Well, this might be the worst-kept secret of the century: I am a meal planning nut. I think it all stems from one of my biggest pet peeves – wasting food. I hate it. Like, drives me absolutely bonkers to waste any kind of food (which you can imagine is so much fun with two small children). So, I do the best I can to use every single thing in our home in the best, most resourceful way I can.
A few of the long-time readers here will remember that one of my goals a couple of years ago was to be more resourceful with the things I had in my home. That journey really changed the way I thought about spending money in a huge way. I'm still seeing the positive effects of it. It forced me to think about each and every purchase I make and if it's really needed. That one question has saved us a countless amount of money and, more importantly, made us better stewards of the money and resources we've been given. That's when I really started a long-term practice of meal planning that's been going on ever since!
And, of course, having my Instant Pot has been a massive help in our meal-planning journey. Not only do I make meal plans that are perfect for busy weeknights when there is zero time and energy to cook, but I get to share them with you guys as well! But don't get me wrong – anybody (no matter what your kitchen looks like) can meal plan…it just takes a little bit of thinking ahead and resourcefulness.
Let me go on and admit something – I've fallen off the meal-planning bandwagon (big time) in the past month. We've had sickness, holidays, travel, and family all in the past month, which has put cooking at home completely on the back burner (pun totally intended). So, last week, I was back at square one with everyone else. But, by following the same (easy) steps I use each time I'm working on a long-term meal plan for my family, I whipped up 10 Instant Pot meals with just a few hours' work that will get us through the next few weeks! (I'll be sharing these recipes soon.)
Here's the process I use to meal plan, both in our home and for my business.
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1. Start by taking an inventory of what you can (and can't use) that's already in your home.
I go through my pantry/fridge/freezer and make a list of all of the useful ingredients that could be used in a dish. That's what gets my initial ideas going. It's best to sort these by meats/protein, veggies, starch/pasta, and pantry staples.
At this point, I also throw out the things I can't use. Obviously expired things go in the trash, but be honest with yourself: are you ever going to use that jar of pickled jalapeños you bought for a recipe 3 months ago? How about that can of mushrooms that has resided in the back of your pantry for far too long? If you can't think of a recipe to use it on now, you never will be able to. Let it go (preferably, if unopened, to a food pantry).
2. Make a meal list.
From there, I research what meals I can make with the ingredients I have on hand. Sometimes you do have to play a little bit of “Chopped Challenge” with the wonky ingredients, but honestly, I kind of have fun with that! It's interesting to see what you can make when you get creative.
Now, if you're not a big fan of creating your own meal plans from scratch, don't worry – I've got you covered in that department. Click here to see the meal plans I've been working on for the past year. They include recipe cards, grocery lists, and full prep instructions to make anywhere from 5-10 recipes in a slow cooker or Instant Pot.
3. Fill in the grocery gaps as needed.
Once you have your meals (with recipes) planned out, make your grocery list in a way that will fill in the remaining items you need. I typically do 10 meals at a time; those who don't do freezer meals would probably want to do 4-5 at a time. You can buy all shelf-stable things that are needed for those meals at once (meaning anything that will last at least 3 weeks), then buy 4-5 meals worth of perishable items to use for the next week or so. Once those meals are gone, buy your perishables for the remaining meals.
4. Keep a running list of recipes/meal ideas as you think of them.
Once you're in the meal planning groove, it's kind of easy to stay on the wagon! I keep a list of meals I have on hand on my phone at all times, taking meals off as they're used and adding as I think of new ones I can make with leftover ingredients. Most all of our meals now are from the Freezer Meal Boot Camp packs, so I just put them in this list as I make the boot camps. If you're more of the paper/pencil type, I've got a printable for you today! This (and the other printable you'll see in a second) match my other free Ultimate Planning Notebook printables and will help keep you and your family accountable in the meal planning department.
5. Post your menu for accountability.
Sunday night is kind of a big planning time for me. I sit down with my to-do list and map out cleaning tasks, blog responsibilities, my calendar, and meal planning for the week. Out of the meals I have on my “on-hand” list, I look at the ones I planning on making in the next 5 days or so (we normally do leftovers or takeout on the weekends), making sure I have all of the perishable items needed for the little bit of prep work I'll need to do each night.
Once you determine your weekly menu, it's a great idea to have it posted somewhere prominent in the house to keep everyone else accountable! That way, you don't get a million “what's for dinner?” questions a day and your family isn't tempted to order takeout when it's clear that you have a plan in place for dinner that night. It's a win/win for everyone! 🙂
Check out a few of my other printables for this collection by clicking here! Don't want to sort through all of these posts and download files individually? You can grab all 24 pages of the Ultimate Planning Notebook in one big file (plus a pretty planner cover sheet you can't get anywhere else) by clicking here for the Ultimate Planning Notebook set.
Now, go forth and become a planning pro! It takes a little bit of practice to really nail down what method is best for your family, but once you do, you'll wonder why you didn't start years ago. It's life-changing!