Meal Planning 101: Let's Get Organized!
Updated: Nov 1, 2018
Do you find yourself scrambling for a meal before dance class, or stopping at the drive-through after soccer practice? In this busy life full of activities, homework, and over-scheduling, getting healthy home-cooked meals on the table on a regular basis can seem near-impossible! With a little pre-planning, family meal-time can be salvaged. I've created some tools to help you out.
The first step to meal-planning is knowing what you have. Take stock of the items in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. What meals can you come up with from what you already have in the house? If you're anything like me, I have trouble knowing what's in the abyss of my deep freezer or pantry. I'll find an old, freezer-burnt roast from a year ago and have to throw it away, or I'll buy more peanut butter when I already have two jars in storage! This is a waste of food and money (well, at least the PB is a staple and won't go bad, but you get the picture), not to mention storage space. Then, when I try to put a meal together, I can't seem to find things to go together, because my grocery store trips are half-hazard...I just put things on the list that we use often, without any real plan on how to use them.... fresh produce goes bad and things in the freezer get old. When I do try to find a recipe for what I have on hand, I find that I don't have everything I need. Then, ugh! I have to make another trip to the store! Avoid these mistakes by creating an inventory of what's in your freezer and pantry. You can take inventory of your fridge too, but this changes so frequently it may be tough to keep up with. Now you'll know what you have and what you need!
As I'm trying to re-organize my kitchen and eating habits, I created my own pantry and freezer inventory lists to help stay organized. I've used other organizing lists in the past, but found they weren't arranged quite to my liking. I've developed these worksheets to be simple, yet with enough categories that items are easy to locate on the lists. Like anything, if the system doesn't work, it can be tough to stick to it. Case in point, I had started a year or so ago with inventories and meal planning, but then got out of the habit because it wasn't well-organized. I've been back to willy-nilly grocery shopping and cooking. It's time to get back to it! With these tools in hand, it should be easy!
Get started now with my Pantry Inventory and Freezer Inventory worksheets. Download the PDF's (link will re-direct you to the Documents page where you can download the worksheets) and print them for your own use.
You can either use pencil and simply erase to keep them up to date, or put them into plastic sleeves like I did and use a dry-erase marker to make changes. If you have access to a laminator, this would be even better! Most office supply stores offer laminating services.
The next step to successful meal planning is to actually plan your meals! Wouldn't it be great to know what you're making for the week?! Sounds good to me! All too often, at 5 o'clock I get the text from my husband, "What's for dinner?" and unfortunately my reply is usually, "Not sure, what's in the freezer that we can make quickly?", or "I took some chicken out to thaw this morning, but it's probably still frozen, how about pasta?". With a little pre-planning these scenarios can be avoided. Armed with your Freezer and Pantry Inventories, this task is made even easier. I find it best to take some time over the weekend, before grocery shopping, to sit down with my inventories and some recipes (or make them up!) and decide what to make for the week. That way, I can also tailor my grocery shopping to the meals on the plan for the week. I usually build in days for leftovers too, for those days that are just going to be too busy for anything else. If planned well, I can also re-use some of the ingredients from one meal for another day. This approach saves time and money, produces less food waste, and gets nutritious meals on the table for my family.
Looking for a way to organize those meal plans and shopping lists? The Sage Kitchen is here to help. In addition to my Freezer and Pantry Inventories, I've also created Weekly Healthy Meal Plan and Weekly Shopping List worksheets. I've arranged the meal planner by day of the week. Each day has a spot for a protein, veggie, and grain as a reminder to keep your meals healthy and balanced. This planner is intended just for dinners, as I find it overwhelming to try to plan out breakfasts, lunches, and snacks too. I need to have some flexibility in my schedule. Keep your goals reasonable, focusing on planning one daily meal to start. To make it easy to follow, I organized the shopping list into categories according to the layout of most grocery stores. I don't know about you, but I waste more time in the store going back and forth between aisles because I missed something on my list!
You can download the PDF's (link will take you to the Documents page where you can download the worksheets) here for free! Just like the inventories, I suggest either laminating them or using plastic sleeves so you can re-use them from week to week with a dry-erase marker.
I keep my Inventories hanging on my pantry door on clipboards hung with Command hooks for easy access.
My weekly meal plan is hanging next to my fridge where I can see it daily. That way I can take things out to thaw a day or two in advance so they're ready to be made when I need them!
Hope you enjoy these tools that I've developed and they keep you healthy and organized. As always, I'm open to suggestions on how to improve these resources or ideas for new ones. Please feel free to leave your comments below or contact me through the "Get in Touch" section on the bottom of the Home page.
Wishing you happy meal planning and healthy eating! Nourish. Nurture. Grow. At The Sage Kitchen.