Cooking has always been a struggle for me ya’ll. Until the last year or so, I rarely cooked at home (my poor husband). I have always dreamed of being the mom in the neighborhood with the best cooking. You know, the mom that EVERYONE wanted to come home from college to visit, just so they could get one of her home cooked meals. Yeah, that’s who I want to be. The only problem is, I’m no Giada when it comes to the kitchen. I like to think of myself as more of a Chef Boyardee 😉 I never really cooked much as a kid, and was struck with a slap of reality in college. I made your basic pasta dishes and a mean grilled cheese. But calling myself a ‘great cook’ still seemed so far out of reach. Fast forward 5 years – and before having our daughter, I worked in food service and literally was around food 9+ hours a day. So naturally the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was cook. This led to a lot of eating out, and wasted food in our fridge. It took the birth of our daughter, and becoming a stay at home mom for me to finally embrace my inner chef and really embrace cooking at home. Mainly because of our now one person income, I was forced to strap down in the kitchen. I created the resources I’m about to share with you for myself, and have been using them for the last nine to ten months or so. I have found a system that really works for me and my family, and we have finally found our groove when it comes to cooking at eating at home! I am SO excited to share with you my latest project – A Simple Guide to Mom Proof Meal Planning.
Before we get started, I would like to say this. Every family is different and functions differently, so take from this what you will. I’m going to share the steps and simple tricks that help myself and my family, however they may not work for you and that’s ok! Take these resources and use them however you see fit! I will say, that a lot of what has helped me stay on top of meal planning is keeping everything in one location and easy to access. It does take some work up front. Successful meal planning takes some effort and yes – planning. However if you’re like me, you’re tired of eating out, not knowing what you’re going to eat and wasting food. This system has helped my husband and I so much, I can’t wait to share it! And yes, I’m going to make you scroll all the way to the bottom of the post to find the freebies 😉
Alright, before we get started I just want to share to real pictures with you. Here are two photos of our fridge and pantry, un-edited, not cleaned up, nothing. I just wanted to share with you how a little ambition and staying on top of things can work to your benefit! Our fridge used to always be full of pyrex containers with old yucky leftovers, expired eggs and overall filth! Our pantry was in a constant state of disarray, had little organization, and the shelves were literally overflowing with expired products and old boxes. Since I have started meal planning, Our fridge naturally cleans itself out, we finish all of our leftovers, and the pantry stays at a manageable chaos 🙂
The Recipe Box
So my first tip to successful meal planning is this – find a simple way to store your recipes! For me, that’s a recipe box. A lot of my recipes have came from Pinterest and various cookbooks/magazines, so at dinner time I was always stuck hunting for the right recipe. Ten minutes later, and I’m already cutting into precious cooking time! It takes some time up front, but sit down and convert ALL of your recipes to cards or in a notebook, and store them in one location. If you want to, you can even go all out and alphabetize them – you do you girl!
I found this recipe box in the Target dollar spot (which is where 75% of my house is from) and I am SO glad I found it! I was storing my recipes in a notebook that I kept beside the fridge, but it just wasn’t functional enough for me to pull out and use while I was cooking. This little box is so simple and cute, it will match any of my future kitchens, and it’s small enough to not take up too much precious counter space.
Like any good recipe box should, this one came with several pre-printed recipe cards and dividers. If you can’t find a recipe box with pre-made cards, I gotcha girlfriend 😉 Just hold out to the end of this post! I labeled all the dividers with the appropriate labels for my style of cooking, and boom! One centralized home for all of my recipes.
Here’s a quick glimpse at the recipe card. You can print it on your own index cards, or just print several on one sheet of paper, whatever suits your fancy. I included the prep time and cook time right at the top of the cards, because to me that’s the most important part. Whether you’re looking for something to whip up quick, or you have more time to labor in the kitchen you know what you’re looking for. Step one of our meal plan, complete!
The Master Grocery List
Now I will admit, I’m sort of skipping a step here. In between the recipe box and these lists, I would add in the master grocery list (again, see bottom of this post)! However I have been using this system long enough, I no longer use my master list, and it’s empty 🙂 So I figured it would be useless to include a cute photo of an empty list, so instead I will briefly explain it to you.
The master grocery list is designed as your ‘build to’ list. If you’re newly married, or just moved out on your own, you’re probably still working on building an arsenal of recipes. As you do this, take the time to sit down and write common ingredients together on a list for yourself. You can also add in typical items that you buy weekly like eggs, milk, your favorite cereal etc. Once you have the master list compiled together, you have a basic grocery list outline to shop off of! This is seriously one of the easiest ways to control your spending, help your meal planning, and feel like a total boss in the kitchen. You won’t be walking into the grocery store empty handed, and walk out with a cart full of junk food. The master list will help you nail down your pantry staples, so you always have what you need to cook with on hand! I suggest printing it out and sticking it on your fridge so you see it frequently. That way it is easy to add items to, and easy to remind yourself of what you need to pick up in the store.
