Meal Planning 101 (with Freezer Cooking tips)
As women, whether single or married, we where many hats. I don’t know about you, but some of my hats are heavier or less attractive than others. And sometimes, I just don’t want to put them on. I know meal planning can feel like this for a lot of moms, and I’ve recently had a few women ask me how to meal plan. Here are a few reasons why I think it’s worth putting time and thought into this very mundane aspect of life, whether you are married or single:
1. If you’re married, you have the opportunity to more easily bless your family with a joyful, peaceful wife and mom by choosing to plan ahead of time. Planning often helps by eliminating potentially stressful moments close to dinner time when you might otherwise be frantically trying to pull together a last minute meal.
2. Meal planning, and what comes with it (grocery planning and budgeting), is an area in which you can richly bless your current OR future husband. Proverbs 31:11-12 speaks of a man who deeply trusts his wife because she does him good all the days of his life. Meal planning usually helps save money, and what man isn’t going to love a woman who wants to help steward their finances well? And, single ladies, this is the perfect time to begin learning.
3. Meal planning opens the door for more generous hospitality. By planning ahead, you can budget your money accordingly if you know a family of 7 is coming to share a meal with you. Or, you can be prepared to take a meal to a family that recently had a baby because you have a few extra meals in the freezer. At our church, we have pot luck on the first Sunday of each month. I like to make a real meal rather than buying one, because it allows me an opportunity to pray for the people with whom I’ll be sharing it, and the fellowship we’ll enjoy over it. By planning ahead, I really can do that while I’m preparing the meal. Time and thought goes into each meal.
4. When you plan your menu, you can build in days when you double or triple a recipe for the freezer. It’s so easy!
Those are just a few reasons, and I’m sure I could keep on going. I began meal planning before I had kids, and it has evolved over the years. I’ll share how I do it now, but feel freedom to tweak it and find what works best for you, your family, and your budget. Just like many other things in life, it’s bound to look different in different seasons of life. Flexibility is key. And, be sure to let me know if you have questions or any comments. I love to hear them.
Meal Planning Step 1
I like to plan my menu by the month. I know it might sound overwhelming, but I find it so much easier because I only have to do it once. I will show you why I think it’s actually easier than weekly menu planning (I have done weekly, two-weeks, and monthly). I like to sit down towards the end of a month, maybe a week away, to plan for the next month.
I first create a calendar in Publisher. I choose the “understated” calendar, which is nothing fancy. No need to complicate the process. Although, we girls like pretty, so you can fancy it up any way you choose. You can either print the calendar to write in your meals, or do it on your computer. I used to print and fill it in, but now I do it on the computer first, and print later.
When I first started monthly planning, I heard someone from somewhere suggest having a theme for each day that is the same for each week. Here’s what I mean:
Sundays: snacks or leftovers
Wednesdays: smoothies & muffins
Thursdays: Salad (summer) or Soup and muffins (winter)
I don’t need to do this now, but when I first started, I wrote my themes across the top of each day so I had guidance.
Save this as a “Blank Menu Template.” That way, each month, you can put a new month at the top, and new dates across the calendar. It takes less than a minute to do. I have a “Menu Planning” folder on my desktop that I keep a blank menu template, and all the menus I’ve created.
Meal Planning Step 2
Pull out those recipes! Here’s where you can really complicate or really simplify the process. This part can take forever, or it can take 15 minutes. I would recommend starting with recipes you know your family loves. Then, move onto those new cookbook, Pinterest, or bookmarked recipes online.
I systematically go through each day (all the Mondays first, etc.) and then move onto the next day/category. I have simplified Sundays and Wednesdays, so I don’t spend any time looking for recipes. I know what snacks I usually do, and I know how to throw a smoothie together. So, I really only need to plan five meals for the week.
It’s so easy to open my cookbook that has a collection of recipes to the “beef” section and pick four beef recipes, for example. This is how I categorize recipes I see on Pinterest, also. I make it a tool that aides in menu planning, rather than something I have to wade through to find “that” recipe. And, I try to only save recipes I would realistically make.
