Here’s a secret you probably didn’t know about me: I don’t really like to cook.
I enjoy baking, but putting meals together is a struggle. I’m not an ‘intuitive cook’ I can’t just look at random ingredients and come up with meal. In fact, staring at a fridge or panty full of ingredients is super overwhelming to me. I need recipes. I need a plan. Otherwise, Craig has to cook (He’s an excellent intuitive cook) and he’s not always home from work in time for that. So, we either scrounge, or eat out, which doesn’t end up being a very healthy lifestyle for us.
And since we’re SO busy with all the things we do around the ranch, his work, running my two businesses, etc. Figuring out what to eat is just not something I like to think about very much.
So, a few years ago I decided meal planning was the best way to go and it has been so great. Most days I pull a meal out of the freezer first thing in the morning and by the time I’m dressed and ready for the day I can plop it into the crockpot and not think about dinner until it’s time to eat said dinner. Win-Win.
But, as I said before, I don’t enjoy cooking. So I try to do it as little as possible. Once a month I sit down with all my recipe books and my recipe cards, and select about 15 meals, and a couple desserts, and I figure out what I need to get from the grocery store to make all those meals happen. I’ll go into detail on those steps a little later.
Once I have my list, I check my calendar and carve out a day to grocery shop and meal prep. Sometimes I carve out two days and shop one day and prep the next. Or, if I choose fewer crockpot meals, and more meals I have to fully cook and then freeze, I may prep over 2 days depending on my mood and energy levels.
After I have all my ingredients, I get to work. It takes me about 3 hours to prep all 15 meals and 2 desserts, unless some of the recipes require more cooking. In that case it can take up to 5 hours to complete them all. BUT, once they’re done and in the freezer I don’t have to think about what to make until the following month. With it being just the two of us, we usually pull out a meal every other day or every couple of days and eat the leftovers for lunch and dinner until it’s gone or we’re sick of it.
Okay, so here is my full process. I feel like it’s kind of a long process and you certainly don’t have to do exactly what I do, but I find that since I’m buying a month’s worth of food at a time, that going through this process helps me get exactly what I need and not too much or too little. And if there are items I know we’ll want extra of, then I can easily see that and make the adjustment on my list.
Step 1: The first thing I do is figure out what recipes I want to make for the next month. I try to switch things up because it’s really easy for me to keep making the same things over and over forever.
Step 2: Once I find a recipe I want to make, I write (or type depending on my mood) all the ingredients and how much I’ll need of those ingredients into my spreadsheet I’ve made for this purpose. You can see an example of that to the left. If I know for sure I don't have enough of that item, I put an "N" under the "Have?" column. If I know for sure I do have it, I put a "Y". If I'm not sure, I leave it blank.
I also write down the name of the recipe, where I found it and the page number so I can find it again when I’m ready to cook. I do this on my meal planning sheet. as shown to the right.
Once I have all the ingredients and the amounts I need for each recipe, I like to compact my list. This is easier to do in excel, because you can do a sort and filter on the list.
I add up how much of each ingredient I need and make sure I only have one entry, with the added up amounts, for each ingredient.
For Example: If I need ½ cup of milk for one recipe, and 1/3 cup of milk for another recipe, and ¼ cup of milk for a third recipe. I’ll add those amounts up – realize I only need about 2 cups of milk for the month and not a gallon. Then I’ll change the ½ cup entry to 2 cups and delete the other two entries from my list.
In the images below, I did this with the chicken breasts.
Step 4: Once I have a much shorter list, with the total amount I need for each ingredient, I take that sheet to my kitchen and go through my fridge, pantry, and spice cabinet to see if I have enough of any of those items. If I do, I cross it off the list. If I don’t, I add it to my grocery list. If I have some of an ingredient, but not enough, I figure out how much more I’ll need and add that amount to my grocery list.
Step 5: Once my list is made in this way, I then add anything else I’ll need from the store – snacks, breakfast foods, lunch foods, dog treats, etc. At this point I'm done until I can go grocery shopping.
But because I really do thrive on being organized, and hate, hate, hate (read LOATHE) browsing or wandering around the store, I do an extra step with my list. I organize it by each section of the store, in the order I get to that section of the store.
For Example: I shop at Winco for the most part, so I list everything I need from the produce section because that’s the first thing I see when I enter the store. Then I list everything I need from the bulk section, the meat section, the middle, and finally frozen and dairy. This let’s me get in and out as quickly as possible.
If I'm going to meal prep right when I get home from the store, I set all the meat I’m going to need to prep meals in one spot on my counter and put everything else away. Then I do any dishes that need doing, and clean off all my counters. When I prep food, I always start with the easiest to make meals first. If I get into a rhythm of getting stuff done, it’s easier for me to be motivated to keep going.
So what makes an easy meal to prep? One you can dump all the ingredients into a gallon sized bag, and stick in the freezer. No cooking prep, just dump and freeze. Those are my favorites. These are mostly crockpot meals. I write the recipe name on the gallon bags along with any ingredients and additional instructions I need to remember that have to be added toward the end of the cook time, before I start filling them It’s a lot harder to write on them once they’re full.
When I start getting to recipes that need some cooking – i.e. I need to brown some ground beef – I will usually work on two recipes at once. And for every meal that can go into a gallon sized freezer bag, I have these very handy bag stands that keep my bags open for me while I fill them.
Step 7: When all the meals are done and in the freezers I put my meal list on the wall in the kitchen and as we use meals, I’ll mark them off so I know when we’re running low and will need to do it all over again.
Do you meal plan? If you would like copy of my meal planning process you can click below and download a free copy!