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What’s for Dinner?

I’m sure you’ve heard that question once or twice.  Maybe once or twice this week…

Last week I gave you a bit of a teaser, and left you hanging…  But, I’m not going to do that today!  I’m finally going to spill the beans about how to make the perfect meal plan.

I have a number of meals that I can whip up quickly.  Like tonight:  wild salmon, topped with lemon juice, dill, and garlic granules.  With veg and some sort of carb on the side.  Tonight’s veg & carb was leftover from a few nights ago.  Delicious!  However, tonight’s meal was an anomaly, though.  Normally, if I whip something up, it’s not well planned.  But when I plan, I definitely eat much better!

I plan meals on Sundays.  My Sunday mornings go a bit like this:

  • Wake up & grab the paper
  • Make coffee & breakfast
  • Eat breakfast while reading the paper & clipping coupons
  • Break out the Grid
  • Review the coupons, food in the fridge, freezer & pantry for what’s best this week (pull out the grocery circulars, too – ours come on Wednesdays)
  • Complete the Grid
What?  You don’t have a Grid?!?  I found this great mousepad at a local stationery store.  It’s a perfect meal planning grid!  It’s basically just 7 columns wide by 7 columns long, so it fits the days of the week & the Meal / Snack combination.
 I start by filling out any meals that I know I’ll be eating out – Thursday night dinner, for example.  I’ll just make a big X, and indicate “out” – or, even include nights when we plan take-out (like the night that our cleaners have just cleaned the house – I certainly don’t cook those nights!).  I also tend to X out snacks on the weekends, since I’m usually either grabbing something or (more likely) having bigger meals at mealtimes, so I don’t plan for snacks then.

After that, I’ll start with dinners.  I’ll move some chicken, fish, or beef from the freezer (usually enough for 2 meals) to defrost in the fridge.  I also base my decisions on the veg that I have in the fridge.  We get a CSA delivery once every 2 weeks.  I do my best to use that up within a week and a half with planned meals.  So, if I get celery root (for example), I’ll search for recipes that have celery root.

I have  few go-to cookbooks, as well as a file folder of recipes from magazines (that I’ve torn out).  If I have something odd in my CSA bin that week, I’ll head to the inter webs to find a tasty-sounding recipe.  I’ll usually try 1 to 2 recipes per week that I haven’t tried before, and mix in a few meals that I’m super comfortable making (if the new recipes don’t turn out, I don’t want to be disappointed a few days in a row!).

Once I finish the dinners, it’s really easy to complete the lunches!  For lunch on Tuesday, for example, I eat leftovers from Monday’s dinner.  I’ll do my best to mix it up though.  If I had grilled chicken breast with roasted veg for dinner, I’ll top that on arugula and add some goat cheese for a great salad!  Since we typically make 4 meals’ worth of food for dinner, for my hubby & I, this works out perfectly!  Once we’re finished with lunch the next day, no more leftovers!  (But, if we’re making something larger, like lasagna, I’ll add in a few more days / nights of leftovers.  It’s all in the plan!)

On to breakfast!  I have a number of go-to breakfasts that I have every single week.  4 hardboiled egg whites with some sort of fruit.  A smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, and oatmeal.  Egg white scramble with loads of veggies.  Oatmeal with berries, granola, and nut butter.  The list goes on!  So, I mix a few of those in there (keeping in mind any early meetings), and plop those into the Grid.

Snacks are easy.  Every snack has protein & some type of carb.  So, I have a number of go-to snacks, too:  greek yogurt with fruit or granola, almonds with fruit, nut butter with celery, cheese and fruit or veg, 2 hardboiled eggs and veg, granola and fruit.  I make sure that I’m not having too much nut butter in 1 day – so I’ll be sure that on a day when I’m having oatmeal or a smoothie with nut butter, I won’t also have a snack with nut butter.  It’s all about balance!

Now your Grid is complete!

Time to plan the grocery shopping!  We shop at Trader Joe’s or Sprout’s on a weekly basis – your local store would work too.  I hit up Costco about once every 3 to 4 weeks for the major items (wild salmon or organic chicken breast – which can be frozen, although I prefer my fish never frozen).

I flip over the Grid, and start determining, based on the items on the Grid, what I need to buy.  I’ll separate the page into various sections of the grocery store:  Pantry, Dairy, Meat / Seafood, Frozen, Produce.  Then I’ll start adding in the ingredients from my recipes and the grid boxes, along with how much I need.  How many tubs of yogurt?  What size of Vegetable broth?  (Would a can work, or do I need one of those 4-cup boxes?)  I’ll then take stock of standards that we always have on hand, to be sure that I’m all set.  Do I need more garlic?  How are we on whole wheat flour?  (I usually have a list going of staples, like those – so I won’t forget).

Most Importantly:  When I’m in the store, I stick to the list!  Since I already know what I want is on sale, I’ve already factored that in.  And I don’t let myself get sucked in by something that looks tasty at the store.  Because if it’s not in my house, I won’t eat it!

Do you meal / menu plan?  Any tricks that you’d recommend for me?

About TresLaLa

I'm really just a thin girl with a lot of extra padding...

9 responses »

  1. I LOVE this. Our meal planning is so haphazard – you’ve given me something to work toward. And best of all, it seems realistic. Like I could probably handle this kind of planning over my Sunday morning breakfast, and I’d make a lot fewer last-minute trips to the grocery store during the week!

    • Thanks Alyse! Glad that it’ll be helpful! I find it somewhat relaxing (<– weirdo, right here), and it just fits in with my Sunday plans! Let me know how it turns out!

  2. Very impressive. Thank you for sharing – it is really helpful.

  3. i LOVE meal planning! it can take a while, and i get stuck, but it’s so worthwhile, even if you don’t stick to it 100%. it also makes grocery shopping more efficient and less expensive. i try to figure out what meals i like a lot and put them in. then i figure out how i’m going to use up the extra ingredients that don’t make it into the recipe, because i hate leftovers. i try to get as much variety as i can out of as few ingredients, so i can save money, being the poor college kid that i am.

    • Completely agree RE: less expensive! Otherwise, I’m kind of a, “Oh, that looks good. I’ll buy this bunch of leeks. And some dried cherries. Who cares that I don’t have a clue how to use them in any recipes!” And, I definitely try to cross-promote! I’ve found the easiest way to use up extra ingredients: homemade pizza! You can put anything on it – doesn’t NEED sauce, or cheese even (although the hubby might disagree on that one…)

  4. My “grid” is definitely not as fancy as yours…looks more like chicken scratch on a scrap piece of paper 🙂 But I am a nerd like you and truly enjoy planning my meals out. hehe. 2 questions for you:
    1). What CSA are you a part of?
    2). What are your go-to cookbooks?

    Hope you have been recovering from last week! xoxo

    • I used to draw it out every week, until I went to Kitson, and HAD to have this pad. Of course, I’ll never be able to find it again once I use it up… We get Healthy Harvest ( every 2 weeks (Medium box) on Thursdays. It’s delivered to our door, along with 2 dozen free range eggs and a loaf of artisan bread… Love it. They send an email during the week to let us know what’s coming, and send along some recipes (especially if we’re getting something weird). I’ve found the best cookbooks for me are Weight Watchers books (a few of them), Cooking Light (a few of those), South Beach Diet (I just make sure to check the calories before making…), and the Eat Clean Diet Cookbook.

  5. Pingback: Sorry, I have other plans… « TresLaLa to TinyLaLa

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