How I Meal Plan Part 1: The Basics

A few weeks ago I shared in our Rustic Posy Community group (found here http://www.facebook.com/groups/rusticposyboutique) a few of my favorite cookbooks for meal planning…and I got loads of questions on how I meal plan, where to start and plenty of people who commented they wished they could stick to a meal plan.  I planned to write this post at that time, but then my auto-immune issues cranked it into high gear so I’ve been in survival mode.

Even in survival mode, we stuck (mostly) to our meal plan, and I still managed to get groceries ordered and dinner made.  The thing is, since my auto immune issues have worsened, I’ve had to adjust my meal planning strategies!  I realized, this post needed to come in two parts.  This first part is going to be the basics.  It will be followed by a second part that’s going to be a little more detailed on how I plan for my auto immune diet, which can easily be tailored to planning any kind of special diet (ie- gluten-free, weight-loss oriented, etc.).

People tend to feel the need to meal plan for two main reasons-  to save money and simplify the meal making process.  It’s the never-ending question at 5:30pm-  what’s for dinner?!  I feel like I need to make one other disclaimer at this point-  what works for me, may not work for you.  Like all things when it comes to simplifying and organizing, there’s not a one-size fits all method.  It’s trial and error, tweaking and changing until you find the perfect fit for you and your needs.  You need to meal plan around your budget and your family’s needs and not anyone else’s.  This is a great place to start, but you may find you need to make a few adjustments to make it work for you!

I meal plan once a week.  I know there are people out there who plan two weeks at a time or even a whole month at a time (props to you amazing women!).  Planning once a week is what works for us.  I generally know what my next week is going to look like, know what produces will still be good in my fridge, etc.  In general, I don’t plan my sides, just my main dishes.  We have a pretty standard set of sides that go with most meals including rice dishes, various vegetables, breads, potato dishes, etc.  I do all my planning the day before my weekly grocery pick-up (thank you Wal-Mart grocery pick-up!  If you still need to try it out, use this code for $10 off your first pick-up order:  http://r.wmt.co/jGBtG ).  Currently for me, my planning day is Wednesday.  Now because I’m one of those weird people who get a crazy high off of organizing and planning, I love meal planning day.  It’s usually relaxing for me.  I also love to cook, so searching for new recipes to try is very leisurely for me.  Don’t overcomplicate it!  Yes, there are some amazing printables out there, but my planner works just fine.  In fact, I used to just write it out on a sticky note and stick it in my planner!  When I got my new planner, I customized it to include a meal planning section.  It’s where my life schedule is so for me, it makes sense to have my meal plan there too.

Everyone should have some go-to recipes.  If you don’t like cooking or new recipes, I’d suggest coming up with 20 or so basic recipes that you can rotate between.  If you’re like me and love to try new recipes, I have roughly 10-15 basic recipes I rotate through and then add three or four new recipes to try each week.  Some of our rotated recipes include:  spaghetti (a kiddo fav), sausage and eggs (because you can eat breakfast anytime!), taco bake or tacos, chicken alfredo and baked chicken.

When I sit down to meal plan, I do two things before I even start.  First, I check if there are any meals from the week before that didn’t get made.  Those automatically move to the week’s meal plan because I have already purchased the ingredients for those particular meals.  Second, I go through my freezers, pantry and fridge and note what proteins I have and any produce and perishables that need to be used up.  We are so incredibly blessed to get a large majority of our proteins from Greg’s parents on the farm, but around this time of the year, we start to run low on all of our proteins so I make darn sure I’m using the proteins already in my freezers.  (Another tip- when the budget is tight, I highly recommend planning a couple meatless meals during the week.  Greg is a huge meat-guy, but I’ve managed to find a few meatless meals even he enjoys!)

Once I have those lists I go my cookbooks and Pinterest and look for meals that would use up my current produce, perishables and meat.  I have some amazing boards on my Pinterest page.  Feel free to check them out here:  https://www.pinterest.com/rusticposy/  Now here is where people can get frustrated with meal planning:  you plan an amazing week of meals which is great, but you forget to account for what your week holds.  I know that on Monday, my son has taekwondo from 4:45pm-5:15pm.  If I plan a meal that requires a lot of hands-on prep plus a 40 minute cook time, that’s simply not going to work.  I’m going to end up ordering pizza and be frustrated because my meal plan “didn’t work.”  So look at your schedule and plan accordingly!

