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How do you do meal planning?

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 
I gotta get a handle on meal planning. I'm tired of staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration or realizing too late that I didn't defrost the chicken.

Are there web sites that let you do this (for free)? Inexpensive software? Or do you have another method (e.g., MS Word, Excel, etc.).

Also, I'd love to have a way to integrate my recipes and my food shopping list. Whenever I do manage to plan ahead and prepare something from a recipe, I have to transcribe the recipes to my shopping list which is a pita.

Help!
post #2 of 37
I tend to plan my meals around meat and a week might look something like this:

Day 1 I'll roast a chicken with vegetables.
Day 2 leftovers and a salad.
Day 3 from the carcass, I make a chicken noodle soup with homemade noodles.

Day 4 Corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage in the slow cooker.
Day 4 Left overs.
Day 5 Sandwiches.

Day 6 Spaghetti
Day 7 Baked potatoes with cheese and leftover spaghetti sauce.
post #3 of 37
moved to Meal Planning forum
post #4 of 37
Someone mentioned this to me a few years ago: write down what you eat for a month. Notice the things you cook that your family likes. Learn to make those dishes really well and serve only them for a while. Rotate through your list for a few weeks, adding a new dish here and there. Notice which dishes use similar veggies or meats or grains and make enough for all of them at once, so you don't have to whip up, for example, one cup rice for something, etc.
post #5 of 37
I have preplanned menus and shopping lists already made to go with each menu, a week at a time. That was quick and easy. It takes a lot of time at first to go through all your recipes and type up your menus and shopping lists, but after that you can shop for a week's meals with no planning at all.
post #6 of 37
My husband and I take turns. He plans the meal on Monday, say, then I plan it for Tuesday. I usually look at the fresh produce still left after he cooks, and plan something to bootstrap off of the leftovers from his meal, plus any fresh produce we need to use up, for the meal I'm doing the next day.

For example, on Monday my husband made spagetti with peppers and mushrooms (we're vegetarian). I checked the fridge on Tuesday morning and saw that we had some feta leftover from a few days ago, the bell peppers and mushrooms. So I decided to make pizza. On my way home from work I stopped at the store and bought mozzarella, and I was set.

We find it works out really well for us. Plus, it's great to get a break every other day.
post #7 of 37
Thread Starter 
RubyWild I am totally impressed with that method. What a fantastic idea.

Karaboo I love the idea of making a giant batch of rice and using that over 2-3 days worth of dishes.

Benji'sMom -- please share! HOW do you do this? This sounds exactly like what I need. If I could design a software program, it would store all my recipes plus a base/standard grocery list, and I could select from my recipes and it would auto-populate the grocery list for me. (Can you tell I used to be an IT project manager? LOL)

NCM I like that idea. Do you plan ahead for the week to know what to buy? That's my big problem. I just go grocery shopping and buy some stuff, and then I realize I don't have enough to cobble together an entire week's worth of recipes.
post #8 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Periwinkle
Karaboo I love the idea of making a giant batch of rice and using that over 2-3 days worth of dishes.
Yeah, that's a good one. I should do that more often, too. At the end of a 3 day cycle, I could make fried rice with it and the leftover meat.
post #9 of 37
I started off planning my meals by week. I'd plan them on Wednesday or Thursday (which ever day we got the grocery store adds in the mail) and go until the next Tuesday. If I didn't get the adds til Thursday, then we'd have spagetti (something I always have on hand!) on Wednesday. At the moment, I'm planning by month because my freezer is FULL and I need to get it empty again, lol.

I also plan around left overs. When I cook chicken, I cook two pieces, one for dh that night, one for the next (I don't like chicken.) If we're having pot roast, I plan that for the next day aswell. If it's something I know we'll only have one plate of left over, I send it with dh to work. I only plan dinners. Breakfast is always cereal for dh and whatever I feel like eating in the morning for me. Dh either eats left overs or sandwiches for lunch and dd and I will have quesadillas (sp?) or left overs.
post #10 of 37
I plan six weeks at a time. Every day has a food type attributed to it. So, Monday is roast something. Tuesday is soup from roast and salad. Wednesday is ground meat (so meat balls, meat loaf, goulash, etc). Thursday is breakfast. Friday is pizza or calzones. Saturday is veggie. Sunday we eat at one of our parent's houses. I start with mondays and plan all the mondays for six weeks out, rotating roasts so that we don't have the same one for at least a month...I try for six weeks.

Tuesdays are next and there are endless soups and stews that can be made from the meat/bones of the day before. We rarely have repeats before a few months. If I don't think there'll be leftovers, I'll make veggie something.

Wednesdays...ground meat has endless possibilities, too.

Thursdays. Breakfast is a LITTLE harder not to repeat, but not too bad. You can variate within the categories. FOr instance there are four different kinds of quiche we make, three kinds of pancakes, and three kinds of waffles. You can make all different kinds of eggs, too.

In this manner, we eat different meals for weeks and rarely get bored. Every once in a while on Friday we mix it up, but otherwise, it really works. I basically have the grocery list for each recipe in my head, and write the list every week by looking at the menu (not the recipes). I rarely have to send dh to the store b/c I forgot something. BUT, I've been doing this a while, so perhaps it takes practice.

This has saved us time, money and the horrible "what's for dinner" call/discussion at five pm when dh leaves work. I love meal planning. It makes my life SO MUCH easier.

I also shop and freeze a lot. THat way you don't necessarily have to shop as much for the weeks meals. You buy on sale and stock up, and then you HAVE it already. Saves you even more.

