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Phase 2 - Meal Planning

5581. This is the number of recipes I have pinned on Pinterest. Two-thirds of my total pins. Two boxes of recipe cards sit, alongside nineteen cookbooks in my kitchen cabinet, plus 5 more checked out from the library and another shelf of them in the basement that I'm too lazy to go count. And yet we eat frozen pizza. What the heck?!

I have tried various forms of meal planning over the years with varying degrees of success. I've read articles about people who make 3 months of meal plans at a whack. I've even ordered from a couple of the meal kit services. That was interesting because I learned something kind of funny about myself. I felt a panic about having those 4 ready-to-cook meals in the fridge. Why? Because I knew I HAD to cook them, and that totally stressed me out.😂 Again, what the heck?!

I've read articles on meal planning, most of which I've found extremely unhelpful and just discouraging. I finally just felt like I was broken. Why can't I do this! I'm an extremely organized person by nature. I even had a color-coded spreadsheet for who was in charge of what when Jack was born. That was the old me. The new me has to double check that I have shoes on before I leave the house!

Then I found an article that helped. Most of it was no-brainer nonsense, but I found a few ideas in it that really gave me a new course direction. So here it goes.

Just make a list. Start with numbering a piece of paper 1-30 and list out what things your family will eat for sure and things you are willing to make. Just whatever comes to mind that you know is a sure-fire home run in your house. List as many as you can on your own then reach out to your other family members/eaters for their ideas. I was surprised at how quickly my paper filled in and it was fun to see what foods everyone else found to be in that "home run" category. Maybe you only can come up with 10 ideas. That's still a great starting point! Look at school menus and see what your kids like to eat. Think about what you order when you go out and find homemade versions of those foods that you can make. Here is my handwritten list:

After you make your initial list, try to find a few more ideas that you've been wanting to try but maybe haven't yet due to time constraints or maybe it just looks too complicated. Again, ask your other eaters for ideas of things they would like to try. Your first goal is to have your list of 30 meals complete. This becomes your bank of ideas from which you can pull to make meal plans.

Since I am an organizer at heart, I then took my list and divided it into categories. This was interesting because it helped me see what direction we tended to lean on our meal choices, which made me think about how to round out our diet a little more as I looked for new recipe ideas. I used these categories:

  • Fast/Lunches

  • Salads (kind of leaner category for our crew, pun not intended)

  • Noodle dishes

  • One Pot/Sheet Pan dinners

  • Sunday Suppers (these are more complicated dishes that take a little extra time, like what I might have on a weekend)

  • Global

  • Crockpot/Instant Pot

  • Sandwiches with Fries

Obviously, you can make up whatever categories you like or what suits your list. It's ok if you have 12 different kinds of tacos that you like to make. Tacos are a super easy, a complete meal and there are lots of variations. Just make a taco category and roll with it! It really is about making meals that your people will actually eat. Whatever that might be. Jack suggested I leave soups off the list since that is a whole other kind of meal where the sky is the limit in what we like to eat. Having an organized list also helped as I planned my weekly meal list to make sure we had variety in types of meals. With six categories I can just pick one meal per group and Bob's your uncle - we have a plan! I even have a picture of this chart on my phone so I can use it at the store if I get in a pinch.

Next, I looked at the list of meals I had made and then thought about what I currently had in my fridge and freezer. Meals that contained ingredients sitting around the house took priority in the first week's meal plan. I chose meals that would use up that half head of cabbage, that on-the-edge cilantro and the leftover rice from Saturday night's Chinese food. Going forward I can choose things that use ingredients that are on sale, seasonal items from the Farmers Market, etc.

It's not rocket science, but it's kind of been a game changer for me. Somehow just having a list of things we like to eat jogs my memory and helps get me going. A lot of these things are fairly easy and able to be made with things we typically have around the house on a regular basis. Here's an old blog with some one-pot meals we love and another blog with some easy dinners.

For me, I don't assign specific meals to specific days because that's just not how things tend to roll. It makes me feel kind of trapped. Neurotic, I know. But if something or some practice creates undue stress for me, it needs to go. So the days of the 31-day master plan day-by-day doesn't fit my style anymore. But it was a thing of beauty at the time. At that point in life I had a lot of little ones to feed several times a day and it helped me keep my sanity. We're in a different phase now, which calls for different tactics. Always feel free to adapt and adjust to suit your style and phase of life.

Saturday night was an example of how this list helped keep us home eating real food. It had been a hard day. Lots of emotions due to some farm stress led to some moods in the brood that very easily could've led us to make poor dinner choices. But I knew I had a pound of ground beef thawed in the fridge. So I sat down with Jack and my list and gave him options off the list that 1. used ground beef and 2. I knew I had the ingredients to make. He chose stroganoff, I pulled up my favorite 1-pot recipe and had dinner ready in about 30 minutes.

I do hope that something in here resonates with you if you're wanting to start meal planning but are feeling overwhelmed. So far this has helped us quite a bit. I want to get where we go out to eat because we want to, not just to avoid starvation. #lifegoals

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