As you’re making your meal plan, make your grocery list.  Check your pantry for ingredients you may already have so you’re not buying items unnecessarily.  I tend to make a grocery list and star the items I need to check on so I’m not constantly getting up to check my pantry.  What I love about picking up my groceries is that I don’t get lost in Target-land and put unnecessary things in my cart!  Haha!  I also love that I can see my total before I checkout.  I can see if I’m over budget and if there’s anything I can wait to get until next week.

To keep my pantry stocked on my basics, anytime something is taken out of it (a new bottle of ranch, olive oil, etc.), it immediately goes on my grocery list.  This way, I’m never out of something I use on a regular basis, and I don’t have to make quick trips to the grocery store down the street in the middle of the week (and pay double the price!).

Below are some of my fav cookbooks (missing are the Whole30 cookbooks!).  We try and eat a very “real food” diet with as little processed foods as possible.  Partly due to my auto immune issues and partly because it’s just healthier for you 😉

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Weekdays are busy and hectic with school and running to various activities so I make sure my weekday meals are easy prep and quick.  I work from home, so I’m able to start my meal prep earlier than those who work 8-5, then have to pick-up kids and get home and start dinner.  For you guys, I’d highly recommend some sort of meal prepping on the weekend, even if it’s just chopping your veggies, pre-measuring them out and putting them in labeled containers or bags for quick retrieval!

Because I really enjoy cooking, I tend to plan meals for Saturday and Sunday that involve a little more time.  I involve my kids and let them help measure, prep meat, etc.  They love getting to use kitchen tools and pour liquids, I get to teach them basic life skills and we get to spend quality time together.  These are the meals that can bake for an hour in the oven or cook for 6 hours in the slow cooker and make the house smell amazing.   (PS- if you’re willing to do a little extra prep work one evening or on the weekend, crockpot freezer meals will save you sooo much time!)

Below is a sample week of my basic meal plan.  I never used to plan breakfasts or lunches because I work from home and would just eat whatever I found to make.  But as I mentioned above, with my auto immune diet, I had to tweak that so we’ll cover that more in Part 2!  I currently meal plan on Wednesdays and pick up my groceries on Thursdays.

H-  Ham Casserole

F-  Twice Baked Potatoes (See! Meatless meals!)

S-  Italian Dressing Grilled Chicken

S-  Stuffed Cube Steak

M-  Sausage and Eggs

T-  Chicken Alfredo

W-  Baked Shells with Ricotta

Here’s the thing though-  life happens.  You can have a perfectly set meal plan but sometimes things come up, you get home later than planned, you  just simply don’t feel like cooking (if this happens to me, it’s usually on Friday evening!).  So here’s the other thing I want you to do:  stock up on a few quick items.  Have frozen pizzas and extra chicken breasts on hand.  Keep extra canned or frozen veggies and rice dishes on hand for these nights.  I can make a quick chicken meal that has five minutes of prep, bakes for a half hour and dinner is on the table!  If you’re making a casserole or spaghetti or soup, make a double batch and freeze half for these types of nights.  Don’t beat yourself when you have these nights!  Life is not about perfection, but we can be prepared for the things that pop-up, not get too stressed out, stay on budget and still feed our families.  And when all else fails, make eggs and toast 😉

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So there’s the basics!  How I meal plan, how I’m able to stick to my meal plan and all the details!  As I mentioned above, I recently had to change up my meal planning strategy due to my auto-immune diet.  In Part 2 of this post, I’ll focus on how I plan for my breakfasts and lunches and also how I do a little more detailed planning for dinner (because I promise my kids are not going to eat the roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes that come out of the oven!).  In the meantime, if you have any questions or struggles with meal planning, I’d love to help!  Comment here or contact me!  Blessings to you, Friends ❤

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