Here is the second part of my Meal Planning Maven series.. and your first action step to making meal planning and your budget work for you.
Missed the first part of the series?
Catch up here.
We all hear about meal planning. There are tons of posts out there about how each person does it. They have gorgeous printables and tons of resources about how to sit down and do it all.
What is the Most Important Part of Meal Planning?
Where to begin!
With all the access to new recipes and ideas about food on the internet, your first step is the most personal one. It’s about YOU and YOUR family. No amount of research out there can help until you do this first step in the process.
What Does YOUR Family Eat?
No amount of internet searching for meal planning can help if their menu includes things that your family dislikes. Your first actionable step is to make a master list of what your family’s favorite dinner recipes are.
My family likes simple foods, like Sloppy Joes, green beans and ham, dried beef gravy, etc. What we eat here may not be what your family likes. So we can’t have the exactly same meal plan for the week. That wouldn’t make a lick of sense, now would it?
So your first actionable step is to make a Master List of the meals that your family likes so you have a “go to” list to help plan. Write down the things that you cook on a regular basis, or that your family asks for often.
Having a clear idea of what you can make that will keep the family happy with what you put on the table can help a lot. It keeps the need to “graze” to a minimum and you won’t have to buy a lot of easier to cook convenience foods for someone to eat who doesn’t like what is for dinner.
I cannot speak to the rules regarding food in your home. In mine, you have to at least try 2 bites of anything that I make. If you hate it after that, then ok… eat a bowl of cereal or some Ramen. I do NOT cook more than one meal a night.
I have a friend who honestly cooks 3 different meals each night to make everyone in her family happy. It drives me insane. Her food budget is also seriously out of control. She’s complained to me about the budget in the past (on top of how much time she spends cooking every night) but will not listen to me that it’s a DISCIPLINE problem; not a meal planning issue. Until she gets everyone to understand that she is only cooking ONE MEAL, this is going to continue.
If this sounds like your house, please realize that meal planning and budgeting may not solve anything. If it bothers you too much, have a family meeting and lay down the ground rules. They’ll fight you at first, but in the long run, you have to decide what your priorities are. If you want less stress and a smaller budget or if you want everyone happy at all times.
Meal Planning Binder
If you are like me, the “go-to” list is probably a lot of things that you don’t need a recipe for. You just do it without thinking.
But there are other recipes you find that aren’t automatic yet that you like, right?
Meal Planning Recipes
Start a Meal Planning Recipe Collection binder to have a centralized resource for your meal planning sessions. (Being organized like that is going to start making you feel like a Meal Planning Maven!)
Add in new recipes that you try that are keepers. My rule is to save recipes to Pinterest or torn from magazines until we try them and decide if they are worth making again. It’s actually voted on at the table before I commit to writing it into my Meal Planning binder.
There is no way that I am going to waste the time writing out a recipe that I’m not sure I’m going to like at all, let alone want to make again. I also try to write on the recipe how difficult it was to make. I have Quick or Over an Hour written next to most recipes so that I can use that to gauge if I need to make sure we are home all evening or not.
Meal Planning Printables
Sorting Your Meal Planning Recipes
Perhaps the easiest way I’ve found to organize your recipes is by the protein source. I have categories for beef, chicken, and pork. Pretty simple really. It really helps when we are low on our food budget at the end of the month and I can basically “shop” our freezer and plan to use what we already have.
Sorry vegetarians… I have no idea what to tell you on sorting. There should be a way for you to recognize either your protein source or the most expensive ingredients you use and sort by that.
Basically, we are sorting simply by what is the most important ingredient to the meal. Adding in cheap sides, like a tossed salad with french dressing or a jar of home-canned green beans is relatively simple. I plan by what makes the biggest dent in our food budget. For us, that’s our meat supply.
CrockPot and Freezer Meals
I actually have a separate binder for all of my freezer meal recipes. These are typically planned for ONLY when we have a surplus in our food budget at the end of the month. That way I can make a few different things at a time to have ready to go at any given time.
Granted, most of my freezer meals need thawed, so I still put them in our Meal Plan. I keep a Freezer Meal Inventory in our Meal Planning Binder so that I know what we have onhand and can plan accordingly.
My CrockPot recipes have their own section in the binder, but still slightly sorted by protein. CrockPot recipes are slightly differently planned, usually only when I have a prior commitment in the evening and need supper ready either before I get home or waiting for me when I walk in the door. If I’m working in the evening, I just toss something in the CrockPot for the dear hubby so that he doesn’t have to worry about fending for himself.
PS. Knowing I already cooked helps keep him from ordering takeout. The guilt of wasting my cooking keeps him in line. *wink*
Meal Planning and Desserts
Feel free to skip this section if dessert and sweets are not something that your household regularly eats. Before I married my husband, this never came into my Meal Planning at all. I just don’t seem to have a sweettooth.
My husband and his kids are sweets eaters like there is no tomorrow. I don’t understand it, but hey. To each their own. I try to plan at least one dessert/baking item into the meal plan each week. Sometimes two, depending on who is here and the amount I’ll need.
I keep a section in the Meal Planning Binder for go-to desserts that they like and that aren’t too difficult or heavy for a weekday. Generally I like to just have a cake or some cookies available. Baking on the weekend is ideal, and I write that in for days that I know I will have the most time to do it.
You do not have to keep a section on this at all. If you are the type of household that has ice cream or cookies or something around for dessert just in case, then don’t worry about it. The only reason that I DO keep it in my meal plan is because I won’t think about anything sweet during the week unless I write it down to make myself remember.
Make sure you grab the printables in this post and start setting up YOUR Meal Planning Binder!