If you have been attempting to do your meal planning without looking at your calendar, I’m here to change that. If you have tried making a grocery list without planning your next several meals, I’m here to help get you organized. I cannot write about one of these without the others. It is one flowing system, so you are about to get the whole shebang. HERE WE GO!
THINGS INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS
This whiteboard resides on a wall in my pantry. It’s a cozy little spot that not very many people see, but it is right in the center of all the kitchen action.
On this board are 4 separate lists. There are 3 stores that constantly have a list going in my house: Winco, Target, and Costco (Target and Walmart are interchangeable here). I have an “Other” list, for the stores that don’t need a permanent spot on my board. Right now I have Staples on there. I don’t have a constant Staples list going, but since I need to go there sometime this week, it gets a spot on my “Other” list. Stores like sporting goods stores, clothing stores, etc go on the “Other” list.
Notice the pens with magnets. Glue guns are glorious. I just heated up my glue gun and slapped a magnet on a few of my pens, and BAM! I always have a pen when I need to write something on my list. If you are going to make yourself a list board, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. The lists will only be as effective as the accessibility of a writing utensil within two inches of your board!
I am not a crazy couponer. I dabbled in that for a year or so, and found it wasn’t for me. Having said that, I do look out for coupons in the mail, online, and in my email. So I have plenty of coupons that I stick up on the board. I keep a paperclip on each of my list pads, so that when I tear my list off to take it with me on the way out the door, I have a paperclip ready to clip any applicable coupons to the back of my list. When I clip a coupon from something I get in the mail, I take it to the whiteboard, and add that item to its corresponding list. What good is a coupon if you don’t buy the item that you can use it for?
COUPON TANGENT: OVERFLOW BOARD
Yes, I do have an overflow board. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I am being real here. And it isn’t as neat and organized. There are just some things that can’t be categorized into nice columns. So I do have an overflow board where I stick things like current craft store coupons, kid place coupons, etc. I have it tucked away in my pantry, so it doesn’t bother me because it is hidden from view and does the job. If I had more money and a bigger house, I might do something about it, but something’s gotta give, and I feel that overflow coupons are a good thing to give on.
MEAL PLAN PAD
I use two of the same Meal Plan Printable that I created. (You can grab it here Meal Plan!) I just cut them out, lined them all up, and put a generous amount of white school glue along the top edge, slap a magnet on the back (either a pre-sticky magnet or you can hot glue any old magnet to the back) and bam! I have my own homemade Meal Plan pad!
Each one covers 2 weeks (I overlap Sunday on each of them, so they start and end on Sundays). I added two Desserts and a Side at the bottom. I told you, I am a planner! These are there to remind me that UNEXPECTED things come up. If someone invites us over for dinner, we are usually asked to bring a dessert or a side. At least once a month, I am caught off guard by one of my kids being in charge of bringing a treat or snack to Cub Scouts or someone’s favorite teacher has a birthday or something like that. I always like to have backups, so I am not forced to go to the store last minute (this saves time and money). I refuse to pay Raley’s prices for anything that is not an ABSOLUTE NEED (with the exception of produce, to be discussed here in a minute), and since that is the only grocery store that is within 10 minutes of my house, that’s where I would have to go in a pinch.
I am SUPER excited to share my recipe book thoughts/system with you, but for now I will just mention that you need your recipe books, phone or computer screen with your Recipe Pinterest board up, random loose pieces of paper with recipes…whatever you do for recipes, get them all out.
I have an entire post on how I calendar, complete with instructions on how to make your own DIY Whiteboard Calendar HERE. Regardless of how you keep track of your schedule, your calendar plays a key part in this process. You’ve got to know what nights you’ll be home to cook, which nights you need to stick a crockpot meal in, which nights you are taking dinner to someone, which nights you won’t even be home for dinner, etc.
The Meal Planning System…
I need a good half hour to do my meal plan, but I only have to do it once a month, and it’s worth it to me to do that! Yes, you read that correctly. I plan my meals a MONTH at a time. Let me explain why. Number 1 -I HATE meal planning. I have made the system as easy and painless as possible, but I still don’t enjoy it. The less often I have to think about a meal plan, the better. Number 2 – I am a Winco shopper. We have too many dang mouths to feed to shop anywhere else! I am also incredibly busy (who isn’t?!), and don’t have time to drive 20 minutes to get to Winco every week. I go once a month, roughly.
