Meal planning. Do those words evoke images of pouring over spreadsheets and chopping countless vegetables on a Sunday afternoon? Well, never fear, because I have a meal planning style that just might suit your non-planner ways. Let’s dig in and get your family’s weekly meal planning task done!
My Meal Planning Strategy
First of all, I’m a terrible planner. I can’t stand the idea of obsessing over a fixed regimen of exactly what we’re eating every day. That said, I recognize that it’s better to have some kind of plan rather than wandering in the wilderness. So I came up with something that works for me. To paraphrase Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean, my meal planning is more like guidelines. For one thing, I only plan for weekly dinners. Breakfast and lunch follow pretty set patterns, and we tend to eat out on weekends. That leaves me only five meals per week to think about, which is totally doable.
So, now that we’ve narrowed it down to just weekly dinners, I’ll let you in on my meal planning secret. I don’t really plan.
“Wait, wait, wait,” I hear you saying. “This whole meal planning post is about how you don’t meal plan?”
Well…yes. Sort of. I do make a rough sketch of what I want to prepare this week. But that’s just it. It’s a sketch. I don’t plug meals into fields on a spreadsheet and I don’t have menus posted to the refrigerator. While those strategies are great and work for many people, I’m just not that together. So I jot. I sketch. I scribble. And if things change, which they inevitably do, I can change with them.
There’s an App For That – But Not the One You Think
Besides Twitter and whatever game happens to be taking up my time, the app I use most on my iPhone is Notes. I use it for just about everything, from grabbing an email address to keeping score at my son’s Little League games. For my meal planning needs, Notes takes the cake.
To start with, I open Notes and title a new entry “Meals Week of…” with the dates for that week. For example, my latest meal planning note looks like this:
So I sketched out some meals I thought I could pull off that week. And yes, they’re very basic, from cheeseburgers to pita pizza. That’s a nod to my somewhat limited cooking skills. Plus, my guys aren’t super picky and will eat pretty much whatever I put in front of them. Lucky mom!
Make a List, Check it Twice
Also in my note, you’ll see a list of ingredients for these meals, along with a couple of other things we needed that week. In addition, I decided to try a new recipe (this meatball stroganoff from Dinner Then Dessert that my guys loved!), so I included the link to that. Before making my meal planning sketch, I poked around the pantry and freezer to see what was on hand. Turned out we had frozen turkey burgers and buns, so cheeseburgers were a no-brainer.
All of this only took me a few minutes. Later, I went to the grocery with my list and my meal plan all in one compact note, which saves me time and aggravation. Because I get really aggravated when I go grocery shopping. Trust me on this.
According to the plan, it looks like we’re having chicken tenders on Tuesday and cheeseburgers on Wednesday, right? Maybe. I don’t assign specific days to each meal so I can change it up if I need to. In fact, this particular week blew up because we had to deal with some unforeseen issues. I called an audible one night and popped in a frozen pizza (which I remembered from my earlier peek in the freezer). Another night we just grabbed takeout because we were all totally drained. And you know what? I still had those meals available for the next week’s meal planning adventure.
Healthy Meal Planning
What’s missing from my meal plan? Side dishes, maybe? A vegetable or two, perhaps? Certainly, I do add those in as well. I keep frozen veggies on hand, and of course, we all love mac ‘n’ cheese. This is one area where I admit I could do better. If you have dietary restrictions or want to add more vegetables or “clean” foods, you can easily drop them in. Sketching out a simple meal plan like this offers lots of flexibility to make it whatever works for your family.