Meal Planning

Two of our top priorities in the Watkins’ household are eating healthy {mostly} and staying within our monthly entertainment/groceries budget. We also try to sit down together for dinner as much as possible, even though some weeks that’s only once or twice! One of the easiest ways to simplify this aspect of our lives is through meal planning! There are numerous services out there that will email you a weekly planner with meals, recipes, and grocery lists. How convenient, right? I thought so too, and I still think it’s a great option for some families! But, I love browsing Pinterest for recipes {can I get an AMEN?} and I found that meal planning services just didn’t meet all of our needs and wants. So, I came up with my own system that tends to work well for us. Keep reading to learn how I manage our meals every week with Pinterest and a monthly calendar!

I only grocery shop one or two weeks at a time, but I often plan for the entire month. Here are some simple steps that may help you start the planning process!

First, grab a monthly calendar or notebook. Check out my Pinterest board here for some free printables from fellow bloggers! Then, pencil in all activities for that month. Note which days are busiest or when you will be home late, days when you will be out for dinner for various reasons, and days when you need to prepare for  more/less people than usual.

Next, pin some delicious recipes on Pinterest!  I have several boards for recipes I’d like to try like this one and I also keep the recipes that we have tried and loved on my Real Life Pinterest board. At the beginning of the month, I look through my pinned recipes and move 15-20 of them to my “menu” board.

From here I organize the recipes into categories. I use a notebook for this, but you could easily do it on your iPad or computer as well. I like to split  recipes into like categories so I can keep some variety when I plan my weeks out! I typically do something like this:

  • Vegetarian/Vegan
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef

Then, I note which recipes are casseroles, crock-pot, quick & easy, and weekend {see an explanation of why below}

From here, plug away into that calendar! I fill up the entire month knowing that plans change and there will be some shuffling of meals. If you’d rather go by the week, the process works exactly the same! I also leave 2 or 3 nights a week open for leftovers, date night, or visiting friends and family. This leaves me with 4 or 5 planned meals per week.

Once the calendar is full, each week I look through the recipes on my menu board that correlate to what we are eating and make my grocery list. Now that we are in a house and not as conveniently located, this is super important! I look two weeks ahead and list all canned/pantry/non perishable items for two weeks, and then the fresh ingredients for one week. This way, I can make a big trip to Aldi once or twice a month for non perishable items and produce that will last two weeks, and Walmart on the weeks in between for fresher ingredients and the items they don’t carry at Aldi. This is a good balance of saving money on groceries, but not wasting gas or time every week! It also allows for flexibility if I have to shuffle meals around.

A few tips and why I categorize my meals into how they are prepared –

  • Crock-pot cooking is a lifesaver! I put crock-pot recipes on weeknights when we are busiest, or on the weekend when I want a break from cooking and would like leftovers for the coming week. We always have leftovers from crock pot recipes – we either have leftover dinner one night, we eat them for lunch, or I freeze them for an easy meal later on in the month!
  • Casseroles are easily doubled and frozen, but I usually put them on a less busy night because they take more prep work. I buy disposable 8×8 pans to freeze half of a casserole. If I prep the casserole ahead of time and store it in the fridge, I zap it in the microwave for a few minutes before I put it in the oven so it doesn’t have to bake as long!
  • Stir fry and pasta recipes are my go-to when I am short on time or when plans change last minute. All the ingredients are easy to keep in the pantry or in the freezer and are quick to prepare!
  • Weekend recipes are those that take more prep/cook time then I have during the week, or recipes that husband and I want to prepare together! Sometimes I double these recipes too – you get more bang for your buck (and for your time!) when you do this, and you have delicious leftovers to enjoy for dinner or lunch during the week!

Check back soon to see how this looks for the Watkins family!

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