When it comes to menu planning I’ve tried a number of different systems. When I was just cooking for me I’d tend to wing it, buying food for one or two set recipes and improvising the rest of my meals. Now that I’m cooking for both Doug and I, I’ve learned that two people eat a lot more leftovers than one. This necessitates some strategizing, which has gotten more structured over time. I reached a point that I was scribbling out the same worksheet for myself every week, so I decided to make it official with a Word template that I’ll share with you! The planner is quite customized, feel free to modify to your own specifications.
Weekly Menu Planner (please use electronically or print double sided!)
Throughout the week, when I feel inspired, I might jot down a meal idea in the “notes” section. At the end of the week I do a quick inventory of perishables, and also jot them in the “notes” to make sure they’re used. One morning a week (I’m sharpest in the morning), I sit down with my notes and formulate a plan. It only takes 20 minutes or so, and is a big time saver.
There are loads of How To articles online about setting up a go to list of recipes for yourself, and I won’t tackle that in this post. I have a giant binder of clipped recipes as well as web bookmarks (and a fledgling Pinterest page) to browse when I need ideas. Usually, though, I start with what’s in season or on sale (or what we’ve been craving!) and build from there, sometimes with a little help from Google.
Seeing a listing of your meals can help to make sure you are eating a variety of foods and a balanced diet. It can also prevent making an incomplete grocery list (or coming home from the store with loads of food but no complete meals!). I also like to have a list of prep to do ahead of time (marinate whatever, press tofu, defrost xyz, etc.) to prevent last minute scrambling on weeknights or mornings.
We’re a big fan of leftovers for bagged lunches (as you can see), and I use a little checkbox in each meal cell to indicate whether a meal will have to be transported to work. With Doug’s erratic schedule it’s important to keep track of which meals need to be easily packable! I also write down whenever we’ll be eating out and won’t need to cook (I have relatives in town this week, and Doug and I are indulging in delicious Crif Dogs tomorrow).
Once our CSA starts this summer my meal planning will change a bit, starting from the veggies and herbs in our box and eating the ripest/quickest to spoil produce first. I plan to post some menu suggestions for CSA-based menu planning when the season is upon us!