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Thursday, 21 March 2013 13:10

How I Meal Plan

Awhile ago I blogged about my latest attempts at organizing my life, and my super awesome binder.  I've also been spending a lot of time on The Fly Lady website, taking tips and lists and tricks to use myself. 

I came across an area for meal planning in her website, that actually links to another site for information on how to plan meals.  The website is a little bit specific, and from what I could tell gives you a plan that you can use, but doesn't actually give you pointers on HOW to make a meal plan.

So, for what it's worth - here is my newly-developed method for creating your own meal plan:

1. Create or determine a location to keep your meal planning information, as well as a location to keep your favourite and most-used recipes.  

My planning information will be kept in my super awesome binder under a tab called 'Meals'.  For my most-used recipes, I have two photo albums that have been turned into recipe books - they have stick-on tab dividers labelling different sections.  

If you want to use this method, you can decide which sections are appropriate for you, so your cookbook can be fully customized. Any recipes that I use and love and plan to use again - regardless of where they come from - are typed onto 4x6 cards and placed in these books, so all of my recipes are in one place.  I have a friend who prints recipes from the internet and keeps them in a filing cabinet - use whatever organizational method works for you.  

I think keeping things in one place is important, because I'm scatterbrained and can work much faster if everything is in one place. 

2. Create a list of your favourite or most commonly made meals.  

I spoke to a friend about meal planning once, and she said they had a list of 30-40 meals that they pretty much rotated monthly.  I love trying new recipes, but I love the idea of having a set of common recipes that we regularly use.  It is faster and easier to cook meals you've made before, and someday I'd love to copy my cookbooks for my daughters - who doesn't covet their Mother's or Grandma's secret recipes? 

As time goes by, this list will change and grow as I find new recipes to add to my list. 

3. Determine your Needs.

I took a step back from making a meal plan to decide what exactly I wanted in a meal plan. 

First, I determined what sorts of meals I wanted to make each week.  I am hoping to help my family eat healthier, and although I'm not entirely sure what that means, I do want to make sure we are eating a variety of different foods each week. I decided that I wanted to eat at least 1 pork meal, 1 beef meal, 1 poultry meal, 1 meatless meal, and 1 fish or seafood meal each week.  After talking to friends who make similar plans, I have modified this to include a bean or lentil meal, as well as an egg or tofu meal each week in place of one 'meatless' meal. One friend would limit their red meat intake to only one meal per week for cholesterol reasons.  How you choose to sort this out - or if you chose to do this much planning - would be up to you.

Secondly, when it comes to choosing meals, I need to consider how much time I have for planning and preparing each day.  I teach piano in the afternoons a couple days each week, and have only short breaks for supper.  This means I need to have something ready and in the oven or crockpot before I start teaching, or need to choose meals that take only a short time to prepare and cook.  There are also some days - like Sundays - when we may be invited out for a meal at the last minute. On these days it is best to plan a meal that can be easily set aside for another day without worrying about produce going bad. Take a look at your schedule and determine what your own needs are.

4. Create a Calendar. 

I absolutely recommend working a month at a time initially so you have something to work with, and then detailing each plan weekly before grocery shopping

For monthly planning, I use a blank table I created in Excel that has 5 rows (weeks) and 7 columns (days of the week). I take stock of what I have in my freezer and fridge and plan to use up any food that needs to be used up quickly. Then, using my 'Favourite Recipes' list, and considering my needs, I quickly fill in each box in my graph with a vague plan. Since I am building my 'Favourite Recipes' list still, I only use a few of these each week and most days I am trying new recipes. I plan these new recipes for days when I have extra time to cook. 

I would also recommend here - because I think planning ahead is important to actually get things done - that if you don't know specifically what to make on any given day and you're in a hurry, write 'Beef casserole' or 'Some kind of Seafood dish' on your monthly plan so you're not flying blind and at least have a starting point when you go to make a specific plan.  I have a 'quick list' of every possible kind of meal I can think of - with things like 'Chicken Pasta', 'Quesedillas', 'Sloppy Joes', 'Roast Beef', etc. to use in case I get stuck.  My concept here is that every possible recipe that I might want to use will fit into one of these meals (I'm adding to it constantly) so I can have all possible meal ideas on one sheet. I also have it divided into sections based on what type of meal it is - ie. Poultry, Seafood, Egg/Tofu, etc. - for easy reference. 

I have another blank table that I use for detailing each week's meal plan, and choosing recipes if necessary. These tables have seven rows (days of the week) and five columns - the first four are for Breakfasts, Lunches, Snacks and Suppers, and the fifth (which is also the widest column) is for taking note of any groceries we need to purchase for each day. 

I make sure to transfer each week's suppers from the monthly plan to the weekly plan before our weekly grocery trip. I only do one week at a time here, just in case our plans change and I need to modify the next week accordingly. 

That's It! 

That's pretty much all...  I keep any meal planning or nutritional information that I want to keep and reference in my planning binder.  When I have a chance, I look through old magazines and cookbooks for recipes I want to try and make a list of them - including where to find them - in my binder as well for future reference. 

If I am organized enough to have specific recipes chosen for each day of the month, I will buy any non-perishable food items for that plan at the beginning of the month and only purchase perishable items weekly. 

This is still definitely a work in progress, but it always helps me to have a plan! If you have any tips or recommendations to help me out with this, I'd love to hear them! 

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