In an effort to save some time and money, we've been "meal planning" for a while. I did this for a few reasons:
1) We were not so good at "what should we have for dinner tonight?" and getting dinner prepared and eaten before 10pm.
2) Even when we thought about it in terms of "what should we have for dinner THIS WEEK", we were still stopping at the store every day on the way home, which was leading to a lot of extra purchases and lots of extra money.
3) When I got pregnant, I immediately became too tired to eat a late dinner, and eventually got too fat to stop at the store on the way home.
So over the past few months, we've evolved our meal planning technique. I have two excel documents: one has lists of our favorite dinners, and lunch and snack ideas; the other is a calendar where I plan out the dinners.
I plan about two months at a time. First I go through and put in any special plans (like classes, people visiting, or holidays). Then I go through and rotate the "protein", weighing more heavily on the chicken, since it's easier. Then I go through the lists of dinners, separated by protein, and then fill them in. Then I go through and fill in the grains/starches/side dish ideas. I usually leave the vegetables until the week of, and we buy them fresh. If there is a recipe link, I hyperlink right there in the file, so I can find it easily when it's time to cook.
Here's where it gets tricky. The next step is to make a grocery list from the meal plan. Ideally, we make a list of everything we need and then go through the pantry to see what we already have. Then we do a HUGE Peapod order with everything else. We first started using Peapod in January, when I was too pregnant to carry home cranberry juice, and I LOVE it! We'll do a massive order every month (or two), with all the meat and non-perishables we'll need for the whole month (or two). We can order bulk packages of chicken and pork chops, and a few packages of ground turkey, and then separate out serving sizes in freezer bags. Then when it's time to defrost, I can just take out one bag. The problem arises when I forget certain ingredients and they get left off the grocery list . . .
Here is where "Plan to Eat" may save my life.
I first saw this on the Simple Mom blog, and there is a cool "tour" on the sight. I signed up for the one-month trial and played with it over the weekend.
First I put in the recipes for things we'd be eating this week. You can import recipes from lots of websites, including SparkRecipes.com (I've been trying to get back into using SparkPeople.com, with varying success). Then I put all the plans into the calendar page.
What I like:
- There are Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snack sections, so I can plan out my work snacks.
- I can add "Events" just like in my document
- I can add "ingredients" for random things I want to cook or eat, like "brownies" or Gipper's birthday cake.
- I can drag and drop from the list onto the calendar
- It easily links to the recipe
What I don't like (or haven't figured out how to do yet):
- I can't customize the colors
- In my excel doc, I have slots for the protein, vegetable, and grain/starch, to make sure I have one of each at each meal and it's easy to see what's been planned and what hasn't. This calendar is a little harder to read.
Based on your meal plan, it then generates a Shopping List. This part is AMAZING so far! It reads the recipe and includes EVERYTHING (including "water", which I think is funny. My dad would always joke "where am I supposed to find water at this time of night?!" when he'd see it in a recipe). It separates things into departments (produce, dairy, etc.), you can you edit these if you need to. You can also specify different stores, in case the isles are set up differently.
What I Like: It adds up all the quantities needed of ingredients across all your recipes, and then links back to them so you can see what the ingredient is being used for.
The mobile site is great. It has a super easy and check-off-able list that I can pull up on my phone. So after I finished the plan for the week, I took my phone into the kitchen and checked off all the items I had already. Then all I had to take to the store was my phone, and I was able to check it off as we shopped. (A bonus? When you've checked off everything it says, "Hurray! You have everything!", and that made me smile.) You can also view your meal plan and recipes, which means I don't have to drag the laptop into the kitchen, which I HATE doing (I WILL someday spill something on it).
Now here's where I'll be interested to see how it goes NEXT week . . .when you check off something on your list, it puts it in your "Pantry". So there is a list of all this stuff that I have, but I don't know what happens when I cook with it -- do I have to manually erase it from the pantry, or will it do it automatically? Then, next week, if I add a recipe that needs ingredients that I have leftover from last week, will it tell me to buy more, or tell me that I already have it? I'll let you know. I think that will make or break this -- if it does what I want it to, it will be totally worth the price ($40 per year).