I used to scoff at the idea of meal planning until I tried it and realized how helpful it is. It seems like a lot of work, but it turns out to be a lot less work than trying to figure out what's for dinner at 4:00. So now I embrace planning my meals because it means my afternoons are a lot less stressful.
This week I went on a meal planning organization kick. My sudden need to organize my meal plans and recipes probably had something to do a few factors: a) We've been eating out way too much since we've had to keep our house pristine to sell and I needed to get some motivation to cook dinners at home again; b) things feel so out of our control since we're in limbo between moving into one house and trying to sell another house, that I jumped at the chance to have some control over this one tiny area of my life.
I was browsing one of my favorite blogs and found this idea for a Homemaking Binder. I particularly liked her way of menu planning, so I copied her ideas pretty closely. It took about two days of sporadic work, but what I ended up with is nothing short of glorious order: a binder with of a list of about thirty of my favorite recipes, a meal plan for next week, and copies of some of my favorite recipes that were loose papers which formerly lived in a ratty expandable file.
Here's how I organized everything:
1. I wrote down all my breakfast ideas of foods we normally eat during the week and then made a meal plan out of that which will be the same plan every week. It looks like this:
Monday - Yogurt & Fruit smoothies + toast (Monday is usually very early and busy for us, so I need something quick and hearty)
Tuesday - English muffins + scrambled eggs + fruit
Wednesday - Oatmeal w/ raisins & maple syrup (another quick & hearty day)
Thursday - Bagel & egg sandwiches + fruit
Friday - Cereal
Saturday - Bagels at our favorite bagel shop
Sunday - French toast + bacon + fruit
2. I wrote down a list of lunch ideas. I don't like to plan lunches because our days rarely look the same around lunchtime, and I never know what they're going to look like days in advance, so that makes planning lunches very hard. It is very helpful, however, to have a handy list of ideas that I can choose from.
3. I gathered my most favorite Internet recipes and cookbooks and made a list of about thirty favorite recipes for dinner. From these thirty recipes, I made a meal plan for next week, and then made a grocery list from the meal plan. (I used free pre-made lists at at OrganizedHome.com for my recipe lists and meal plans.) And viola! Now everything is in one place.