I am really loving Dropbox at the moment for all things e-file as I can view/listen to them from my phone but still pull them up on my laptop so I don't have to type out edits on my phone. It's cold right now so my fingers often get cold and a bit stiff which makes typing on my phone a hassle... plus, I simply don't enjoy typing out much of anything on my cell phone when I can do it in half the time with a keyboard. My keyboard supposedly will work with my cell phone but I have yet to try it out as I may as well use a larger screen if I am at home with my keyboard. :)
That's all said only so that you understand why I have come to use my current meal planner- the simplicity of moving back and forth by keeping it on my Dropbox. I have been experimenting with various ways of meal planning over the past few years with the goal of being able to do this but there aren't that many apps that also have a laptop version that syncs that aren't a subscription service (though if I missed one please let me know!). I've tried using Cozi, which I absolutely LOVE as a calendar, but I need a tablet or laptop in order to be able to menu plan on their app... and I don't have a tablet at the moment so I can't really use the planner on the go. I did love that I just click one button to add a recipe's ingredients to my shopping list though so all I had to do was delete what I already had in stock... super simple process on my laptop... just bulky to cart around my laptop. I also didn't like the fact that it is just a dinner plan... I eat more than dinner so I need to plan for more than dinner if I don't want to have to keep popping out to the store for something (and overspending because I didn't plan). I've tried many ways to plan and I still haven't found a way that I love enough to make it my forever way but I've found something that works for me for now so I thought I'd share. Right now I am using a separate recipe storage that I haven't gotten to where I want to share it but know that my recipes file is sometimes used in conjunction with my meal planning.
As an fyi, right now I am living at my parents' house in order to save up money for a bigger down payment on a house since I was being outbid right and left when I tried to purchase a house several months back (they are awesome for inviting me to do so!). I only prepare dinners for everyone in the household a few days per week as not everyone is home in the evenings to have meals together. For myself though, I plan and prepare for all of my meals (with the exception of weekend meals if I will be eating out)... so I need to know which days to shop for meals that will feed more people and which days it is only me eating or I will have over/under prepared and we could potentially waste a lot of food and money. To track this and help me visually see what was going on each day I added a row above the 'dinner' area on my meal plan that says "Who?". If you end up using my planning spreadsheet you can easily change what this says to fit a variety of options: evening activities, who will cook, etc. or remove it altogether. A similar method worked just fine when I was on my own and when I was married though so I think that this will work for just about any family with a little tweaking depending on your lifestyle.
So, the first step to planning my meals is to sit down with my schedule and see what is going on... when will I be home for dinners, what days do I need to have more flexibility, what meals do I need to pack to take with me on the go, who will be home on days I am home for dinner, etc. I note this in the "Who?" line and then move on to checking my freezer.
Before I pick out recipes/meals I check my freezer. I like to keep my freezer stocked with meats of various kinds so that I can purchase when something is on sale verses when I run out. I am out of ground beef at the moment but have many other options (I'm using chicken to make tacos this week instead for instance) and don't feel pressured to purchase just because I am out which helps me to not over spend on my grocery bill. Normally I prefer to have at least one meal's worth of all the meat types I would typically gravitate to in the freezer but I am on an 'eat from the freezer/pantry' challenge at the moment so I didn't purchase ground beef when I ran out. I've got plenty of other options though! Starting by picking my main protein narrows my choices on recipes straight from the get-go so I don't spend half an hour flipping through recipes to decide what sounds appealing. This week I picked a pork roast, some chicken thighs and a whole chicken. Some weeks there will be a new recipe I really want to try and I may need a meat I don't have but I count that in with occasional deviations.
Usually when I am looking in the freezer I already have meal ideas churning based on what I've been interested in recently but if I don't I head to my cache of recipes and quickly thumb through until I find a main dish that sounds like it would fit the time allotment I have for each given evening. If I am not going to be home until late then I won't want to cook an hour long dish or even a half hour dish most likely for instance so I would want it to be a crock pot dish or even have leftovers from the day before. I do incorporate leftovers into my meal plan... and multiples of the same meal per week, especially in breakfasts and lunches! It saves me time and money in the end, both of which I prefer to spend less of in the kitchen if I can help it. This week I decided to make a roasted chicken on Monday in my crock pot (I am making the cooking style from my rotisserie chicken but with the BBQ dry rub this week), eat leftovers of it with my parents on Tuesday (and make some stock for soup from it), grab a meal I already have in the freezer from previous weeks' leftovers for Wednesday and Thursday since I will not be home until late, whip up some chicken soup from the stock on Friday and finish with a roasted pork loin on Saturday... Sunday evening would be leftovers of the soup and loin.
I head to my lunch mains next. Lunches I am mostly getting from the pantry this week due to the challenge but I plan them similarly to dinners in that I check what I have protein-wise first and go from there. This week I will be having tuna boats (made with homemade mayo!) but I decided to try out some 'taco boats' this week as well so I tossed some chicken thighs, taco seasoning, and a can of salsa on the stove to cook on low last night and now I can mix it up and have tuna some days and taco meat the others. I will save half of the taco mixture for the freezer for another week as I made more than I needed for just that purpose. It could also be for a dinner that I planned poorly or planned to eat out but ended up not feeling up to getting out... planning ahead with a few meals in the freezer is rarely a bad idea I have found.
Breakfasts often will be a rotation of 2-3 meals for me, I'm not very picky when it comes to my breakfasts but I need it to be a protein and lower on the carbs if possible. Sometimes I will make a paleo breakfast bread for the week though and have a little of than with my protein option. Other times I will have a smoothie with lots of veg and fruit plus some algae for the iron and protein content. It has to be fast in the morning and keep me going until 1-2pm as I don't always know when my lunch will be. I love paleo pancakes but I'm not a morning person so those are typically saved for 'breakfast for dinner'... which should probably make it onto next week's rotation because yumm!
The final thing I do is add my veggies and fruits to my meal plan. I insist on at least 2-3 servings of non-starchy veggies with lunch plus an optional fruit depending on my breakfast choices. For dinners I insist on at least 2 servings of non-starchy vegetables and I have one starchy vegetable depending on the rest of the meal plan for the day. I try to limit my carbohydrates as an excess of them tends to make my more symptomatic but that's my personal preference. Occasionally this is different, for instance I plan on having a whole baked potato tonight with my roasted chicken and green beans... that is more than one serving of starchy vegetable but it isn't an every night occurrence and I have no plans tonight other than resting (I am sick so getting over this cold with rest is a must) so I don't need to worry so much about carbs so long as I don't go crazy.
Once I have my meals planned out I double check my fridge, freezer and pantry for everything I need to make my meals before I head to the store. For instance: chicken soup needs an onion, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. All these items are in the pantry other than the onion... did I add an onion to the produce section of my list? I did and I have everything else so I'm done with that meal. I also make sure that I went over my household goods stocking list the week before (One of my to-do's during the week is to check on things like pantry staples, toiletries, pet items, etc. and add things that I am low on to my shopping list. This week I added toilet paper, borox and dog treats for instance.) so that I don't run out of anything during the week. I also double check my stock of homemade items like mayo, ketchup, salad dressing, and etc. based on my menu needs to ensure I have enough for the week. If I don't it get's added to my to-do list in the Notes area of my planner... a condiment is usually something I can make in a few minutes during the meal prep for the week if I am prepared.
Then I head to the store. The whole process, minus the shopping, usually takes me about 30 minutes but it took longer at first until I got into a pattern so be prepared for that. I have saved money and noticed that food waste has gone down significantly as well and that is always a good thing!
How do you meal plan?