The Fridge Fancies
Next up we have the real bread and butter of this meal planning system. I am a visual learner, and an overall visual person. I have to see something and physical write things down if I want them to stick. That is why I decided to create these lists! Now I will also note, these have been MUCH more effective to me as dry erase boards, instead of just printing a new sheet every week and putting them in a binder. The binder gets stuck under a pile of junk and never gets looked at again, you know the drill. So my tip to you is to stick these bad boys up on the fridge where you can see them every day!
So to make these lists super functional, I purchased these simple document frames from Wal-Mart (make sure you get the document ones, that fit an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper) and glued magnets to the back of them. Stick your lists inside and – boom! You have yourself a reusable weekly meal planning and grocery list. Having these front and center on the fridge has been so beneficial to me. I can look and see what we have planned for dinner the next day, and thaw my meat and ingredients accordingly. My husband gets paid bi-weekly, so we go grocery shopping on pay day and try and make the trip last for two weeks at a time. We buy our meat in bulk, freeze the majority of it and thaw it as needed throughout the week. This is where the problem always came up. I would forget to lay meat out the night before, and we wouldn’t have anything to cook by the time we got home from work. Seeing our nightly meals in front of the fridge helps remind me what I need to lay out!
I will also note, take into account the week’s events when it comes to your meal planning. My husband has softball games on Friday nights, so he usually will grab dinner on his way home – meaning we don’t need a meal that night. Taking a few minutes to plan your families meals and events will help save you money in the long run!
Beside of the weekly layout, I also have a re-usable grocery list printed up! This is a serious game changer ya’ll. Meal planner’s exist all over the place, and you can even get cute pre-made ones in Target. But can you find a cute and re-useable grocery list to match? I don’t think so 😉 Keep this wherever it will be easily accessible in your kitchen, and for me that’s right beside the meal planner.
To keep things as functional as possible, this awesome little basket lives underneath my lists. I actually got this several years ago in the school supply section. It’s one of those locker accessories that we all just had to have in middle school – but it also serves a great purpose in my kitchen! I keep a few pens, sharpies and my dry erase markers in it for easy access. And this is where the functionality comes in! As your cooking or snacking throughout the day, when you run out of an item – write it down! Instead of just tossing it in the trash can and forgetting about it, take the extra few seconds, grab your expo marker and add it to your grocery list. When it comes time to grocery shop, your list is ready to go – no more scrambling at the last minute to sort through your shelves and decide what you need. This has been SUCH a huge help to us, and we don’t buy extra items and things we don’t need.
When it comes time to go shopping, you can do one of two things. You can either snap a photo of your list on your phone, and you have your list with you in your pocket! Or if you’re like me and a little extra OCD, you can transfer your list to a traditional paper.
I also will pull out the recipe cards for the week, and place them in the basket as well. Instead of shuffling through my box at dinner time I have everything I need at the tip of my fingers.
The Grocery List
I always have notepads on the side of the fridge, ready for random scribblings and grocery lists. Call me old school, but I somehow shop quicker and more effectively if I have a paper list that I can cross items off of! So when it comes time to go grocery shopping, I simply transfer all the items on my dry erase list onto my notepad.
This is where the OCD really kicks in ya’ll, so bare with me. However I have learned that staying organized and planning ahead is key to saving money when it comes to grocery shopping!
My husband and I do our grocery shopping between Aldi and Wal-Mart. Most things we purchase in Aldi and LOVE, however there are those few things you just can’t skimp on and need the name brand. That’s where Wal-Mart comes in.
So when it comes to fashioning my lists, I start off by going through my recipe box and pulling out anywhere from 10-12 meals for the next two weeks. I’ll write all those meals down on a list, along with some sides, desserts and snacks for us throughout the two weeks. Then on two other lists, I’ll write down what items we need from both grocery stores. I’ll go through the meals I have planned, and make sure we have all necessary ingredients, and add anything if necessary. Ten minutes later, and I have my lists ready to go!
And there you have it ladies and gents, my quick and simple routine when it comes to meal planning. It’s nothing fancy and extremely simple, but I’ve found it works perfect for my family. Below you’ll find a free download for the resources that I use! I left them as plain and simple as I possibly could. They’re neutral so they’ll match any decor, and spacious enough for your own writing. They’re plain enough and you can be as detailed or as simple as you want with them, so I hope you enjoy!
Download the Master Grocery List here.
Download the Weekly Grocery List here.
Download the Weekly Meal Planner here.
Download the Recipe Card here.