Thursday, May 17, 2012

Meal planning

It took a good nine months from my first day as a full-time mother, but I finally have a system in place for our family’s meal plan.  Translation: I am finally able to cook on a regular schedule without pulling my hair out from frustration in an attempt to keep yet another ball in the air.

I’ve noticed a lot of articles, blog posts, magazines and even entire books dedicated to the subject of ‘family meal planning’ (which, in all honestly, makes me feel a little less insane; you mean a lot of people out there struggle with this?).  So, I thought I’d share with all of you lucky readers what I do on a weekly basis for our meals.  None of what I do is rocket science (or probably that unusual), but I am surprised at just how much enjoyment I get out of these little domestic puzzles—maybe it’s because I like having the ability to restore some order to our day, to have a routine, to feed my family (and watch them enjoy) food that I’ve made; or maybe it’s just a sign that I need to get out more.

I have to make a rather obvious caveat that my meal plan works for our unique family at this point in our lives—one where the kids eat at least two hours earlier than the adults because one such adult cannot seem to pry himself away from his desk before dark.  I can only imagine this plan will evolve as the kids age and everyone’s daily schedule changes, but right now it is working well.  Whew!

The Plan

Sometime over the weekend (usually Friday night or Saturday), I pick out three recipes to make that next week.  If we are low on food in the house or if it looks like the recipes will make a smaller portion, I’ll choose four; if Will and/or the rest of us will be venturing away from home that next week (and thus eating less), I’ll choose two.  But usually three fits the bill (with leftovers on the ‘off’ nights).  Exciting stuff, I tell ya.

With those recipes in hand, I write my grocery list.  I don’t purchase a lot in bulk mainly because we are short on storage in this house and because I hate clutter and it drives me crazy not knowing what’s at the far depths of my pantry, so I usually just buy what the recipes call for that week, plus our other staples (milk, yogurt, cheese – does anyone else sometimes wonder if it would be more productive to just get the dairy cow?).

I also have about 5 or 6 vegetables sides and 3 or 4 breads that are quick and easy.  Depending on the recipes, I’ll usually do 2 or 3 veggies and 1 or 2 bread sides for each week.

The Prep

As much as possible, I grocery shop on Sundays during naptime or any other day I can do it alone.  The kids are great on quick trips for forgotten items, but I like being able to really focus on what I’m buying, particularly if it’s for a new recipe (has anyone ever bought buttermilk instead of heavy cream because by the time they got to the dairy aisle the kids were on a mission to kill each other?  If not, I can assure you that while they may look the same, they taste very different).

And have you met my husband, Mr. Martha Stewart?  He created these fantastic grocery list templates that match our closest Kroger’s layout.  It is a huge timesaver for me.

After I return from the store and put everything away in its designated spot (another thing I love to do.  Seriously, I may need professional help soon), I layout when I will make each recipe:

I didn't take the picture very well to show this (what we may or may not need at Sam's this week takes precedent, no?), but I put the meal I am making that day at the top of the calendar day.

Once I know when I’ll be making each dish, usually every-other day, I can figure out when I can start the prep work—chopping the veggies, defrosting the chicken stock, preparing a part of the recipe ahead of time.  I find that once I do that tedious stuff, the cooking part isn’t nearly as arduous and I enjoy it much more.

The Fixing

So, when do I cook?

In all honestly, it still varies from day-to-day.  Some days, I cook during naptime to be reheated later.  Other days, I start around 5pm when Gram-E comes over to play with the kids.  Still other days, I wait until closer to 6pm, after the kids have eaten and had their bath and are (gasp!) watching Curious George or something else that won’t damage too many brain cells.  Yes, we limit screen time in this house, but one exception is when I need to cook.  I would love for one of my kids to cook with me … one day.  But they are too small and that stove/oven is just too hot for two wiggly little bodies and four little hands to ‘help’ at this point.  And I'm not quite up to juggling that ball at this stage.

I have been known to start the prep work in the mornings (chopped onion for breakfast, anyone?) for the recipes I’ll be making that evening, but sometimes I can’t get to that until midday or even shortly before cooking.  The better I can layout my week, the better I am at determining when (which I think is the hardest part of meal planning, but maybe I’m alone?).

Okay, and I’ll stop talking nonsense at this point.  My type-A personality has officially bled into the domestic field of meal planning and I won’t subject you lovely readers to any more of my structured schedule.  I will say that I have found my need for mental organization (calendars, to-do lists, etc.) has been a huge asset in meal planning—because for me that’s really what it is all about.  Organizing my time as well as possible.

Happy Thursday, everyone!


  1. I love Will's shopping list template! I've never gotten around to actually typing it out as such, but I make my shopping list in the order of the store, since I know it like the back of my hand.

    Laura and I were shopping at another Kroger (which happens surprisingly often, as Kroger is headquartered in Cincinnati and there's practically one every mile or so) yesterday and it was completely disorienting. Despite the fact that I've shopped there a few times, I still couldn't find a few things and walked around the store a few times before I got the essentials. And then Laura had had it. All that to say that maybe I'll make Mr. Martha Stewart's template a weekend project...

    Have a good weekend!

    PS. Your Michelangelo meets Steve Jobs comment on Laura's naked form cracked me up. I've laughed about it ever since.

    1. Template = awesomeness. But leave it to our local Kroger to be doubling the size of its store this summer. It looks like new templates will be in order come September. I'll add that to Will's list : )