Visit any food waste reduction website, and they will suggest meal planning as a primary way to save food and money. When you know what you are planning to make, you don’t wind up buying extra groceries that end up rotting in your fridge. In a previous blog, I wrote about my commitment to start meal planning, and I’m proud to say I’ve finally done it!
Originally, I was looking into phone apps or meal planning programs to get started. The problem? It took too much time to research which digital application would suit my needs, and even if I found one I wanted to try, it would take too much time to upload all the recipes and ingredients. Instead, I made up my own solution.
I opted for a simple technology: a spreadsheet. Its not as bad as it sounds, I swear! I don’t like spread sheets for most things, but hang in with me here. I had a vision of a simple ANNUAL meal plan. Yes, you read that right. We tend to eat the same types of meals during the same times of year, so I figured, why not do this once and be done with it?
I started recording our meals for my annual plan at the start of 2017. Now that we are into 2018 – my whole year is already planned out – I love it! But I did NOT create 365 different meals. Good lord. I like variety, but not that much!
Instead, I divided the year into two-month sections. For each section I created three weeks of meals that I would reuse about three times during that two-month period. So you eat the same meal, once every three weeks, about three times. It's variety, without being too complicated.
I did two-month sections to allow for seasonal ingredients. For example, early maturing veggies are available in May/June, a whole new set of vegetables start maturing in July/ August and the fall harvest rolls in for September/October. I have recipes slotted in to the middle of summer that take advantage of fresh produce available to me locally, and winter recipes focus more on dried or canned goods and frozen meats – with a few sprouts, fermented foods and baby greens included to keep things fresh.
Another feature: I only plan for 6 out of 7 nights. Between potlucks, traveling, dinner out, extra leftovers etc, there’s always at least one night where it makes sense not to cook. It gets me using up whatever is around, since I don’t have anything planned. Leaving one night open every week also gives me the flexibility to move meals around, or cancel cooking dinner one night, without meaning there’s a bunch of groceries in the fridge that were meant to be cooked that day (less food waste, hooray!).
Now that I have returned to work full time, it has been a real godsend to be able to just open the file, see what meals are listed for that week, and then check what we need to buy to make them. I no longer buy extraneous produce just because it looks pretty. For me, it’s a system that is really working. What about you? Have you tried meal planning? What’s the method that works best for you?