How many times have you come home after a busy day, whether you were running errands, at work, or even doing something fun, and realized you had nothing to make for dinner? For me it’s been too many to count. In that moment, have you wished you had a better way of meal planning? Well, I’m here to tell you that setting up a system of simple meal planning is easier than you think.
After eating out more times than we should, I knew I needed to come up with a super simple meal planning method that is really easy to use and doesn’t take much time. Because who has time every week for a long, drawn out meal planning process?
The method I finally figured out is great because it is visual, flexible, and, above all, easy to use. So here are the steps to creating a simple meal plan that will work for your family.
1. Get supplies.
I have found that the best way to meal plan simply is to make sure it is very visual and flexible. So to accomplish this start by purchasing a magnetic chalkboard, magnets, note cards (I got mini index cards), envelopes, and chalkboard markers.
2. Make meal categories.
Next, think about what different types of meals you would like to cycle through each week. Then take your envelopes and write each category on the outside of an envelope.
I, for example, have envelopes for chicken, beef, fish, turkey, pork, and vegetable/pasta. Some other possibilities could be vegetarian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, soup, slow cooker, breakfast for dinner, etc.
Include a “Used” envelope and also an “Upcoming” envelope if you plan to shop for more meals than will fit on your chalkboard at any given time. My board, for instance, fits seven meals, but since I sometimes shop for as many as twelve meals at a time those extra recipe cards would go in my “Upcoming” envelope.
3. Write down family favorite recipes.
Do you have any recipes you always find yourself coming back to? Well, gather any up that you know you definitely want to keep in rotation and write the meal names down on note cards. One family favorite of ours, for example, is the Finnish breakfast, platuse, that would work great in a breakfast for dinner category.
4. Fill in any recipe gaps.
Once you have your categories and favorite recipes written, take a look at how many recipes you have and what categories they fall under. Decide how many different weeks’ worth of recipes you want to be able to cycle through, and see how many more recipes you would need in each category in order to be able to do that.
Once you know how many recipes you need and of what sort, then find a reliable place to source the rest of your recipes.
I always recommend America’s Test Kitchen to people because their recipes have such consistently good results. I find meal planning much easier when I have a limited number of sources I am looking at that I know will give me good results.
5. Put the meals onto note cards.
Write all of the names of any new recipes you find recipes onto note cards, and divide the note cards into the envelope categories that they belong in. Keep extra note cards around as well so that as you find new recipes you like and want to make again you can add them to your rotation.
If you need to, write on the back of each note card where to find that recipe, such as the book title and page number or website name.
6. Use markers to divide the chalkboard into days of the week.
I used a ruler to space out lines and then draw them on my chalkboard so that there was a block for each day of the week.
7. Pick how many meals you want to shop for at one time, and fill up the chalkboard.
Once you have all of this set up, it’s time to make a meal plan. I like to look at each category one at a time and pick one or two per envelope to add to my upcoming meals. Once you’ve picked what recipes to make place them on the day you think you’d like to make them on.
8. Once you make a meal, place the note card in the “Used” envelope and replace with one from the “Upcoming” envelope.
After you’ve picked your recipes, gone grocery shopping, and started making meals, you can take them off one at a time and place them in the “Used” envelope.
I like to have a “Used” envelope in the first place because then once I go to meal plan again the recipes I just used are out of the rotation so that I am only picking new recipes.
9. When all the recipes have ended up in the “Used” envelope reorganize them and repeat.
After you have gone through all of the meals in your various categories, take them out of the “Used” envelope, put them back in the category they belong in, and repeat the whole process!
Now of course, if you want to repeat a recipe then there is no reason you can’t grab it out of the “Used” envelope. The point isn’t to say that you can’t make the same recipes in a row and limit you but to help you keep track of what has been made recently so that it’s easier to have variety.
Meal planning does not have to be complicated at all. For this very simple way of meal planning you just need some supplies, the most prominent being a chalkboard and note cards, to fill out those note cards with recipes, categorize and arrange them on the chalkboard, and get shopping!
What have you tried doing to add simplicity to your meal planning?
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