Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Do you plan your meals?

My method of planning meals has changed several times over the past few years. When we first got married, I made a new main dish and a couple of sides every night of the week. It took a couple weeks of more leftovers than two people could ever consume (and a ridiculous grocery bill!) for me to realize that cooking for two people is nothing like how I remember my mom cooking for six people growing up.

For the majority of our marriage, I have been cooking a full meal three to four times a week, with the other nights slated as going out to eat, entertaining (and thus requiring a new meal) or getting together with friends, or eating leftovers. The leftovers were definitely more manageable, but I still felt like we were wasting food. Even if it was looking like there were a lot of leftovers for a certain week, when Thursday rolled around I would make Thursday's dinner for fear the ingredients I had purchased would spoil. We were throwing away too many leftovers and too much produce, and I didn't like it.

So! this fall I've tried a more relaxed way of meal planning, with the goal to waste less food. Planning for several weeks in advance, I make a list of all of the meals I could potentially make for dinners for those weeks. I then look at the weekly ad for Publix, noting which meats and produce are on sale that week. Then I go back to my list of meals and pick out which ones might be suitable for this week, depending on the sales and how I can use the same produce for several meals (the goal being not to waste anything). I also compare my list of meals to the rest of the sales, noting which items are BOGO that I might need for any of the meals in the coming weeks (pasta, canned tomatoes, cheeses, etc.).

Once I come home with my groceries, I prep my meat. If I need cooked ground beef or sausage, I go ahead and cook it, divide it into containers, label it for the meals I need it, and throw it in the freezer. For chicken, I either cook it and shred/chop it, or trim any fat and package it by how much I need for a specific recipe, again labeling and putting it in the freezer.

When it comes time to prepare a meal from my rough plan for the week, I thaw my meat (usually putting it in the fridge the night before) and cook dinner. If I'm finding that we have more leftovers than I anticipated, I won't prepare one of the meals that I had planned for the end of the week and will let it roll over to the next week (meat still in the freezer). I move any extra the produce to an additional tossed salad or as snacks with hummus to make sure it doesn't go bad. If I'm making a soup or chili, I usually freeze half to pull out for another week in the future.

Here's some of the main dishes that have been on my list this fall (all recipes linked):
Texas Two Step Chicken
Slow Cooker Sweet & Tangy Meatballs
Chicken Enchilada Soup
Stuffed Peppers
Poppyseed Chicken
Black Bean Taco Soup
Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chicken Taquitos
Sausage & Tortellini Soup
Chicken Squares
Pasta Fagioli
Chicken Salad
Black Bean Chili
Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère

This is what I have found works best for me. It does take a little time on the front end to think a few weeks out and prep the meat, but I've found that it is so worth it. It takes me less time to make dinner after work, we're wasting less food, and our grocery bill has been less since I've started doing this, too! One of the things that makes this work so well is being able to count on good sales at Publix. There are always great BOGOs to take advantage of, and it's easy to plan meals based on what produce and meat is on sale each week. There's even more great sales this month at Publix as part of the October Fresh Savings event. You can find coupons to use here.

Do you already do this? It's been wonderful for me, but maybe I'm the last to catch on. How do you plan your meals?

(meal planning & grocery notepad from Brim Papery)

Disclosure: The information and prize pack have been provided by General Mills through Platefull Co-Op.


  1. So interesting to hear different strategies for meal planning. I am definitely more of an off-the-cuff meal planner, taking just a few days or a week at a time. I go to the store more often, but don't have to buy as much each time. Also, since groceries are more expensive where I live, I go to more discount grocery stores, so I'll go to one store to get a lot of things, and fill in later with whatever I need. Maybe it takes more time but we never waste food, because we just eat leftovers until we need a new meal!

  2. Wow, what a clever way to meal plan! I need to try this, once life settles down after our big move and I have a bigger freezer. European freezers are so small!

  3. i also meal plan, which i never did before brian and i got married. the past year i have grown a lot as a cook (i feel) because, like you, i was dealing with cooking for 2, trying to figure out how not to be wasteful, how not to cook every night, etc. you really described what i went through to a t, and we have similar eating schedules in terms of cooking/leftovers/going out. i also have learned to scale back in order to save money and food, and how to be inventive with leftovers. i love starting the week out with a roast chicken - the leftover meat can be used for a lunch, or monday night i cube it and throw it into a salad with some tomato and avocado. i truly love starting off the week with a salad because by the end of monday I don't want to do anything, much less cook :) From there, I try to focus on produce that's in season and making sure we're getting enough veggies - with my Italian background I feel like I fall to pasta too much. Keeping our health at the front of my mind and our weeknight meals is always a balance, each week seems to bring a new challenge or concern, but at the end of the day, I enjoy it. I'm glad I enjoy cooking so much because it's an unavoidable chore and yet it never really gets to me or exhausts me. I guess we'll see how I feel ten years in haha :)