Meal Planning

Last weekend, in a blind panic over finances and our grocery budget, I sat down and wrote out a list of meals that we enjoy, trying for variety and seasonal-appropriateness. Then I wrote a grocery list that included the ingredients for all those meals, as well as the things we need for breakfasts, snacks, and so forth.

Our family meal requirements are simultaneously simple and complicated:

  • I am a vegetarian; Will is not. He does eat vegetarian meals, however.
  • I am pregnant and so require protein at every meal.
  • Sam is three. He thinks a meal = sausage.
  • We have very little money, prefer to buy locally, and most produce must be organic.
  • Besides avoiding chemicals, we also like to eat foods that are good for our bodies.
  • But we are really into comfort food.
  • Will takes lunch to work every day, so leftovers are essential.

So I had to work with all of those things. Not too hard for me, since it’s what I am used to. This is the list of meals I came up with, followed by some commentary on meal planning.

MEAL #1 — roasted chicken, falafel, flat bread, tzatziki, tahini sauce

MEAL #2 — spaghetti/ravioli with red sauce, sausage, and homemade bread

MEAL #3 — anti-pasto

MEAL #4 — homemade pizza

MEAL #5 — grilled onions and peppers with sausage/tofu

MEAL #6 — brown rice, red beans, steamed kale + squash

MEAL #7 — sushi in a bowl: seasoned sticky rice, cucumber, carrot, tofu, toasted nori

MEAL #8 — jerk chicken/tofu with cornbread

MEAL #9 — awaze tibs (Ethiopian curry with beef/tofu/beans)

MEAL #10 — veggie burgers with homemade pickles

(Some of these are to include a vegetable or other side TBD.)

So far we’ve made about half of these, and every day Will has had leftovers of some variety or other to take to work. Every meal has been delicious, and while there has been prep involved it has been stress-free because I do not have to decide what to make beyond choosing something from the list. On days that we eat something Sam won’t touch (not many so far), I make him a piece of Italian sausage or pasta/rice and tofu.

I’m sure that this is all really obvious to many of you. I feel like it should have been to me. But I’ve always pictured meal planning as much more structured. You know, fish on Mondays (never have the fish on Monday), stir-fry on Tuesdays, et cetera. It never occurred to me that it could be done in a way that suited our lifestyle. Again with the “Duh.”

If any of you meal plan, I’d love to know how you do it. And if you’re curious about it, feel free to ask questions. I have been doing it for one whole week so I am totally an expert.

11 thoughts on “Meal Planning

  1. Lisa

    September 26, 2009 at 7:42pm

    I meal plan each week and have done so for many years. I don’t do the fish on Monday, etc. type of meal planning. I just plan 6-7 meals per week based on what we are getting in our CSA share and what we have in the freezer (we purchase local meat by the side). Each day I pick a meal from the list and make it, so there’s a little bit of spontaneity, but I know that I have all the ingredients for the specific meals and we save money by not visiting the stores frequently. I have a seasonal/intentional eating blog with a farmer friend of mine and I post my weekly meal plans.
    .-= Lisa´s last post ..Food=Treasure =-.

  2. Kim

    September 26, 2009 at 8:21pm

    Well, huh! I actually thought everybody meal planned.

    Here’s what we do. We go grocery shopping once a week with a list. The list contains the basics (breakfast food, lunch fixin’s etc.). We also go through a cookbook or magazine and pick out recipes we want to eat that week, and add the ingredients of those to the list. This means we rarely ever eat the same thing. We’re pretty damn busy during the week and there are just two of us, so we tend to make three recipes a week – two big ones on weekends for leftovers most of the week, and one easy weekday meal. Sometimes when we’re shopping, we’re inspired by something that looks particularly delectable or is on a stupid sale and we’ll do a spur-of-the-moment mean plan and possibly ditch one of the other meals. Seems to minimise waste and keeps cooking fun.

  3. Lucretia

    September 26, 2009 at 8:44pm

    Uh … may I move in with you? Your meals sound amazing.

    I have moved back home with my parents for a year whilst I do my post graduate degree, and find it difficult to plan meals, even with my mother’s help. I’d like to add variety, but I find myself getting “stuck” on several ideas. I think I need to start making soup.

  4. ~zandra~

    September 27, 2009 at 8:20am

    I sit down once a week and write a menu for the week. I have to do it by day because we have various activities going on and I have a different amount of time to cook each day. Some days require I make something ahead of time to be cooked in the oven while we’re gone. So for me, there’s less spontaneity for each day, but on the other hand, we all know what we’re having that week and can look forward to certain meals. I don’t do it as structured as “pasta on monday, rice on tuesday” just that I write which day I will cook each meal for that week, but it varies from week to week.

