Now that you’ve looked at your calendar and know what you need to plan around, it’s time to actually plan the meals. Staring at a blank calendar makes me feel the same way I did in college when I stared at a blank page knowing that I needed to fill fifteen of them.
One of the first places I look for inspiration is our deep freezer. Read about how I organize that here. I peruse the whiteboard with all of the deep freezer contents and pick at least one main entree item from there. Another catalyst for me is looking through our fridge and pantry and seeing what I have that needs to be used up. This helps to make sure that food is not wasted. I wish I was better at this, but even with being as intentional as we are about not wasting food, I inevitably end up throwing something each week. I refuse to admit defeat, however, and so I incorporate this into my weekly meal planning.
After I’ve filled a couple days using these tactics, I then sort my recipes by ‘main entree’ and just peruse to see what sounds good. When something looks appealing, I assign it to a day and move on to the next one. Like I’ve mentioned before, for my husband’s sake, I try to keep some variety, so once I get toward the end, I pay special attention to what I have on there, and then sort my recipes again to filter out the options that I’ve already chosen. When all else fails, I just ask Josh what he wants. I always do this last, because 90% of the time his answer is “Whatever you make.” He means it to be nice and supportive. I appreciate his sentiment and choose not to get upset that he isn’t being helpful at all. 🙂
Once the week is completely planned, it’s time to make the grocery list. I use an app called GroceryIQ. Josh and I found it on a display iPad at Best Buy years ago and I’ve been in love ever since. Much like Pepperplate, it it easily customizable, is compatible on multiple devices (both of our phones, the iPad and our desktop computer), and was FREE. It allows you to keep lists for different stores and my favorite feature is that it sorts the list by aisle, which minimizes the time in the store tremendously.
I go through each recipe on the menu for that day and add any ingredients that are needed. I have a note on my phone called ‘THAW & CHECK’. When I come across and item on the menu that’s in the deep freezer, I put it on the thaw list and when I come across an item that I’m not sure if we have, I put it on the check list (because I do our menu planning at our computer in our basement, which isn’t near the kitchen). To complete the grocery list, I go upstairs and look through the check list and add the items that we don’t have.
The last step to making the grocery list is going through our “masters” list, which is a list of staples that we keep on hand. One of the great features about Grocery IQ is that my husband can add things to the list from his phone when he uses the last of them. Occasionally, one of us will use the last of something and not put it on the list, so I’ve learned that this masters list is necessary. To make this list, I went through the history on our Grocery IQ app, which was super easy & quick. Smarter people than me could do it by their memory. Or you could peruse your fridge and pantry to see the things you buy weekly.
Like most topics I write about, this system has worked perfectly for us. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. But, my hope is that there are at least pieces of it that you can take and make your own. Or that reading about my steps help you think through yours and create your own system that maximizes your meal prep and grocery buying.