I have become convinced that a well-run home starts in the kitchen. A well-fed and healthy family also starts there. Money saving, nutrition, yummy goodness from scratch, a myriad of skills, and good memories all happen partially or completely in the kitchen. But all this requires something: a plan. One of the most basic plans for this wonderfully homey kitchen is a meal plan.
Oh, but where to begin?
Okay, confession time. When I got engaged to my hubby seven years ago and we started making meals at his place together sometimes, I could cook tacos. And pancakes from a store-bought mix. That’s it. (That’s all you need, right?)
Now I cook our dinner most nights, and while tacos still happen frequently (duh), they aren’t my only option. Last week included me cooking or baking everything from homemade white bread for sandwiches, to pumpkin bites, to broccoli bacon mac n’ cheese. All from scratch.
Big difference, right?
I have found that all of this goes better if I have some sort of plan in place. The more kids you have and/or the busier you get, the more important this is, guys. I kinda planned before kids, enough that I had what I needed for dinners through the week. I kept some staples on hand, like oatmeal (the kind in packets) to take to work for breakfast. But it wasn’t really that complicated.
Now as I seek to cook from scratch and waste less food, I find that my planning needs have increased. So let’s talk about how to plan these wonderful, healthy (ish?), from-scratch meals.
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Get a Planner
I got this magnetic dry-erase planner to go on my fridge last year. I like being able to remove it and sit down at my table with my recipe book to meal plan if I really need to brainstorm. The great thing about this one is it has spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, and a grocery list.
It used to be I wouldn’t plan for anything but dinner. I’d just list options that we had on hand or that I kept stocked for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Now I’ve started being more on top of planning those, although they’re still more flexible than dinner.
If you prefer, just print this out (use landscape orientation) and either laminate it or put it in a picture frame. Write with dry erase markers on the plastic or the glass.
If you’re really new at this, and especially if you don’t know much about cooking like me seven years ago, this is important.
I went to my mom’s, got her most-used recipe books, and typed up all of my favorites. I printed them out, stuck them in a three-ring binder, and still use them year later. There’s a lot more recipes in them now, of course, but those were a life saver when I started out. I knew they were good, I’d seen her make them and maybe even helped with some steps, so I didn’t feel totally lost.
Whenever someone makes something I love, I ask for the recipe.
Food blogger sites and Pinterest are gold, too. Some of my favorite new recipes of late have come from Pinterest, and my favorite Paleo recipes almost exclusively have come from paleOMG.
With some trial and error, you’ll learn a few things. For example, if you’re going to be buying bell peppers for one recipe but you know it won’t use them all up, plan something else for the remaining bell peppers a few days later so they don’t go bad. Perhaps you’re low on beef, have plenty of chicken, and payday isn’t until next week so you don’t want to buy a lot of meat this week. Plan a bunch of chicken-based recipes. That’s what mine looks like this week. Chicken, chicken, chicken.
Don’t forget to plan for things like date nights, church, outings with friends, family dinners, holidays, and other meals that you aren’t eating at home. Every Wednesday I have a little church group for fellowship, and we share a potluck-style meal. I like bringing a dessert or side, and have to plan for that rather than a regular meal.
Don’t forget leftovers. They make great lunches, especially for anyone who works.
Plan What You’ll Eat, Eat What You Plan
A meal plan is useless if you don’t use it. Plan tasty stuff you actually want to eat. Figure out time frames for your meals so you know when to start cooking. Look ahead, especially if you ever do crockpot meals that need to be started in the morning. Make it happen.
Don’t Give Up
I don’t always make every meal I planned, especially for breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I’ll just leave a dinner day blank because there’s a good chance that I’m going to end up at my parents’ house watching my two-year-old run circles around the kitchen with his grandpa, which means dinner there. Then I can just shuffle my dinners around to the days that I’m home.
It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. Do what you can, reevaluate as needed, and you can always try again next week.