want to be part of a monthly meal plan situation. If we weren't related, we weren't already both married, there wasn't such a large age differnce (cradle robber and all that), you weren't such a hippiegranola, you didn't insist on Tuesday roast vegetable night and you didn't take up so much closet space I would consider spending my life with you. Oh wait, I already do. Because I PLANNED it that way! Now on to my 'to do' list so that I can check off 'make to do list'

  2. I guess there are some perks to living with me. As you've pointed out however, there are also drawbacks like roast vegetables and lack of closet space, to name a few.