Over the years I have gone through seasons where I ROCK at meal planning and seasons where I feel completely overwhelmed by it. I’ve used paper planners, I’ve used websites/subscriptions, and I’ve used scrap paper. Each has worked in different seasons and each has failed in others. But through all these different methods a few things stay consistent:
- Budget. I can’t plan 5-7 meals using completely random ingredients because that is just not financially feasible. The same goes for shopping at Whole Foods or other “luxury” grocery stores. I need my pantry filled with ingredients that are affordable and accessible.
- Time Efficient. Most days I do not have time to be in the kitchen for an hour or two making a single meal. Certainly there are exceptions, but I need the prep work for my meals to be minimal. Chop chop chop. Cook cook cook. Time to eat.
- Flavor. When feeding a house filled with family, and one day friends again (thanks Covid), my food needs to SATISFY. Period. I will not tolerate boring food.
These days, I’ve just started using my own system for meal planning. I do it in a notebook with perforated pages so that I can tear out my list when I’m ready to go shopping. It’s really just 4 easy steps – Take Inventory, Activities, get Creative, Order up! Or T.A.C.O. See what I did there??
These days, I’ve just started using my own system for meal planning. I do it in a notebook with perforated pages so that I can tear out my list when I’m ready to go shopping. It’s really just 5 easy steps – Take Inventory, Activities, get Creative, Order up! Or T.A.C.O. See what I did there??
The first step I do is take inventory of what I already have and the pantry/fridge staples I need for the week. What do I have in my fridge that needs to be eaten so that it doesn’t go to waste? What do I have in my pantry that inspires or looks delicious? Using what you already have keeps your budget in check and reduces food waste. It’s good for your bank account and our environment! Win-Win!
Think about your week and what is on your calendar. Are there busy nights when you need something quick and easy? Is there a night when you want to just walk in the door and have something waiting for you in a slow cooker? Do you have a special occasion where you’ll need to make someone’s favorite dish or dessert? Are you hosting a dinner (a girl can hope)? Are you attending a potluck (again, hope)? This is when you decide the TYPES of meals you need for the week.
Now is the fun part! Using your Inventory and Activities, plan your meals! What sounds good to you? If there is a recipe that you love, but maybe you don’t have every single ingredient, how can you modify it? List out your week and then follow that up with a shopping list.
Time to cook and feed your people! If you are trying a new recipe, make a note if you liked it, or not, so you can come back to it easily, or not!
BONUS – Grace
Another part of this system is GRACE. Our days and weeks do not always go as planned. Something may pop up and throw off your schedule and that is OK! Give yourself the grace to heat up a frozen pizza and a bag of salad and call it a night!
I like to plan out 3-4 dinner recipes a week, 1 leftover night, and 1 take-out night. You’ll notice that isn’t a full week of dinners. I do a midweek inventory as well because I usually need to go to the store for more milk, eggs or bread. If I need a few other things or another meal I’ll plan and get them then. Your plan isn’t going to look like mine or anyone else’s and will probably look different from week to week. That is the beauty of this system. It’s personal and customizable to whatever season you are in. Give yourself grace to take it week by week!
Below you’ll find some of my go-to recipes that use ingredients that are almost always in my pantry and fridge. Soups, chilis, salads, empty the fridge frittatas or casseroles are just a few ways to #usewhatyougot and get creative!