Welcome back to this week’s installment of Yearly Meal Planning! …I say that like I actually have a plan for getting this out on the blog in a timely manner. I could say I wanted to give you all plenty of time to make your meal list, but really I’ve got a lot of wheels turning and the blog wasn’t squeaking loudest. Anyway, here we are back in action!
Alright, we’ve got a lot of questions to address and I’ll try to answer them without overwhelming you with an insane amount of information. Just know that I’m actually implementing this process from now until the end of the year and so far it’s going just as well as I hoped! I’m working out the kinks and am getting a handle on how things go so that I’ll be able to say it’s worth it come January. Or maybe January will come and I’ll say “screw it, ignore everything I said”, but I don’t think that will be the case.
So here’s the basic theory: By planning meals out, you’ll know how much of something you need way in advance, and in turn be able to stock up on exactly what you need when things go on sale. No guessing, no having to buy more at full price because you miscalculated, and therefore stretching your food budget. I’ll be giving more real life examples of this as we go and also talk about how we’ll shop, but we’ve got a few hurdles to jump before we get there!
I do want to address questions about food boredom and things like “wait, am I really going to know exactly what I’m eating on September 17th??” Young Jedi, forgetting you are. (Aaaaand I’ve just become the cheesy blogger who makes Star Wars references when in actuality Return of the Jedi is the only one I’ve ever watched completely. Face palm.) Listen- this is planning for the disorganized! A meal plan is just a plan, not CPR protocol (spoken like a true Type B, right?). There is always a TON of room for flexibility. For example, I plugged in a meal for just about every day of the year, but there are definitely going to be times we’ll have takeout, or order a pizza, or maybe even *gasp* go on a dinner date. Please, Lord, let it be so.
We’ve also cut out a lot of food boredom just by making a meal list. When I finished my rough schedule done for 2018, I realized we’re having mac ‘n cheese three times. That’s it! I was shocked when things I feel like I make all. the. time. were actually in the rotation just 5 times for the entire year.
Of course, there’s also plenty of room for trying new recipes. If you’re just keeping your head above water and making sure there’s something edible in the house, chances are you don’t have the time or mental energy to try something new. Or instead of checking out Pinterest for a quick recipe, an hour later you find yourself either a. still scrolling through Pinterest or b. hanging a wine rack in your bathroom for towel storage. If you DO have the time and energy, it means another trip to the store for ingredients you most likely don’t have. But wait! When your planning is all done in advance, you don’t have to sit down, scour flyers, and figure out a whole new meal plan for each week, and you’ll actually have more time to incorporate new things. And because you’ve stocked up on meats, chances are you already have the chicken you need in the freezer and instead of using it on Ritz chicken, you’re just using it on something new.
Now the fun part! By now you should have read Part One and you’ve got a calendar handy as well as your meal list. Here’s what we’re gonna do next:
Think about your general life schedule and routine. Maybe you’re home during the day but your evenings are busy and your family is pulled in different directions between sports/meetings/Wednesday night church/whatever. Maybe it works better for you to cook a big lunch and have leftovers for dinner while everyone tends to fend for themselves. This works well for us during the winter when most nights, my husband is at basketball practices or coaching games. Maybe you have a night of the week where you’ve got a set schedule. I’ve got a friend who always has dinner with her parents on Friday nights (no, her name isn’t Lorelai ;)) so if that were me, I’d just fill in “mom’s house” on all the Friday nights on my calendar. For our family, we’re usually at my parents’ house on Sundays after church, so that’s a meal I don’t plan. Maybe you get Chinese every Saturday night, you do you! Just write it down.
A few more specifics on our family that may help you in your planning: Tuesday nights we have small group at our house and we each take turns making the meal for each other. So on Tuesdays, I just wrote “small group” on the calendar and circled one time a month where I plan to cook for the group. Looking further ahead, my husband is a basketball coach and we also have his schedule for the upcoming season, so I filled in the nights he has games and those are nights the nights I get to go rogue and eat things he doesn’t like (like grilled cheese and tomato soup. My fave meal of all time, and he hates it. I don’t even know.) I just don’t have a specific meal for those nights. You can do the same for the long term if you already have a vacation planned or whatever. And as far as holidays go I just noted them on the calendar, we don’t have to get crazy and plan Christmas dinner right now.
Okay, so now you might have a few nights each month taken care of. And if you don’t, that’s okay too. I actually created some nights each month with easy meals. Once a month (every first Thursday of the month, if you are wondering) we’re doing loaded baked potatoes. The next Thursday of the month we’re doing pizza. You can choose to do something more regularly if you want- like Taco Tuesday, or maybe every Wednesday night is spaghetti night. I don’t recommend doing both of those things because then you’ll definitely experience food boredom, but you definitely need to give yourself an easy night where you don’t have to expend a ton of mental energy on dinner. Somebody I am married to isn’t crazy about tacos (I KNOW.), so I’m alternating tacos and fajitas once a month (to clarify: in January we’re having tacos once, in February it’s fajitas once, March back to tacos, and so forth). On Sunday nights, we’re alternating either French toast or pancakes because I refuse to cook anything other than that come Sunday night.
Now let’s talk WEEKENDS! I looked at my list of meals and chose a bunch that could easily become freezer meals and are generally casserole-ish type foods or made in large quantities. This way, I can pop something in the oven on a Friday night and we’ll have leftovers on hand throughout the weekend. Our weekends are hectic and we may end up ordering something or having dinner with friends, but we’ll at least have a back up that doesn’t involve me cooking. I had 12 or 13 different meals, like homemade mac ‘n cheese, chicken bacon alfredo roll-ups, or beef stew etc., so I went through the entire calendar and plugged them in on Friday nights. During the warm summer months (basically June July August here) I went through and plugged in either steak, burgers, or hot dogs on Fridays. A lot of the time we’re at the lake on weekends and those are things we can easily bring with us and grill up at camp. I also have a ton of regular meals that can easily be grilled in the summer instead of baked so I’m not anticipating it will be a huge change in summer vs winter cooking. Now maybe this will look different for you. Maybe you’d prefer to pop a casserole in the oven on Monday nights when you need to be out the door for book club, or maybe you are generally home on the weekends and want to do make your own pizzas with your family (bless you). The theme here, if you haven’t noticed, is saving mental energy by having a general plan that works for you.
SO, finally, when alllllll of those things were filled in, I only had 2 or 3 nights a week left to make a plan for. And I had about 20 meals leftover on the list (I’m planning to do a separate post with all my meals if you need inspiration, and for the visual people it will help show you what my calendar looks like). I varied my list of meals and arranged it so we weren’t having a pork dish three times in a row, or having all the Asian inspired dishes for two weeks straight, and then I just went down the list and plugged them into all the empty dates.
PHEW. Doing all the calendar work feels like a huge process, because IT IS. It’s hard to quantify how much time this will take you, because I did it over the course of several days whenever I had a few minutes to ignore my other responsibilities sit down and think/get things filled in. My preference would be to fire up a chick flick on Netflix (or if you TRULY want to follow my process, just binge watch Making a Murderer) after everyone’s in bed. The less interruptions the better, because once you get on a roll it’s so hard to stop and come back to later!
So that’s it for now! Remember, we’re still going to talk about what this actually looks life when put into practice in the midst of a hectic life, how to plan out our grocery shopping, and how to shop week to week. So definitely ask me about anything you need clarified but know we’ll still be getting to all of those unanswered questions!