Meal Planning

We have a system in our house for meals (mainly dinners). It involves recipe selection, menu planning, list making, grocery shopping, cooking and clean-up. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t, and it makes my life so much easier!

I’m a planner by nature, and it gives me peace of mind to know what I’m having for dinner tonight and that we already have all of the ingredients to make it in the refrigerator or pantry. This system also forces us to eat healthier and purposefully, and saves us money by reducing the number of times we eat out.

Chalkboard Menu Planner

Here’s how we divide our tasks:
Me: Recipe Selection, Menu Planning, List Making, Cooking Friday – Monday, Cleanup Tuesday – Thursday
Mister P: Grocery Shopping (I loathe this task), Cooking Tuesday – Thursday, Cleanup Friday – Monday
As you can see, the person who cooks doesn’t have to do the dishes. Sometimes we shop, cook and/or clean up together, but this is generally how we do things.

This is my handy-dandy 2″ recipe binder (I got it at Target recently for around $10 after the plastic one I had finally broke down):

On the left we have takeout menus (for when we just don’t feel like cooking, or having a sit-down restaurant meal), a handwritten list of our selected meals, and a pen. On the right is our recipe collection, gathered over the years from various sources; with the majority coming from Cooking Light (I’m a long time subscriber). Our dinner recipes are divided by protein: Poultry, Pork, Beef and Seafood. We also have sections for Slow Cooker & Soups, Vegetarian, Appetizers & Sides, and my favorite – Desserts. A few times a year, I go through the binder and throw away the recipes we no longer use, leaving only our very favorites.

I go through the binder to select our upcoming meals once a week. I base my selections on what’s on sale, what we already have (we buy our meat in bulk when it’s on sale and freeze it in smaller packages), what’s in season, and which recipes yield leftovers that I can take with me to work for lunch (this usually means that we have a pasta dish three nights a week).

I write down the recipes I’ve chosen as I go, then add ingredients to our shopping list. After I make the meal list, I notate them on our chalkboard menu located on the side of our kitchen pantry. We use this to remind ourselves of what’s coming up and if the next day’s protein needs to be taken out to thaw.

Mister P. and I use a sharing-enabled smart phone App called Shopper, and it works really well for us. We have lists for all of the stores we frequent, including SaveMart (our neighborhood grocery store), Target, Trader Joe’s and Home Depot.

We don’t always follow this system to a T, and it’s designed with flexibility in mind. For instance, some meals require fewer fresh ingredients (produce) than others. I schedule these for the end of the week. That way, if something comes up (we feel like eating out, get invited to a friend’s for dinner, etc.), we’re not left with spoiled food.

I wanted to share the way we do things because I’m nosy and interested in how other couples and families do things. So tell me – do you plan your meals?