Everyone does menu planning a little differently, and there are lots of ways that work. For me, I found that the biggest difference-maker is having all of my recipes in one place.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been menu planning for a couple years now. But my old system used to take a long time because of my recipe system – or lack thereof. I had a recipe box where I accumulated written down recipes from people, a recipe board on Pinterest, three or four cookbooks that had anywhere from 1-5 recipes in them that I actually used and an account on foodnetwork.com where I saved recipes. Each week, I’d pull the cookbooks and the recipe box out of the cupboard and pull up foodnetwork.com and Pinterest on our iPad. I’d flip/scroll through the recipes and pick what to make for the next week. It was very tedious.
I finally took my techy husband’s advice and decided to digital-ize the process. I began looking for an app where I could store all of my recipes, categorize them, and plan out meals for certain days. I found pepperplate.com and it was love at first sight. It did exactly what I wanted to, it had great reviews, was compatible with all of our devices (desktop computer, iPad and cell phones) and it was FREE!
I will admit that the conversion from my old system into Pepperplate took a little bit of time and work, but it was totally worth it. Some of my online recipes could be imported, which was super easy and quick. The rest of them had to be manually imported, so I just did a few each day and everything that I would want to cook was now in one place. I typed in the few recipes from each of the cookbooks that I used, and then got rid of the cookbooks (except for the two sentimental ones). I also was able to get rid of the recipe box, which freed up precious cupboard space. It was totally worth the time that it took to get the account set up.
Because of the way I plan out our weekly meals, it was important to me that I be able to classify the recipes. Pepperplate allowed me to create as many categories as I wanted and tag each recipe with as many categories as I chose. In the same way that my physical recipe box had categories, I wanted that same organization here. However, the box or my foodnetwork.com account only allowed me to classify each recipe in one way. I wanted breakfast dishes separate from supper dishes. And within that, I also wanted the supper dishes broken down into type of meat because I have a tendency to to make three chicken dishes in the same week if I’m not intentional about creating some variety. I also created tags like “fast”, “grilling” and “crock pot” which are helpful when I’m looking for something specific. When I was importing recipes, I thought of a list of categories before I began, but the list got tweaked as I entered them. I have also adjusted it as I’ve gone along. Which is another nice thing about Pepperplate – it’s very easily editable. For a reference, I use the following categories:
- Crock Pot
- Ground Beef
- Main Entree
Like almost all organization tools, you have to find something that works for you. A menu planning app may not be your thing. But the key here is to find a way to have all of your recipes in one place so that they are easily and quickly accessible.
Once the recipes were in the app and categorized, I had everything I needed to start the newly refined process. I use the planner function on Pepperplate, which allows you to assign recipes to each meal for each day. If it is a recipe that is in the system, there will be a link to that recipe from the planner. If it’s not a recipe, you can also enter any text. I do this for anything that is part of our meal that doesn’t have a recipe (most often it is the fruit and veggie part of our meal).
I menu plan weekly because I have to go the grocery store that often to replace staples like milk and eggs and also to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. We are part of a CSA from June to October, so during those months, I plan the day after we get our box, and I plan around the vegetables we receive. During our non-CSA months, I plan on Thursday so that I can go grocery shopping on Friday. It’s just what I have found works best for us for now. This ebbs and flows as life changes.
Regardless of when I menu plan, it always starts the same way. I open up Pepperplate, then I pull up our calendar. What’s going on in our lives each day affects what we will make and eat that evening so much that I can’t imagine not taking our schedule into consideration. This used to be a bigger deal before our daughter was born and we had commitments three or four nights a week. It’s not as big of a deal now, but it still greatly affects things. This week we have a volunteer training dinner on Monday, so I know that there’s no need to plan anything for supper that night and I have appointments on Thursday afternoon, which means that I won’t want to make anything that’s prep intensive if we want to eat while the sun – and my daughter – are still up. I don’t know if this is how most people menu plan, but I would guess that if this part of the equation wasn’t taken into consideration, that could be the reason a lot of people try menu planning and it doesn’t work for them.
As a reminder, I will be collecting any questions you have about menu planning on my Facebook page or in the comments section of these blog posts and answering as many of them as I can at the end of the month. Whatever you’re wondering regarding meal planning, shopping and prep, let me know.