Meal Planning in Its Simplest Form

While the East Coast danced with Irene, my family attended a splendid birthday bash for a friend turning 30!  While snagging a piece of homemade blackberry cobbler from her kitchen, I smiled as I glanced at a note on the fridge.  She had quickly scratched out a simple meal plan for a few days of the week.  As a working mom with two active elementary aged kids, she has clearly learned the benefits of a plan.  At my house, we began weekly meal planning about the time homework and after school activities kicked in, but you can benefit from it right now, whatever your situation.

Here are the basics:

  • Pick a time frame - Based on how often you grocery shop and the stock levels of your pantry and deep freeze, determine to plan a few days, a week, or even a month of meals.
  • Make a chart - My friend just jotted down a list.  I use a pre-printed weekly planner and/or a monthly spreadsheet.
  • Remember your family schedule - Plan meals that make sense for the time you have to prepare them.  If everyone won't eat together some nights,  plan items that are easy to reheat later.  
  • Fill in the plan with variety - Choose several favorites, occasionally plan to try a new dish, and include a variety of proteins and vegetables each week.
  • Check your pantry/freezer - Look over recipes for items that are getting low or that you need to purchase to complete each dinner.  If it is a recipe you use often, consider buying an extra package of frozen or cupboard items to have for next time.  (Refrigerated items have the shortest shelf life, so don't over stock these and regret throwing ingredients away later.
  • Know (and mark down) highly perishable ingredients - I hate throwing away food, especially before I've had a chance to serve it.  Know that bagged salad, cuts of meat, fresh fruits and veggies, dairy products have a small window for quality.  Don't buy these too early or store them too long.  Plan ahead to pick these up the day of or just before you'll need them.
  • Give yourself some flexibility - Schedule changes may alter your cooking and dining plans.  Go with the flow, and plan for possible changes.  Colin Powell said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."  Accept that you'll have to make last minute changes.
  • Include snacks and beverages- Make a list of snacks now so you won't have to think of what's around when the munchies hit.  If you're trying to eat healthier, making the list will help you know what to grab and what to buy to stay on the straight and narrow.

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