It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I plan all my meals every single week. In my former life as a teacher I used to make weekly lesson plans, so meal planning has always been a logical and natural habit for me. Since starting Trim Healthy Mama it’s become even more important, and I truly believe it is a huge factor in my success with THM. However, a few months back I realized that planning our meals for the week was an extremely stressful experience. It seemed like it took me hours every time I did it, which was usually on a Saturday. I hated wasting our family time trying to come up with meals and a grocery list. Half the time I would realize midway through the week that I had planned three chicken dishes in a row. Our family loves chicken, but that’s a bit much. We were also throwing away food and leftovers that just weren’t getting eaten fast enough, and I cringed every time I emptied a Tupperware container into the trash at the thought of the wasted money. I needed a better system. Finally one Saturday during nap time my husband and I sat down and made a master meal plan with four weeks worth of different dinners. What a game changer. Now at the beginning of the week I just pull up the next week’s master plan, make any changes necessary based on our schedule for the week, and click through the recipes on my list app to make our grocery list. Boom. Done. Let me break it down a little bit more for you with the steps we took to make our master plan.
1. Make a list of all your favorite recipes
Chris helped me get started, then I just used my Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook to round out the meals. With little effort we brainstormed a list of twenty recipes. I decided to only plan on cooking five dinners each week, so that was enough for four weeks.
2. Categorize your recipes (optional)
Ok, this is where I got a little crazy. I went through and color-coded every meal based on different categories like protein (beef, chicken, pork, etc.), meal type (Italian or Mexican), and crockpot. I also noted whether the meal was E or S (for Trim Healthy Mama). I know, I’m a freak. This is a totally optional step, but one of the things that stressed me out so much was trying to make sure we had variety throughout the week, so we weren’t eating only Mexican chicken dishes.
3. Group your recipes into weeks
Next I simply grouped the recipes into four weeks, trying to alternate protein types and flavors as much as possible. I did organize by day of the week, but you could also just group five meals together if you don’t want to worry about a specific meal for a specific day.
4. Type up your meals into a spreadsheet
Chris helped me format an Excel page with the days of the week down the side and meals across the top. When following the Trim Healthy Mama plan it’s very helpful to plan out each of your meals, but you could certainly simplify and just write down your dinner plans. I made four different master spreadsheets, one for each week of meals. I included leftovers in my planning so that less food would be wasted. Yay!
5. Enter recipes into a phone app (optional but highly recommended)
This last step has made creating a grocery list super easy. My tech-savvy hubby found an app called AnyList that will allow you to created recipes and then add the ingredients to your grocery list. You can create different lists for different stores, and even order the categories (dairy, produce, meat, etc.) by aisle in your favorite store. No more backtracking through Walmart! Woohoo! You can share the account with multiple phones, so if I add an item it will show up on in my husband’s app too. We created “recipes” for snack and lunch food too, so I can scan those for anything we need for the week (don’t you hate getting home and realizing you forgot fruit snacks? Ugh, that’s the worst).
This is my sanity saving system. Is it a little time-consuming in the beginning? Yes. Is it a bit over-thought? Maybe. Am I a little OCD? Perhaps. But hey, if meal planning drives you crazy too, or if you don’t meal plan and want to start, hopefully this will give you some ideas. Do you have the perfect meal planning system in place or a fantastic list app you love? Please share!