The Meal Plan and Grocery Lists
I plan out our meals for a month with my calendar in front of me, so I can be mindful of what is going on each of those evenings.
As I write down meals on my meal plan, I add all the ingredients that won’t go bad over the next month, to my Winco (and/or Costco) list. I also include produce and perishable items for the first week’s meals on my Winco list. Once I get to the second week, I continue to write nonperishable items on my Winco list, but I start a sticky note where I write the few perishable items for that week’s meals. I start a new sticky note for the week 3 perishables, and another one for week 4.
When I am finished, I put these sticky notes on the whiteboard underneath the “Other” stores list. These sticky notes are then ready to grab for the appropriate weeks, and I go wherever makes sense when needed. If I am going to Walmart, I snag this list and stick it to my Target/Walmart list. If I need to be quick, I grab it and run to Raley’s. The point is, it’s ready to go. It’s already planned out. I do the work ONE time every 4 weeks. And then I don’t have to think about it again.
Finish off the Lists
When I am finished making my meal plan, I take my lists with me to the fridge and pantry, and inventory things that weren’t part of my meal planning. Lunch stuff, snacks, butter, condiments, etc. (see my Mom Stone post for the basic necessities you should always have onhand for a rockin’ ice cream night-in!) My Costco list permanently has milk, eggs, bread, cheese, hamburger, chicken, Diet Coke, and produce on it. Before going to Costco, I check the fridge and pantry and either cross things out or add things as needed. Where Winco is a once a month errand, Costco is just whenever I have time, and we are running low on any of the staples. I don’t really have a set schedule for my Costco runs.
NOTES/TIPS & DISCLAIMERS
Do I always follow these meal plans EXACTLY? Nope. In fact, I doubt there has been one 4-week-span where I haven’t veered from my meal plan at least once. Things come up. I forget to go to Raley’s on Monday. An extra baseball practice gets thrown in the mix and we grab a taco party pack on the way home. I forget to thaw meat. These things happen. And we make adjustments. And life goes on.
Speaking of flexibility, I would add that it helps a great deal if you have PLANNED to be flexible. I always have a couple dinners onhand that I can throw together in just a few minutes when needed. Find one of my favorite ready-to-go meals in my Favorite Things category, HERE.
Orderly Grocery Lists
I always make my lists in order of the store. I have memorized the layout of the stores I frequently shop at, so while I am making my lists, I eyeball where about in my list certain items will be, and write them in spots on my lists accordingly. This doesn’t always work out perfectly, and sometimes I just have to rewrite my list because it is driving me CRAZY. But most normal people would be okay with a few things out of order, or squeezed in small spaces, etc. Have I mentioned I have OCD?
Always Have a List Going
Add to your lists AS YOU USE THINGS. There is a reason I put my lists board in the pantry. My kids know that when they grab the last bottle of ketchup, or the last jar of jelly from the pantry, they need to write it on a list (and there is always a pen hanging right next to the list). Most of the time they just call it out though, and if I am able, I try to beat them to the list because they never write it in the correct order of the store and it drives me nuts!
I always try to incorporate one meal that freezes well on each meal plan sheet (so once every two weeks) that I can double and freeze, as well as a frozen meal that we will use up. That way I am using one and making one, so my freezer doesn’t get overloaded with frozen meals, but I always have a couple in the bank, so to speak. I have a list of about 7 meals that freeze well, so whenever I make those, I almost always double (or triple).
That’s it! That’s my system. It really does take a lot of the frustration out of meal planning, keeping coupons organized, and needing to run to the grocery store every other day.
What You Need to Get Organized
- 4 magnetic notepads (Target Dollar Spot, Michaels, etc)
- Normal pens and magnets (and a gluegun to glue the magnets to the pens)
- Your Calendar
- Recipe Books
- Meal Plan Printable
What ways have you found to simplify keeping track of all of these moving parts? Be sure to comment below!!
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