Meal Planning 101

The only way we’re able to eat decently for as little as we do is meal planning.

Everyone knows about meal planning.  The government tells you you need to be doing it to balance your diet.    Food stamp recipients are expected to be doing it to use their benefits wisely.  Efficiency experts tout it as a way to simplify your life.  There are even a wide variety of apps to help you do it.

It’s something that everyone agrees is a good thing, but not many people do.   It’s an important life skill that’s mostly ignored by schools.  We judge benefits recipients for not doing it well, but offer little guidance on how to do it better.

I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to teach the world how to do it, but part of why I started blogging this process was to capture for myself just how it happens, how much work it is, and what issues I encounter as I do it.

So:  My meal planning process.  The theory, anyway.  More is coming on how this works in practice.

I shop Saturday mornings.   I try to combine all the food acquisition into one trip.   First is the Farmers Market, where I pick up our CSA share as well as eggs, meat, and a few other things.   Then the grocery store, the feed store for pet food, and sometimes I run through our club store on the way home to pick up large packs of the things I’ve figured out are cheapest there.

I plan meals a week or more at a time, from Friday to Friday.    By midweek I am already beginning to build next week’s plan in my head, based on what things we’ve craved this week, what we ran out of, what leftovers we will have to finish off, and what’s on our family calendar.

As things I need to restock in the pantry occur to me, I add them to my shopping list.   Our grocery store has an awesome website and iOS app, which lets me build my list online, shows me a running total of how much my groceries will cost, and syncs to my phone with a list sorted by aisle for my specific store.

By Thursday night or Friday, I’ve got a list of basics and a few ideas about what I want next week.   During CSA season I get an email late in the week telling me what my share will include.   I sit down with a notebook,  draw up a list of days, add any commitments we may have, and then start adding dinners.I currently aim for several meat meals across the week, I make sure the vegetarian meals have enough protein to be satisfying, and I include a fruit or vegetable component in each one.As I add meals, I add all the things I would need to buy to make the meal to the online list and watch the total bill rise.  If it goes too high, I can see what meal tipped the balance and make changes across the week to balance.  I try to keep the cart total for the list a little under goal, to leave room for last minute changes and additions.Once the meals are more or less set, I type them into a spreadsheet (I’m using iWork so I can access it across devices).  After shopping day, the sheet gets printed and stuck to the fridge, so everyone can see for themselves “What’s for dinner, Mom?”That, as I said, is the theory.

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