Recently I outlined our current meal planning and grocery shopping “system” AKA dilemma. I’d like to establish a better routine that allows us to consistently know what’s for dinner, try out new recipes, and keep track of our favorite meals.
I asked several girl friends to tell me what works for them. I also scanned the internet and found this article helpful as well as reading about Sara’s system. Plus my friend Samineh just posted her amazing system which includes a recipe binder, menu spreadsheet, and grocery list strategy. Here are some of my favorite tips that I'd like to use:
+ Sit down with your partner when meal planning. Look at your weekly schedules so you know which days both of you will be home for dinner. This seems so obvious but Chris and I don’t do it now and we do have a lot of evening commitments which impacts when we actually need to cook a full meal for dinner.
+ Switch off weeks or days for who’s cooking. Chris is more than happy to make dinner and currently we do both cook but we don't have any sort of a schedule. If we were each responsible for cooking one or two meals per week and a meal plan with the recipes was easily accessible then whomever gets home first could start dinner
+ Make a recipe binder that only includes “tried and enjoyed” recipes. This way you can flip through the binder and easily be reminded of meals that you enjoyed.
+ Plan meals for two weeks at a time. Then repeat that meal plan which allows you to plan a month at a time. Chris and I have been trying to go to the store every other week with a quick trip for produce on the off weeks so this would work great. Plus I love the idea of getting so much meal planning done in one sitting.
+ And this one is from my mom: make an Excel spreadsheet that has columns set up as “aisles” at your grocery store. Populate the aisles with the items you frequently buy and print out several to keep handy. For each shopping trip just circle the items needed and fill in additional items. No more dashing back across the store for something and you’re always reminded to check if you need toilet paper, toothpaste, etc.
Do all these organizing tips also make your heart go pitter-patter? It could just be me.
I know some people also have amazing digital systems that work for them and this Plan to Eat service looks interesting. Sara also coordinated this full year of meals. But I still prefer hand-writing the grocery list and flipping through cooking magazines and cookbooks and using trusted food blogs for new recipes.
Taking the tips I found and our lifestyle into account, here are my ideas for a shiny, new and sustainable meal planning and grocery shopping system for the Whartons:
+ Make a recipe binder for favorite recipes. I got started on this already. I divided a binder into categories (Dinner, Sides, Desserts, Bread, and Appetizers & Drinks; I can add additional categories if needed) and keep a pocket at the front of each section. Any recipes from a magazine or blog that I want to try are put into the pockets until we cook them and determine they’re worthy of the binder. (I tear our magazine recipes and print out blog recipes.) Recipes that we try from a cookbook can be added to the binder by writing it out by hand or making a copy. "Approved" recipes will go in page protectors so they can easily be seen when I'm meal planning and so that they can handle spills when we use them.
+ Create an Excel spreadsheet grocery list with “aisles” of our Trader Joe’s store. I'll add our staple items to the "aisles" with room to fill in additional items as needed.
+ Make a meal plan for two weeks at a time and make one big grocery trip every two weeks. Make one small trip on the off weeks for produce. If this works then I’d like to move to repeating that two-week plan so that one session of planning = one month of meals.
+ Before meal planning look at our calendars for evening commitments and plan accordingly.
+ Use a magnetic clip on the fridge to clip the two-week meal plan along with the recipes that will be used. This way whomever gets home first can get the meal started.
It is ridiculous how happy this plan makes me. Our lack of a system for this has been driving me crazy for 3 years and figuring something out will eliminate stress and create more time that I’m sure we’ll need for staring at/cuddling/loving our baby.
This month I'm starting to incorporate these changes; I’m sure it will take a few weeks to fine tune but I hope it’s the improvement I’m looking for. I’ll let you know how it goes!