Meal Planning – Step 1 {Make a LIST}

I have been on and fallen off the meal planning bandwagon countless times. My family’s schedule is NEVER the same and I often find that I’ve planned or (even worse) made something that didn’t work out because not everyone was home at the same time, I was delayed or I had to leave the house to drop off or pick-up one of my children because their activity schedule had changed last minute. Our meal gets cold, mushy, dry or over-cooked. I understand all too well the chaos that messed-up dinner time creates no matter the size or age-range of your family. I’m also aware of the consequences of eating late or less healthier food, especially as my body ages… so it’s been frustrating to me that I just couldn’t find a system that worked consistently for me and my family. Until today when I had an Ah-Ha moment. Meal planning IS personal — what works for one person/family may not work for another AND in my case, what works one week, or even one night, may not work the next. I need “planned” flexibility… I also need to stick to 15 minute meals. Some meals do take longer and that’s where I plan to work ahead and fill my freezer as I go. (I am in the process of creating a “freezing food tips” page… I’ll add the link when it’s ready.)

So… if you’re like me, feeling over-whelmed, discouraged or just feeling a little leery of jumping on another meal-planning bandwagon – I say – if at first you don’t succeed – try, try again! In order to plan meals, you have to have meal ideas – right?! That is STEP ONE – write down at least 28-35 ideas – foods that you or your family like to eat. Don’t be over-whelmed if you can’t think of that many all at once. Just start writing them down, you’ll think of more as time passes – just be sure to write them down as you think of them. Here are some ideas to help jump-start your list:

  • Think in Categories – For example – Mexican, Asian, American or Beef, Fish, Poultry, Pork or Casserole, Crockpot, Soup, Comfort, Meatless… whatever works for you. Be flexible, and don’t listen to the perfectionist in your head that keeps stopping you from writing things down. These are my categories (for now) = Mexican, Pasta, Kid, Fish, Meat, Meatless (??)
  • Foods You Don’t Make Yourself – Think pre-packaged, frozen, fast food or what you’d order if you were eating at a restaurant.
  • Childhood Favorites – foods that you ate and enjoyed as a child (or foods that you’ve learned to like as an adult) – foods that your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, or  uncle made for you. (Chicken Divan, Tuna a’la King, Porcupine Meatballs). I’ve added foods that my mother-in-law has introduced me too.
  • Seasonal Foods – Black-Eyed Peas (New Years), Corned Beef (St. Patrick’s Day), Whole Turkey (Thanksgiving), Ham (Christmas), Leg of Lamb (Easter), etc.
  • Swap Ideas w/other People – post on FB that you’re looking for “easy” dinner ideas – ask people to comment with 1 or 2 of their favorite meals. Ask for recipes when you eat a meal at someone’s house or at a potluck (that’s where I got the recipe for the White Corn Tortilla Soup and Vivian’s Tortilla Soup).
  • Write Down What You Eat…

I’m still thinking of ideas as I type this, but this is what I have written down thus far:  turkey meatloaf, porcupine turkey meatballs, chili, sloppy joe soup, cowboy beans, whole chicken, cornish game hens, chicken divan, roast, pot-roast, stew, cube steak, pork chops bone-in & boneless, pork tenderloin, pork roast, bacon, ham, taquitos, flautas, tacos (soft/crunchy), tortilla soup, burritos, tortilla bake, quesadilla, won-tons, pot stickers, orange chicken, broccolli beef, ravioli (ravioli soup), spaghetti, pasta w/veggies, lasagna (meat or no meat), stuffed shells, fettucine alfredo (cooking light), pizza, pizza rolls, french bread pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips, mac ‘n cheese, chicken sausage, red snapper (Fisherman’s Luck), salmon, dover sole, tuna, baked potato bar, grilled cheese, and paninis.  That’s at least 50 items. I realize that some are more of a side and all of them should be paired with a vegetable and/or salad and possibly a starch. Remember that this is my family’s list and it’s only STEP ONE.

However… you could stop here. Type or write your list of foods then hang it up in your kitchen; I like to post things like this on my refrigerator. As you serve each item, cross it off your list and don’t serve the same thing again until after you’ve made everything on your list. You could also slip the list inside a page protector and use a dry erase marker to line-off the meals as you eat them. If you follow the grocery ads, then you can compare the weekly ad to some of your favorites and shop accordingly. If you have a freezer, you can stock up on sale items. Aside from my oven, my freezer is my favorite kitchen appliance.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, make a list of your favorite side dishes… I haven’t been that ambitious yet.

When you’ve finished your list be sure to read Meal Planning Step 2 – Categories.

Lastly… please leave a comment and let me know if you are following along. I’m curious to know if/how this idea works for other people. Also, please feel free to leave suggestions too.

A big thank you to The Frugal Girls — Heidi is one of the main reasons I keep plugging-along with this little ‘ol blog of mine.  I am feeling honored and blessed to be featured on The Chic ‘n Crafty Party — thanks to all of their royal readers for checking out my post.

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  1. This is similar to what I already do! A few of our favorites are similar to yours, but our standby’s are Eggs and Bacon, Broccoli Bisque and Chicken Stir Fry. I keep a list in the back of my planner. I write my menu items on each day(in the 1 week per page section), knowing that I have flexibility to change a meal should the need arise. It also helps my kids know what’s for dinner if they are called upon to cook.

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