I am a big believer in “meal planning”. In the past I’ve written in depth about why and how I come up with my weekly meal plan, as well as what I have as weekly goals for my meal plan. In brief–sitting down an making a meal plan forces me to look at my schedule for the week and plan for the busy nights, ensures I use up food in the fridge, freezer and pantry, gives the family variety, saves me money and saves me time.
I’ve had folks ask me over the years “But what if I don’t feel like eating that meal on that night?” “Don’t you feel hemmed in by a meal plan?” and “Isn’t that a lot of work?”.
Let me address each of those.
#1 What if I don’t feel like eating that meal on that night?
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of choice about what was served for supper. When it was dinner, we had what mom had prepared. She did not normally ask for our input on the meal choice, and I don’t remember ever thinking “Gee, I love spaghetti, but I just don’t FEEL like it tonight”. Nope, if it was a food I ate, I was hungry and it was there, I usually was quite happy to eat it. Ready and sitting in front of me trumped everything else.
#2 Don’t you feel hemmed in by your meal plan?
First of all, it’s your plan, there to help you. It isn’t supposed to be a prison. You can and should change it as the circumstances dictate. Maybe you get invited out to dinner and skip a meal completely. Or you get busy and dinner sneaks up on you so you just have sandwiches. Or a neighbor gifts you with some fresh vegetables from their garden that should be used right away. Or even you just don’t feel like spaghetti that night. Fine–change it! Swap days around. Just don’t make a particular meal. It’s ok–really.
Secondly, I have always found the most stressful thing about making supper was figuring out what to make. ACK. Dinner would sneak up on you and then you had to figure out what was on hand, what was defrosted, what do you have time to make. . . With a meal plan I do all the thinking on Monday morning, then the rest of the week I just look in the morning and say “oh–that’s right, I’m making stuffed pork chops today.” If I’m really good I’ve already taken all the meat out of the freezer to defrost earlier in the week, but if not I have time to defrost it still, and can mentally plan what time I need to start preparing dinner.
#3 Isn’t it a lot of work?
Nope! I take a quick look in the fridge and write down what things I really need to use up. That saves me a ton of money in the long run because I don’t have to throw out as much food (and therefore money). I generally know what I have in the freezer, but if I don’t I can take a quick peek. I pull up the calendar (which is a good thing to do on Sunday or Monday anyway) and take a look at what we’ve got going on for the week that is going to interfere with my cooking plans–appointments, concerts, club meetings etc. Then I just jot down what meals seem to work. Of course I’m also typing it up to publish here on the blog and linking to recipes if I have them published, so that takes me extra time. For most folks I’d say you could come up with a plan in about 30 minutes if you aren’t interrupted. That little bit of work reduces my stress a LOT for the week.
Living with your plan
You will enjoy meal planning much more if you are flexible and adapt to the circumstances that life throws at you. Let me show you how a week meal planning can go at my house.
This was my week’s meal plan (you can see the full meal plan for 4/13 with all the reasoning & discussion if you like):
Monday: Venison Hot Dogs, Potato Salad, Corn on the Cob and Roasted Green Beans
Tuesday: Salmon with Guinness Glaze, Citrus Rice and Greens
Wednesday: Lentil Soup with Bread & Butter and Stewed Peaches
Thursday: Pork Chops and Stuffing, Green Beans with Onion and Bacon, and Cinnamon Applesauce.
Friday: Pork Fried Rice
Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner
Sunday: Spaghetti and Meatballs with a Green Salad
Here’s how it actually happened:
Monday: I got going a bit late. I set the venison hot dogs to defrost in a bowl of cold water in the sink with the faucet just barely running (a trick I learned from Alton Brown on Good Eats). I took a big batch of small potatoes I am trying to use up onto the back porch along with a pot of water to peel. (dropping the potatoes right into the water prevents them from turning icky brown). That took longer than I meant it to–so coupled with being late I wasn’t going to have time to chill them, make a potato salad and then chill again for the flavors to meld. The potato salad plan turned into boiled & buttered potatoes. While the potatoes were boiling I placed a strainer over the top of the pot and set the home frozen corn inside to steam until hot, rotating them around a bit.
Result? Venison hot dogs on rolls with homemade sauerkraut from the fridge, boiled potatoes and corn. The green veggies went by the wayside. Also, I saved the water that the potatoes had been boiled in and the corn steamed over (and of course dripped corn juices into) because it seemed like it would make a good soup base on Wednesday.
Tuesday: The day was busy and we wound up having a classmate of Princess’s come over to work on a project that required my help with some computer expertise. Once that was done there were piano lessons and then I had the opportunity to walk for exercise with my Mom. There went my evening/afternoon Dinner again got chaotic, but with the added stress of having to get Princess out the door for confirmation class.
Result? We wound up eating the leftover hotdogs, some of the corn and some of the potatoes.
Wednesday: I knew I was in town all day, so a slow cooker soup still worked–but since I had leftover potatoes and corn, plus the liquid from the pot, I changed it up to a potato corn chowder. I still wanted to work in some fish for the week so I added half a can of Salmon. All of the ingredients except the evaporated milk went into the cooker for the day–I didn’t want the milk to curdle so I add that just a bit before serving.
Result? A completely different soup.
Thursday: After I wrote and published the meal plan I went to the basement to grab out all the meat to defrost–and realized that the pork chops were still in my MIL’s freezer. I did have a small venison roast that needs to be used up, so I decided to defrost that instead and make a stuffed roast as opposed to stuffed pork chops.
Result? A different meal! I’ll serve the roast, stuffing and then everything else should remain the same.
Friday Saturday and Sunday: We shall see! Saturday and Sunday should work quite well, but Friday may have to change up. I don’t have any leftover rice since I didn’t make it on Tuesday. However I can always make fresh rice instead–or we could opt for something completely different.
I hope this has given you some ideas on how to start your own meal plan, and taken some of the fear out of it. Even though I don’t stick to it perfectly, and some weeks I don’t make one at all (which always leaves me far more stressed), I think that menu planning really helps improve the life of my family. Give it a try!