How to Create an Easy Meal Plan
Creating a Meal Plan was always one of my ‘weakest links’. For years, the Country Boy and I have played the game: ‘What’s for Dinner? It starts with me asking him what he would like to eat. His immediate response is, “I don’t know, what do you want?”
This conversation continues until one of us finally breaks down and offers a suggestion. Truthfully, it is a frustrating and aggravating game, and I finally just got tired of playing. Instead, I began making a meal plan. Once I complete the rough draft, I show it to him, ask him for input, and then make a final draft and hang it on the refrigerator. Game over.
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What is a Meal Plan?
A meal plan is simply a written list of meals you would like to serve over the course of one or two weeks. Efficient homemakers often make them for a month at a time, which helps to save money at the grocery store, and limits too many duplications of meals.
It is also a great way to be able to look ahead and plan several meals out of one. For instance, if I bake a chicken, I always make sure I have added other meals down the road that will use up the leftovers. I call them Two-In-One Meals.
How to Make a Meal Plan
Before you start writing up your menus, the first thing you want to do is to make a inventory of what you already have available. If your garden is in season, choose a main dish that will complement the vegetables you have in abundance.
Then choose from what you have on hand to add as sides. If your greens are overflowing, be sure to add a salad. Too many tomatoes? Just slice them and serve. Fresh tomatoes go well with almost any meal. Or, add spaghetti and meatballs to the main dish list. The best part is those meatballs can make a quick and easy Meatball sub for a quick meal later on.
If it is the middle of winter, and there are no fresh vegetables, consult your freezer, refrigerator and pantry. Find items that can be the base of a delicious meal. Cream of Mushroom soup can be used in a sauce for Enchiladas, while frozen and canned vegetables can be the start of a hearty Beef Stew.
Make Your Grocery List
Once you know what you have on hand, make a list of the meals you would like to create. Grab the recipe, and make a list of the items that are missing. Look at main dish that can be used for more than one meal, and account for any missing items there, as well.
With a notebook or calendar and pencil, start writing in the meals you want to make. Start with your main dishes – Roast beef, baked Chicken, Meatloaf, Spaghetti and Meat Sauce. Scatter them across the time frame in which you are working (one week, two, or monthly).
Now determine what secondary meal you can make with each main item. With a roast, you can add leftovers to Beef Stew, chop it up for BBQ sandwiches, or even roast beef sandwiches. Whichever secondary meal you choose add it to a day you need a ‘quick fix’ meal. At this point, you should have 2-to 3 times the meals you need to complete your plan.
Whenever I plan a meal, I often ‘double bake’. If I am going to cook a roast, I go ahead and purchase a larger one. This way, I am assured of leftovers for at least one additional meal, if not two. I often bake two chickens at once – one for the main meal, and the other to accommodate several meals down the road.
Casseroles, Enchiladas, and Breakfast Casseroles are always made in a double batch. I use one for a meal, and the other gets put in the freezer for later. I always cover them with the container lid or tin foil, and use masking tape or labels to mark what it is, and the date it was put in the freezer.
From there, I go to my meal plan and see where they will fit nicely into my plan. There are times I have a rough draft of the next month going as I work on the rough draft of the current one. This makes the next meal plan quick and easy to complete.
It also prevents having too many duplicate meals in a short amount of time. After all, variety is the spice of life, and keeps you from getting tired of the same thing all the time. But variety can also get expensive, if not planned out well.
Don’t Leave out the ‘Old-Fashioned’
To me, whoever invented the TV dinners was a genius. Unfortunately, the store-bought varieties are all too often less than appetizing.
We can still make them at home. Not too long ago, I found some plastic containers with lids that have three divided sections designed for making your own TV dinners. Lately, I haven’t seen the ones with three sections, only two. I prefer the three, as it has room for two vegetables and a main dish. Although a bit harder to find in some areas, they still make the tin foil varieties as well.
Once you have finished eating, divide up the leftovers into these containers. Add a lid and labels and place in the freezer. These can then be removed from the freezer and microwaved (the plastic containers only) or placed in the oven (the tin foil variety only). Voila! A full meal in 30 minutes!
Two (or More) Meals in One Suggestions
Once you have created a ‘basic’ meal, here are ways to create other meals from the leftovers:
Open-faced Roast Beef Sandwiches
Chopped Beef BBQ Sandwiches
Soups (Chicken Noodle, Cream of Chicken, Chicken & Corn Chowder, etc.)
Spinach Chicken Roll Ups
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Meatball Sub Sandwiches
Completing Your Meal Plan
Now that you know your basic meals and have considered adding all the recipes you can create with the leftovers, just start jotting down meals for each day.
One thing you need to take into consideration are any special days that may be on the horizon. Birthdays, anniversaries and even a potluck can be easily worked into any meal plan.
For instance, the Country Boy loves a good grilled steak and sautéed Mushroom accompanied by a Twice-Bake Potato Casserole. When I know his birthday is near, I add these to my menu. On the following Saturday I add Breakfast potatoes to the menu, as it uses the leftover steak and mushrooms in the ingredients. The leftover Twice Baked Potato Casserole are formed into patties and cooked. Served with eggs made your favorite way and you have a great breakfast!
Tired of the ‘What’s For Dinner’ Game?
Be the winner every time! Stretch your budget, limit trips to the grocery store, and make meal time a fun and pleasant time again with the simple act of creating a meal plan ahead of time. And the next time you are asked that dreaded question, just smile and say, “I’ve got it covered!”
Interested in learning more of the tricks and tips for being the Ultimate Homemaker? Check out my new manual – The Ultimate Manual for the Art of Homemaking! (There is an Easy Meal Planning guide and Chart included!)