25 September 2009

Meal Planning 101

Seriously, I am not a great cook. And furthermore, I don't really love cooking. Its a challenge. It always has been. My dad used to joke that if I had to unwrap something before I put it in the microwave it was too much work for me. And that's not far from the truth. When we were first married I tried to cook a few things rather unsuccessfully. We ate out a lot, and our best home-cooked meals were the ones Brad made. When I first became the stay-at-home wife, I felt I needed to cook our meals... but they often consisted of canned soup, frozen foods, and the occasional cream-soup-based casserole. Not great. Which made the eating-out option much more pleasing. But when we got serious about paying off our debt, God began to deal with my heart directly. He convinced me that I needed to do a better job of providing meals for my family. He also brought some like-minded friends into my life, which have encouraged me greatly! And He may have mentioned that whether I really liked it or not, it was a big piece of our family puzzle. The following verse spoke deeply to my heart, and still does. I plan to eventually display a version of it in our future dining room. Here are three versions, perhaps one will speak to you more than another.

"Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred."
Proverbs 15:17 (NIV)
"A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate."
(New Living Translation)
"Better a bread crust shared in love than a slab of prime rib served in hate."
(The Message)
If you are hoping to make a dent in your budget; if you want to change your eating habits; if you want to just be a bit more organized; then I hope this helps you. Providing meals at your family dinner table is an opportunity to reap huge dividends in your family dynamic.
I plan my meals one week at a time. Usually Tuesday-Monday. Often I sit down on Monday evening or Tuesday morning...I usually grocery shop on Tuesdays. {Just so you know, I dread this part. Dread it. Really. A lot. BUT, if I don't do this part, then the rest doesn't work. You know?} I found it helpful to have some cookbooks handy while I make the meal list. Some tried and true cookbooks, nothing too crazy.
I also have a three-ring-binder with recipes that I have been collecting from friends, family, and the internet. And some magazines. Magazines with simple, practical recipes. Nothing too crazy.
Now here is an important thing. Have your grocery list right next to you. As you fill in the blanks, write down what you need to buy to make the meals. I also have another paper handy so I make a list of things to check on in the cupboard, fridge or freezer - you know like pasta; to see if I need to buy more or if I have some on hand. After checking, I either add those items to the list (or not, if I don't need them).

I only plan dinners. Our lunches are simple. Usually leftovers or sandwiches. After I make the grocery list from the meal plan, I check on lunch supplies that we might need and also breakfast food. I try really really hard to stick to my list at the grocery store. I used to add "sweet snack" and "salty snack" to the list so I could have the freedom to add two random things to the cart while shopping. I have to admit, I have been straying a bit lately, so I might have to go back to this strategy.

In the pictures above, you see I am compiling a whole month of meals. But I only plan one week at a time. I just thought if I saved my lists, then in the future it might not be such a chore to plan. Oh, and I usually only try one new recipe a week. (Or two if one is a side dish). I am much messier when making a new recipe. One more tip. Because cooking is not one of my favorite things to do, I try to make it easier on myself. Whenever I make lasagna, I divide it two pans and freeze one. This way, one day down the road I won't have to cook. Or better yet, if someone I know needs a meal, I have one in the freezer for them. Because our family is still relatively small, pretty much any casserole recipe can be divided this way. When the boys are older, I am sure they will eat way more!

Start simple. Hang your meal list on your fridge. One of the best part about this whole thing is when someone asks, "What's for dinner?" You don't even have to think about it - just look at your list. If you google 'meal planning', you will probably find a multitude of helpful information. I am sure there are even sites that generate a plan for you.


  1. Thank you for this, I found this very helpful! You are wonderful and will be greatly missed!

  2. Great tips! Thanks for sharing, Amanda! I was just telling Dave that we should start doing that too!

  3. I love seeing all of these developments in your life. You are a truly inspirational woman!

  4. You are blogging like a real blogger! Great post! Inspiring but I'm not there yet. We went to Wendy's tonight :(

  5. Amanda, This is great. We had so much in common when you were my neighbor that I feel so sad that we didn't take the opportunity to talk more back then. Outside of motherhood, I too, do not feel gifted in cooking nor do I like it. I do it because we need to eat :), I always mess it up! It's funny..as I was reading this I tried a real banana bread recipe, not quick breads and it actually looks and tastes good! I'm inspired thanks for the post. I'll continue to read. Take care!