The past four months of living in an apartment have been a lesson in strategically planning what I eat… because when I don’t, I end up with really lame meals of foods that do not go together like lima beans and leftover pancakes. The week before Thanksgiving break was the worst, as I was trying to use all the random things I had that would go bad during the week long break.
Eating Rules’ post on How to Make a Meal Plan is very helpful for anyone new to meal planning, because he points out that picking out random recipes from google is not the most effective way start. This post is a more detailed how-to for beginners that I also recommend.
My meal plan/grocery list is quite simple. It is the size of a normal piece of paper and I print and cut in half to stick in my planner. This format has worked for me because it is not complicated, but it is visual. Typically there is “oatmeal” written on at leas four days for breakfast, sometimes more. My current lunch variety hardly varies either. You can download my template and grocery list here.
As far as dinner, I have had some experience planning actual meals this semester and have been successful so far. My goal has been to cook about one new thing every week. A typical week consists of enchiladas one night, a “real meal” about two nights, chicken at least one night, leftovers/scrounging (where David and I eat separately) twice, and pasta once. All that to say, I am no expert.
In the little experience with meal planning that I have had, however, here are the main benefits I have seen:
1. Less stress. It 6:30 and I am just now heading home from campus… but no worries, I can consult my week’s chart and find something easy. On the days that I know I will have more flexibility in the evenings, I plan the more complicated things.
2. Less money. Grocery shopping with an organized list makes it so much easier to make it in and out of the grocery store without spending money on more than I should and purchasing random things I don’t need. It also keeps David happy when I am not running back and forth across the entire grocery store multiple times 🙂
3. More creativity. It is kind of like a puzzle trying to find different recipes that will use up the week’s ingredients and I have tried a few new things that I wouldn’t otherwise.