Have fun.
post #11 of 37
I am no expert at this, I've only been making attempts at meal planning for a little over a year. I just wanted to chime in to say that I have realized where I was being UNsuccessful in meal planning, was that I was making things too complicated. I used to spend a lot of time perusing cookbooks looking for elaborate things to prepare. This basically exhausted me after a couple of months. Also DH is a finicky vegetarian and I'm an omnivore currently no eating dairy due to breastfeeding baby, so we have "issues."

Anyway, after a LOT of eating out/fast food, I finally decided to keep things simple, and start out slow with a basic 7 day meal plan which I call "if this is Monday, it must be spaghetti" LOL. I am planning to just keep repeating this menu, varying things just a little, until I get the hang of meal planning, shopping, and cooking regularly. (Or until we die of boredom!!) I figure that I can add new dishes or more complicated dishes one by one as time allows.

Day 1: Pasta, salad, and good crusty bread with olive oil for dipping. Red wine.
Day 2: Vegetarian Soup/stew with the rest of the bread and a salad.
Day 3: Fajitas--veggie for both of us, with soy strips for him and chicken for me cooked separately. Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole.
Day 4: Breakfast for Dinner night. We always have breakfast foods on hand.
Day 5: Stir fry with rice. Good dessert to compensate for all those vegetables.
Day 6: Indian Feast/Carnivore's delight--some indian veggie food for him, something meaty for me!
Day 7: We eat out on Friday nights.

I'm also working on doing more in my crock pot. But that's another story! :-)
post #12 of 37
I plan by week. I usually go through my cookbooks (which I'm kinda getting tired of) find some recipes that my family likes and then search online for new recipes. I usually go to vegweb.com. We eat a salad (usually for lunch) everyday so I always have lots of veggies on hand. I shop usually about once a week so if I need some others ingredients I get em them. I like to plan out my meals and then make my list. All ready for shopping.
post #13 of 37
Wow. This is a great thread. I'm currently working on getting back into meal planning -- last year I did weekly menus, and used my crockpot alot. This year, well we've been eating a lot of pasta and quesedillas

right now I'm trying to do a monthly plan, mostly b/c I live 45 min from the grocery store and I really want to get organized into shopping only 2 times a month (once at the big grocery store, 45 min away in one direction, and once at the big coop, 45 min away in the other direction).

I really like the system of having a daily category, but not neccessarily the same dinner. Like, monday-pasta, tuesday-mexican, wednesday-roast meat, thursday-soup, friday -breakfast for dinner, saturday - pizza, sunday - leftovers. Then each week you can rotate meals within the category. I find this helpful even when i don't really plan in advance, just b/c it narrows the decision for me.

post #14 of 37
I'm subscribing to this thread because if you and I lived together, Periwinkle, we would starve. I have the exact same struggles. Being able to meal plan effectively has got to be one of the intelligences, like music.
post #15 of 37
I do a month at a time, and shop for veggies once a week (or shop once a month and cut them up and freeze them if I'm feeling gung-ho about it )

I only make dinners in the crockpot, I am WAY too lazy to prepare things and cook all at once. I usually plan out 12 meals for the month and then double them (so we eat each recipe twice in the month) and that covers 24 days. The other 6 days (usually weekend days) we eat at family member's houses, or eat out cheaply. The crockpot usually makes plenty for lunch the next day for each of us. DH doesn't eat breakfast, and I usually have a hard-boiled egg and a bowl of cereal.

The meal planning isn't that hard. I have 4 groups of 12 recipies each, and a shopping list that goes for each group (they are all in a 3-ring binder) so I just grab out a shopping list and go.

Usually (I've been WAY too tired this pregnancy) I will come home after doing a month's worth of shopping and do all the prep work for each meal before putting everything away so when I get up each morning, I throw everything in the crockpot, turn it on, and ignore it until DH gets home.
post #16 of 37
It's great to see the different ways people plan. I love the categories for each day idea.
post #17 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daisie125
I only make dinners in the crockpot, I am WAY too lazy to prepare things and cook all at once.
Where do you find the recipes you like in the crock pot? I am not crazy about pork and don't eat beef. Most of the recipes I have seen use one or the other...any ideas out there for alternatives? Web sites with good recipes?

Thanks!
post #18 of 37
Thread Starter 
I am a member of a Yahoo group called Crockpotters. Not the most NFL recipes (seems everything is made with Lipton soup mix or Campbells cream of mushroom soup, LOL) but the recipes I've tried are delicious. I also do pretty successful substitutions with organic/"whole" foods. See www.crockpotters.com for more recipes.
post #19 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by MelAndSimon
Where do you find the recipes you like in the crock pot? I am not crazy about pork and don't eat beef. Most of the recipes I have seen use one or the other...any ideas out there for alternatives? Web sites with good recipes?

Thanks!
Most of my recipes are chicken or veggie recipes. I don't eat pork, and beef is a rarity.

I got alot of my recipies from books at the library, alot I made up, or created from oven recipies. I'm in a yahoo group called Crockpot_Recipes too, although I have to substutite alot to avoid some of the canned stuff. (Although I do use canned tomatoes and cream of mushroom soup alot, just because there really isn't a good substitute for either)
post #20 of 37
What great ideas everyone has. I tend to make a menu for the week and from that menu I will make my shopping list. That way I don't do whole bunch of impulse buying while at the market. And our menu tends to reflect what ever is on sale that week at the stores. Another thing I like to do is piggy back dinners that have common ingredients. For example this week's menu looks like...

M- Spaghetti and meatballs
T- Ziti (made with left over sauce) and bread
W- Italian chicken paninis (with left over bread from the night before)
T- Grilled chicken (same chicken from the previosu night) and veggies over rice
F- Black beans and rice (from the night before)

You get the idea.
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