Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Meal Planning

The Illinois group was recently chatting about meal planning. Specifically, that if we were better at it, we could clear out our freezers and make room for cooking together more often! So I said I'd put together a little post about how I do my meal planning.

Meal planning is important if you do much freezer cooking because it does no good to have a meal in the freezer if you didn't plan to let it thaw the appropriate amount of time before cooking.

First, I make an inventory of everything in both of my freezers (the one attached to my fridge and the small chest freezer in the garage), right down to the number of sticks of butter, or half a bag of frozen peas. I make two copies of this list.

Then, I sit down and think of a list of meals I can make with those items, and cross ingredients off one inventory as I've "used" them for meals.

Third, I add the meals to my calendar. For this I usually use a blank calendar template from Microsoft that has a full month per page (this is the one I just downloaded for 2011)*. While doing this, I make sure to note days we will be out of town or will otherwise not be eating at home. I usually leave at least one night a week (Friday!) where I don't plan a meal so we can either eat leftovers or else go out. I print out one month at a time and keep the calendar on the fridge for easy access.

Most importantly, I print out the second copy of my freezer inventory and put that on the fridge as well. We cross off ingredients or meals as we use them throughout the month. Somehow, I never remember to add items I put into the freezer as I grocery shop so I always end up making a new inventory from scratch next time I want to plan meals.

Not all meals on the calendar are freezer meals. I put a note under the meal of any items that I will need from the grocery store, such as fresh buns to go with the sloppy joes in the freezer.

Some people only like to plan a week at a time (perhaps to take advantage of sale ads), but for me it's hard to remember to do it every week so a month works better. This actually works great with our group because I know what we'll be making and I can schedule those meals in my month before they are actually in my freezer!

Alright, now that I've typed all this up, I suppose I should actually go DO THIS for my household (and my sanity)!

Leave a comment: Do you do meal planning? What do you do differently? What tips can you share?

*I've tried scheduling meals into my online Google calendar but it never seems to work as well as having a printout on the fridge. I thought I'd mention it in case it works for someone else.

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