I don't know how people function if they don't meal plan. Seriously, I don't. And in the name of this post I even tried it for a week, just to see what it was like, and you guys. I think we had mac and cheese, a frozen pizza, ramen two nights in a row (although Mike protested and had leftover pizza one night instead) and Chipotle on the fifth night.
Wait, lemme think.
Yep. That's exactly how it went.
I'm natural planner, and I love thinking about my next meal (doesn't everybody?), so me and meal planning go together like bloggers and sock buns - total BFF's. One of the biggest hang ups I hear from friends and family is that they look at the fridge in the evening and don't know what to make, so they turn to the quick and easy processed foods.
And here's something that will blow your mind: THAT'S TOTALLY NORMAL.
I mean, seriously? There are very few people in the universe who can look at a fridge/pantry, assess the situation and come out with a delicious, healthy meal in 30 minutes. Those who do have written cookbooks, or at least an e-book, or maybe just a blog, but that's like a superpower people. So what are you normal people doing not meal planning?
Okay, that was harsh. I'm off my soapbox, and I'm going to help you get started. If you struggle with meal planning, I'm going to share my tried-and-true system with you today, and I promise, it's super easy - and easily modified to fit your life.
It all goes down on Google Calendar. If you don't have a Google account - how to I put this nicely - you should get one. So be warned, this tutorial is made special for Google Calendar.
Since we've already covered how to find great recipes, you should hopefully have lots that you're ready to plan with. I tend to meal plan about a week or two at a time, usually sitting down sometime over the weekend or on Monday morning for about a 1/2 hour to plan meals and a grocery list. Our schedule is so different each week, it's not usually worth planning much further out. Mike and I share a calendar with all our "activities," and I also have one for the blog (Believe it or not, I DO have an editorial calendar for this baby.) and one that's strictly for meal planning. Here's what it looks like when just the menu calendar is open. As you can see, I wrote this post last week on the 11th - so the dates are a bit off.
For nights when there isn't any meal, we're either out of town or have a commitment in the evening that we're eating at. With Google Calendars, you can turn on or off calendars with the click of a button, so I'll usually have Mike and I's calendar up while I do this so I can easily see what's going on each evening - making sure I plan a more simple meal when we have commitments after dinner, or something more elaborate if we're having guests. As you can probably tell, we had guests this past weekend, so there are lots more meals planned - normally, I don't really plan breakfast or lunch, unless we have visitors.
Another thing to note is I usually plan one or two less meals than required. This is simply because there are a lot of nights where things come up, I don't feel like cooking and we go out to eat, or we'll eat leftovers. Doing it this way seems to be a good way to cut down on food waste.
When I add a meal I want to make, I just throw the name of it and the hyperlink in the main box (shown below). If I'm making something from a cookbook, I'll just note the page number instead.
Then later, when you're ready to make the meal, you can just double click on the "event" or meal and you're taken to an event-specific page, which will give you the hyperlink to the recipe or page number. Simple and easy.
The biggest reason I love Google Calendars is because you can easily move an "event" or meal, with just the drag of your mouse. So, say you were gone unexpectedly one evening, the next day you can look at your menu and move meals around so you still eat that meal and don't waste the ingredients. Usually, I'll try to assess how soon my produce will go bad, and prioritize in that order.
A couple other perks:
- I "shared" this calendar with Mike, so he can check out the menu too - like me, he also likes thinking about his next meal. We're obviously a match made in Heaven.
- Another great use for being able to move meals easily is the fact that I can easily remake a recipe two weeks or a month later. I just go find what I'm looking for and drag it to the new date I want it. If you really love a meal, you can even set it up to "recur" and it'll appear once a month/week whatever.
- Google Calendar has a great app for iPhone and Android, meaning I can meal plan while out and about, double check the menu while at the grocery store, or easily get to the recipe right from my phone.
By meal planning a week at a time, I usually go to the grocery store once a week (and the farmer's market in the summer) and to Costco once a month to stock up on bulk items. Most grocery store runs are for dairy/produce/meat, but usually there are a few pantry items in there that I don't need 10 lbs. of from Costco. I know people who meal plan a month at a time and I can see that working really well for those who have a more consistent schedule and/or larger families. They stock up once a month, then it's just a super short trip once a week for produce/dairy. Whatever works!