Meal Planning Weekly, A Time Saver!

Learn to make meal planning weekly a habit. Save time and take advantage of weekly supermarket sales.

Meal planning is a time-consuming job when it's done from scratch week after week. But this task can be made easy with the investment of a little time and preparation. This simple method will cut hours of decision-making each month, help ensure that your family is getting a balanced diet, and possibly free you to be more creative in your meal planning.

Begin by gathering your favorite recipes. Perhaps they are written on 3 x 5 cards and kept in a card file; or maybe you've flagged pages from your favorite cookbooks. In any event, bring them all to the table when you're ready to begin. Note that if some of your recipes are so well-loved that you prepare them from memory and don't even know where a printed version might be, you will have to jot down the name of the dish and the ingredients in order for the system to work.

Next, prepare an index of your recipes. Group them by categories of your choosing, such as: casseroles, soups and stews; chicken entrees; meat dishes; side dishes; and desserts. Under each heading, list the appropriate recipes and where they can be found (i.e., My Recipe Book, page 76).

Your index will obviously grow, so maintaining it on a computer rather than by hand might save time in the long run. Either way, keep a paper copy of the index in a binder where it can be accessed readily. When your local stores distribute sales flyers, determine which sale items you would like to take advantage of. Then refer to your index to select dishes that use those items.

For example, if chicken breast is on sale, you might want to plan several meals for the next week or two that use chicken as a main ingredient. Double the usual quantity so you can freeze half and have a ready-made meal for a busy night. Now you've saved both time and money in one move!

Try to plan different types of dishes, even when they share a common ingredient such as chicken. You might want to select one recipe from the stew category, one from the chicken entrée category, one casserole, a sandwich night, etc. Fill in the non-chicken nights with other favorites.

Jot down a master list for that week on a 3 x 5 card. Include recipe name and where it can be found. Next, pull these recipes and prepare a shopping list based on the requisite ingredients. Compose your list on the back of the menu card. After returning from the store, post the menu card in a convenient place, such as inside a cabinet door, where it can be referred to as needed.

Try to use each of your favorite recipes at least once until every one from your index appears on one of the weekly menu cards. Store all the menu cards in a file box, perhaps noting what food items were on sale and influenced your menu choices for that week. Later, when those items go on sale again, you can simply use that menu card, eliminating the need to search through your index and decide which recipes would best take advantage of the sale.

You can easily work in new dishes. Designate a day of your choosing for trying a new recipe each week. If the family likes it, you can replace an existing recipe on one of your menu cards with the new one. Another option is to start a new menu card with each new dish that passes the family's taste test. Keep track of any recipes that are currently out of circulation so they can eventually be worked back into the rotation.

Having a simple system takes the drudgery out of meal planning, eliminates the need to make a new shopping list every week, and eventually provides a wide range of ready-made menus for you to choose from, saving time, money, and unnecessary effort.

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