Recently I was inspired by Jes to post my meal planning routine in case it helps anyone else out there! I think we all have our own methods, but it’s always good to get a different perspective.
This year I signed up for E-Mealz, a service that assembles meal plans for you – I chose the Vegetarian Any Store plan for 2. Honestly, I really only use about 1-2 recipes from this service per week. It’s a nice service, and cheap at $5 per month, but they tend to do WAY too much Mexican food. For the record, vegetarians eat more than just burritos, even in Texas! I rarely see Asian foods featured in their meal plans and we all love Asian food of any kind. Also, they use a lot of processed fake meat like fake bacon and fake ground meat… we really don’t like the flavor of those things and they are pricey and full of preservatives and chemicals, so we try to avoid them. I keep debating whether to cancel the service…
Another factor in my meal planning is our membership to a local CSA. Every 2 weeks we receive a huge tub of seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables which need to be used up before they go bad or before we get the next shipment. Very often, when we get things like persimmons, parsnips, and other veggies I have not cooked before, I either get recipes from the CSA message board or I go to Allrecipes.com and do an ingredient search.
And finally, my favorite vegetarian cookbook “Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet”
I also have a recipe database on our MacBook called Yummy Soup where I store favorite recipes.
I don’t have a very sophisticated system for the planning, really. Whenever I have the time – ideally on a Saturday or Sunday, but if we are overscheduled on a weekend, sometimes it is a weeknight – I sit down with the goal of coming up with 2-3 meals that need actual preparation, and 1-2 meals that will be “ready to serve”. The “ready to serve” meals are for the 1-2 days a week that I have to go into the office and will come home and only have 15-20 minutes to get dinner on the table before my son melts down. The other meals can be done on days I am working from home and can do food prep during breaks or at lunch. We usually have at least 1-2 nights a week where we have dinner commitments requiring us to eat out, so those nights I won’t have to cook either.
First, I typically look at E-Mealz to see how many of their recipes I can use. Usually there are 1 or 2. I put the ingredients I need into my Grocery Gadget app on my iPhone, which is my shopping list. Then I write the name of the recipe and the E-Mealz plan number in the Notes section of my iPhone so I can find it later that week when it comes time to cook (EM = E-Mealz).
To the right is a screenshot of my Menu Note in the iPhone. This way, I can look at the list any day and decide which meal I’m going to use that evening, usually based on how much time I will end up having, and know where the recipe is located.
Next, I take a look at what produce I have from the CSA, and find recipes that I can use for those ingredients in either my cookbooks or Allrecipes.com. I also put the needed items for those recipes into the Grocery Gadget app and the name and location of the recipe in the Notes section.
Finally, if I am still short on meals, I might use a recipe from Real Simple or Clean Eating magazine that I have been saving. Again, I put the needed items for those recipes into the Grocery Gadget app and the name and location of the recipe in the Notes section (CE = Clean Eating).
If I am short on “ready to serve” meals, I look through my coupons to find things I can buy at the store, like Morningstar products. I also write the items down in Grocery Gadget and write down the meal idea in the Notes. That’s what I did for “Bertolli Pasta” in the image above. Bertolli makes a heat-only pasta that comes in a bag with shrimp and veggies. I have a bag in the freezer right now, so it’s listed as a meal option in my Notes app.
As a mom who works full time outside the home, my grocery shopping trips are often severely limited, I can usually only make it one or two stores in a week. If we aren’t over-scheduled for the weekend, I try do my meal planning and shopping on Sundays while Little Sir is napping and Christian can stay home with him. When we have back-to-back plans all weekend and I can’t shop, I divide the items I need into stores I can visit over my lunch breaks during the week. One day I will visit a Tom Thumb in Plano during lunch when I am working from the office, and another day I will visit the Whole Foods or Target near our house when I am working from home. I have gotten pretty good at doing the entire week’s shopping in 45 minutes, since I only have 60 minutes for lunch. The main challenge is needing refrigeration for some items on the days I do shopping in Plano and have to return to the office.
I do use coupons that I clip from the Sunday Dallas Morning News when I can. However, since we try to use as little processed foods as possible, I don’t use a ton of coupons.
Well, that is about all for my meal planning process. It’s a little problematic sometimes, but overall it seems to work if I make time for it. How does yours differ? Do you have any suggestions to offer?