A new way of meal planning

I told you last week about my need to reorganize my way of meal planning.  I spent a couple of days kicking around ideas last week and finally settled on a new system to try.  I am less stressed, and I’ve realized my family is a whole heck of a lot simpler than I thought.

So our new system is simply a list of meals for which I have the ingredients.  I have it broken up into three sections.

  1. Meals to be eaten by a certain date — this is for things that have fresh ingredients.  Right now, for example, it includes tacos because lettuce is perishable.
  2. Meals — this is my general list of meals that includes some new recipes I want to try and some older favorites; they are all things for which I have ingredients.  For example, right now it includes ground beef taquitos, homemade pizza (using scratch-made dough) and spaghetti.
  3. Misc. alternatives on hand — this is a list of things that are in the cabinet, freezer or refrigerator that have a longer shelf life and we have.  For example, right now it includes a big frozen pizza (as in big enough for the family), Easy Mac, pancakes and corn dog muffins.

My new meal planning menu is off to a good start.

To figure out how many things to list under meals, I sat down with the calendar and looked at all the days we would need dinners for over the next two weeks.  I needed 11 meals, so that’s what I planned. I organized them into a word processing document on Google Docs that I’ve shared with my husband.  I used to do the same thing with Google Calendar when I scheduled meals.  It works well because if he is giving me input, then he can check it out at work and message me.  Or he can even access it from his phone like when we were waiting for the service to start at church yesterday and talking about what to have for lunch.  I also printed it out and hung it on the side of the fridge just like the old calendar system, again with any new recipes on the list printed and fastened behind it.  That way I can easily and quickly get dinner ideas while in the kitchen, and I can easily cross them off once we eat them.

So far, it’s been working well.  However, it’s also surprised me.  The very first night the new format was in play was last Wednesday.  A meeting I thought I would have that evening got canceled.  I was ready to cook a full dinner for the family.  I showed my husband the list and gave him my top picks.  His response?  “I really want frozen pizza.”  Really?  That was it?  So, that’s what I made.  I healthified it a bit by adding in some carrot and celery sticks on the side.  And, as a bonus, I was able to use the time I would have been cooking when he was entertaining the kiddo to make my grocery list for the next morning’s trip to the store.

The following day, he ended up having to work late, which meant the kiddo and I had dinner without him.  My first thought was to go for delivered pizza.  But, when I asked Lexiana what she wanted, she responded with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I had gotten some fresh lettuce at the store that morning and decided she’d have PB&J with cheesy pretzels and a banana and I’d have a salad with all the fresh veggies, fresh croutons and fresh salad dressing I’d just purchased.  When my husband got home, he was happy to eat a sandwich made with the 95-cent loaf of bakery bread I’d purchased (I’d used it for our lunch and planned to heat it and serve as a side to pasta for dinner) and some extra sharp cheddar cheese from the deli.  Easy peasy!

The thing is, I think my family is simpler than I was giving them credit for.  I felt like if I couldn’t go whole hog on making dinner then we had few options and they’d not be happy unless we had something warm.  And I was absolutely clueless what to make on the off nights when plans changed or whatever.  I spent days adding to our “meals on hand” list.  I still haven’t listed everything (I want to be careful to not make the list too overwhelming; there is a fine line between having good choices and having too many choices), but I’ve surprised at the things that keep popping into my head.

And it’s got me thinking of making more lists.  I’m thinking of a lunch idea list to get us out of the rut of sandwiches or chicken nuggets.  There are lots of things in my cabinet like soup, pasta (Lipton sides work well for us) or Easy Mac.  And there are things in my freezer like Lean Pockets and chicken taquitos.  None of it has to be fancy or time consuming.  My family has definitely reminded me of this.  We’re not going to eat frozen pizza or PB&J every night.  But, I don’t have to kill myself every night and stress about what we are going to eat.  I like the new system thus far.  It’s working better for us than the old one right now.  I probably could have gone with using the calendar and then adding a list of miscellaneous meals for my own sanity, but just having a plain list is easiest because it keeps everything in one place, on one sheet.

So far, so good!

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