If you don’t want to create a whole month of original meals, plan for two weeks and repeat the menu! I used to do this a lot, and depending on the season of life I’m in, I sometimes return to it.
Save this menu plan into your menu planning folder. You will quickly accumulate a few months of menu plans. Then, you can either continue to plan monthly or rotate the menus you’ve already took the time to complete.
Now, you can combine the next step with this one, or do it after you have your meal plan set.
Meal Planning Step 3
I usually fill out a blank grocery list while I’m planning my menu. I do this because it helps prevent forgetting a needed item, because I can’t run out at the last minute to grab something I forgot. I live an hour from my ideal grocery store! It also saves from spending unnecessary money because I will often end up picking up more than that one thing I needed!
So, you will need a list for each time you visit the grocery store. This might be when you realize you run into the store too many times! Start by stacking four lists (one for each week) and go through each week’s menu. What do you need? A bunch of green onions? A can of tomatoes? Write every ingredient down that you know you don’t have–check your pantry or freezer to make sure! Now, your grocery list is ready for whenever you head to the store.
Now, I mentioned that I live an hour away from my ideal grocery store. I order once a month from an online co-op, Azure Standard, twice a month from a produce co-op, and maybe twice a month will swing by Trader Joe’s for odds and ends after church. I rarely go to the store for groceries anymore. It’s wonderful! But, it requires thought and planning. I make my list the same way and then order from each place accordingly.
Meal Planning Step 4
Stick to your plan. This is when you need to make sure you have chosen meals you and your family love. But, here’s the beauty of a meal plan: flexibility. What if the meal you have planned for Tuesday doesn’t sound appealing that day? Swap it with Wednesday’s, because you already have everything you need to make it! Ironically, planning offers a lot of room for changing things up spontaneously.
Freezer Cooking Tips
What I typically do, especially a few months before having a baby, is choose meals in my menu plan that we really like. I will freeze just about anything, so trust me that just about everything will do. I put a x2 or x3 next to the meals I’m planning to freeze. Be sure to note this on your grocery list. I froze 40 meals for life after my first baby, and 52 for life after my second. Simply by doubling or tripling over a 3-4 month time span. I was not superwoman, I just planned.
Then, on the night you wrote x2 or x3, just double or triple the recipe. It requires minimal extra effort, and yields a bounty. Make sure you clearly label and date your meal before putting it in the freezer.
What About Budgets?
I highly recommend you keep a budget if you don’t currently (is this a topic of interest to blog about?). But, you don’t need a massive budget to plan this way. I personally don’t have an exorbitant amount of money for food, but I also have more freedom than I did in our earlier years of marriage. Every family is going to have different allotments, so you need to do the best with what you’ve got. The key is to stay within your budget! It’s a helpful boundary.
It may mean you don’t freeze as many meals in a month as you’d like, or you keep your meals simple. You noticed that right now, my family only eats meat twice a week. I think this is normal, but you might think it’s crazy! It’s what works for our budget. We can’t afford to eat meat four times a week, and my husband is very willing and enjoys beans and other yummy recipes that don’t have meat.
Look to the Ant
Proverbs 6:6-11 exhorts us to look to the ways of the ant. The ant is busy storing up food, looking to the future. Contrasted is the sluggard who does not have an eye to the future at all. Now, don’t hear me saying that if you don’t menu plan, you’re not working hard. But, look to the ant! The point is that the hard working, future-oriented ant has a plentiful harvest, while the sluggard is impoverished. Menu planning is a practice, a discipline that yields much fruit in the present and the future. Not only can you wind up with several freezer meals, but you’ll save time and money in the process. It does take time and effort, but, from experience, it’s very much worth every minute spent! You will get faster and more efficient the longer you do it. Don’t give up if it seems hard in the beginning!
I have found menu planning to be a helpful tool in managing my home. I don’t experience as much stress over meals, and can enjoy the fruit of my labor later by freezing meals. I highly recommend it!
Do you have any questions? There are no silly ones, so feel free to ask anything! I’m happy to help.