    I’ve been doing it this way since I moved out 14 years ago and couldn’t imagine not menu planning.
    .-= ~zandra~´s last post ..kicking back =-.

  5. nova

    September 27, 2009 at 12:15pm

    Um, hi. You’re great. Cutting in to say, could I have the recipes for the tofu versions of numbers 8 and 9?
    .-= nova´s last post ..Done and Undone =-.

  6. Uninvoked

    September 27, 2009 at 2:44pm

    You might enjoy “Mexican Fire Rice” as a veggie/non-veggie compromise. I don’t know if you eat no animal products or if you allow yourself milk/cheese though.

  7. Delle

    September 27, 2009 at 3:38pm

    I generally meal plan, but I’ve just started planning Economy Gastronomy style. This evening I turned the left over lamb from out Sunday roast into a shepherd’s pie for tomorrow. The leftovers from that will be put into rolls and baked covered in cheese. Last week we had beef stew, which became a pasta dish then pasties. So far it is working pretty well.

    I do have to specify which days we have things, because my cooking time varies throughout the week, so I have meals I can cook on a Thursday but not on a Wednesday. I don’t do anything like the same thing from week to week though.
    .-= Delle´s last post ..All new you =-.

  8. B

    September 27, 2009 at 5:30pm

    My planning is a lot like Delle’s – where I try and either turn the leftovers into to something altogether different. I also try and find other recipes that use the same basic ingredients so I use the whole carton of greek yogur instead of just the portion one recipe cals for, as an example. Or I’m opening a jar of sauce for pizza, so we need to have pasta later in the week to use that up blah blah blah.

    I rarely if ever plan specific day of the week meals; our lifestyle just doesn’t work that way (my husband is never home at the same time each night; I generally try and get an idea of when he’s coming home by 3:30 and plan accordingly but that doesn’t even always work out; his job is notorious for deciding he needs to stay late and not finding out till it’s 5:05.) I try and plan around the freshness of our produce; I’ll notice that the avocado needs to be used up so tomorrow has to be sushi day…

    Right now with us still adjusting to being a family of four, I’m trying to make it easier on myself by making favorites and keeping the kitchen stocked with ingredients for those, much like you mention. But some weeks I get incredibly bored with that or antsy to try something new so I find a bunch of new recipes and go crazy.
    .-= B´s last post ..leaving the house checklist =-.

  9. yojo

    September 27, 2009 at 6:29pm

    you have it a LOT more together than we do. I don’t have a toddler involved, but my Domestic Partner is the pickiest eater ever. And I like to do batch cooking (ie, start with a head of cabbage, 1 lb of meat, the staple veg, and my pantry goods and cook two different entries and two sides of it) this cuts down on prep because the bulk of my prep is done all in one shot. Scrambling to find that veg or side that brings them together as separate meals is fun. Used to be easy, too. Now I find that the perfect things to pull all of this together are things he won’t eat (75% of the time or so).

    Either I never noticed in the umpteen years we’d been dating that he was a picky eater (unlikely) or we’re at that comfortable part of the relationship where he will break it to me that he won’t eat eggs (right after I’d planned quiche one night and omelettes the next).

    So this and my writing, then work, then gym schedule has pretty much shot the stuff out of the water. I’ve given up. I should get back on it. The good news is that it’s crock pot season, so each dinner we have basically generates a soup the next day. Plus? my squash are ripe now and I *think* he eats that.

  10. ecclescake

    September 29, 2009 at 6:12pm

    I’ve never really done much meal planning. Occasionally I’ll write down a shopping list for the week, but that’s mainly when I’ve been reading a lot of food porn and am trying out lots of new recipes. Everything we make for dinner depends on what we get at the farmer’s market that week. We do a mix of prepping a list of veggies/fruit we’re in the mood for and just buying what looks good when we’re there. We go to Trader Joe’s once a month and the Bulk Bin once a month. We also rarely eat the same meal two weeks in a row — we’ve got a pretty big list of “favorites.” So I guess the meal planning takes place in my head after the farmer’s market: I know we’ve got okra and green beans and zucchini, so we’ll have dal with zucchini one night, sweet and sour okra with chickpeas another night, etc.

    And I’m with Nova — recipes please! I’ve got a couple to swap with you.

  11. Angela

    October 7, 2009 at 6:56am

    Not only am I stealing your meal planning idea, I’m stealing this exact list! (but like Nova, I would love the recipes for #8&9 if you have them written down somewhere!)

    oh and p.s., I bought that Artisan bread book that you mentioned before…am traveling right now but upon my return I shall be trying it it, and can’t wait to do so…so thanks for writing about it because I hadn’t heard of it before. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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