inspiration-driven kitchen: how to start meal planning (part one)

Many great inventions occurred by accident.

George Crum, a restaurant cook, sliced up potatoes as thinly as possible to serve to a customer displeased with the way his potatoes were cooked. As a result? The world’s first potato chip.

The same goes for Post-It notes. The adhesive was too weak for the original purpose, but just right for what those notes do today.

The list continues: Corn flakes. The microwave. Silly putty. X-rays. Even ink-jet printers.

So it goes with my meal-planning method. It started on accident, with a few notes on scraps of paper. Now, well, it’s kind of an art. (No shame.)

December is approaching and it’s a busy month with lots of parties and lots of delicious but not super-healthy meals ahead . . . no better time to get planning, yes?

In hopes of helping you build or better your own meal planning process, I’m sharing mine.

1. Calendar.

What does the week ahead look like for you? For your family or roommates? Networking events and meetings take place in the evenings sometimes. If I have a happy hour, then I’ll plan for a later — and quicker — dinner. If I’m having dinner with a friend, I know not to plan for that evening.

2. Sale pages.

I will never show up on an episode of Extreme Couponing, mark my words. But if I can think ahead and save some cash, why not? Sales on meat and produce help me pick the meals I’ll prepare for the week. If ground beef is on sale, I’ll consider chili. If it’s chicken, then maybe I’ll make this salad with chicken, feta, olives and cranberries. I also keep my eyes open for sales on things we always seem to need: coffee, cereal, canned items and grains.

Choosing alternative sources for nutrients can add up to big savings too. For example, protein doesn’t just come from meat. You can also get your daily dose of protein from eggs (cheaper) and beans (cheaper).

Most grocery chains have an e-mail component too. I love getting my weekly Hy-Vee ads as PDFs in my email. Visit your grocery chain’s website to sign up for these deals.

And one more thing: Practice makes perfect. The more you do this, the better you’ll get and the more money you’ll save. Getting familiar with good prices and good items takes time. Give yourself grace.

3. Recipe collection.

Mine lives in four places: my recipe box, my cookbooks/food magazines, my email box (which holds recipes from my favorite food blogs) and my dinner diary (which we’ll talk about later). It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so I don’t always consult all four. Paging through Bon Appetit is a blast for me, so that’s where I turn to first. Have fun and get inspired.

Pick an even balance of meals, nutritionally. Say I’m planning five meals at home for the week. I’ll pick one semi-indulgent, comfort food-esque meal and one super nutritious dish. Then I try to err on the healthier side for the other three.

Pick an even balance of meals from a preparation perspective too. For nights when I’m here + there + everywhere, I like one very fast meal that I can stick in the crock pot or stick in the oven quickly. And because cooking is a fun, creative outlet for me, I plan something a little extravagant once a week — maybe a meal I’ve never made before. But it’s up to you! Ultimately, it’s all about balance.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow! Making the list, at the grocery store, building the dinner diary . . . more to come.

In the meantime, share your tips! How do you do your meal planning!

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6 thoughts on “inspiration-driven kitchen: how to start meal planning (part one)

    • So glad, friend, that this is helpful! Would love to hear how your journey into meal planning goes! Thanks so much for stopping by today.

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