Tuesday, January 28, 2014

a lazy girl's guide to meal planning

To call myself a "meal planner" is probably an insult to actual meal-planners everywhere. What I do is nowhere near the in-depth, detailed, ridiculous planning that a lot of people do every week (or apparently every month? There are people who plan an entire month's worth of meals at a time?! Heaven help me). However, what I do is just enough for our (current) household to maintain the order that we need.

This is awesome, but... just.... no.
Here's what "meal planning" looks like at our house: 

Scene: Sunday afternoon / evening - couch / car / laundry room - whatever. 

Me: what do you want for dinner this week?
C: whatever you want. 
Me: ok. 

Twenty-ish minutes later
Me: here's what we have - chicken, ground turkey, blah blah...
C: whatever you want. 
Me: ok.

I then open my "notes" app on my phone and open the "dinner" note. I toss some ideas around, then write out what I think we will eat, based on the main proteins we have, for Monday - Thursday. It looks something like this:

last week and the tentative plan for this week
last week is a bad example, because it was Restaurant Week and work was crazy

I usually figure that if I can have a general idea of what we are eating for most of the work week, by Friday, we will either be inspired to make something or we will be too tired to cook and we will go out or order in. I plan a main dish, and we go from there with sides and veggies as the week goes on. Sometimes, dinner one night involves a trip to the grocery store if we are out of a staple or there are no veggies in the fridge, but sometimes we just make do with what we have. We're flexible. 

Our version of "meal planning" is beneficial for several reasons:
  • It saves us money. We are far less likely to default to take out if we have a general idea of what we are eating that night. 
  • It decreases our stress. If we have a general idea what we are cooking, there's no arguing at 6 pm or raiding the fridge and pantry trying to decide what to do. 
  • It saves us time. If I can prep C with a plan and the ingredients to carry it out, I can usually go to the gym or do whatever needs to be done around the house, because the dinner routine has already been set in motion. 

We don't always stick to the plan, and some nights things just don't work out the way we want or expect, but setting a plan for the week helps C and I both feel calmer and more confident - which is crucial when we generally have 12-hour days. I think it's also critical to say that our plan is not set in concrete: often, we are just ingredient-planning, and the meal comes together around that. For example, if I say that we are having Broccoli Chicken Mac & Cheese, and we get home and C says he would rather have buffalo chicken tenders with pasta and steamed broccoli, that's fine. (I'm not going to argue with a man who cooks!) The actual meal wasn't in my plan, but the ingredients we aimed to use were used. Both meals contain chicken, broccoli, and noodles, and we eat a good dinner. See? Flexible, but still on track. It's kind of like a game - what can you do with ingredients X, Y, and Z? Almost anything, if you're creative enough. It's still maintaining sanity.

Our "meal planning" doesn't look like much, and there's no beautiful binder full of ideas and hours spent writing it all out, but it works for us. It's part of our regular routine that keeps our heads on straight and our lives in order. Bingo!

  • Do you meal plan?
  • On week nights, do you cook or not cook? 
  • Who does the cooking in your house: you, spouse / significant other, shared duties?


mojangs said...

Ours is kind of similar. We have the brainstorm board (dry erase board in the kitchen) where we pick out what we're going to eat which day, often inspired by my Nom Nom Nom pinterest board (http://www.pinterest.com/mojangs/nom-nom-nom/) and we make the list from there. Some days get switched out because of time or cravings, but we have the supplies we need for the week and a general game plan to tackle them. One delightful feature we discovered is the delayed start and cook time feature of our oven. We can throw things in the oven, we go climbing, and its ready to eat when return.

Caitlin said...

This is exactly how meal planning goes in our house too! Coming up with ideas is rough some times - thank god for Pinterest! It also makes me feel resourceful when I look at what we have in our fridge/pantry/freezer already and figure out stuff to make with what we have. However, Wegmans steals my soul most weeks ;)

Amy said...

This is exactly how it works in our house too - I use the Reminders app instead, that's the only difference. It may be simple and not the prettiest method but it does save us time and money! We're having soup and grilled cheese tonight :)

Kate @ Another Clean Slate said...

I don't meal plan but I need to start. I have been better lately about trying and will force myself to default to cereal instead of takeout if I slack.

Stephanie @ My Freckled Life said...

I love this. I do a very similar tentative meal plan kind of thing, where I plan out a few general ideas based on what we have and what's on sale, and then I kind of make it up from there. I will admit that sometimes (especially if we're out of town on the weekend), I just totally wing it. But I prefer when there is at least some kind of general plan. Now if only I could get better about meal prepping...

Kate @ Like American Honey said...

Your conversation with your husband is almost identical to the exact conversation I have with Will every week, haha. Definitely agree that meal planning cuts down on stress and saves money! My week blew up last week, and we ordered take out once or twice...those bills alone were more than grocery shopping!

Tammy Jo said...

Lol I have that conversation with myself everyday! I need to be doing this seems like a good idea