Can I let you into a little secret? I don’t use any of my meal planning printables. Crazy right?! The thing is, I used to use them faithfully, not only did they help make sure I had something to put on the table each night, they really helped when it came time to do the grocery shopping. Truthfully, though, we hardly ever followed my plan, and then last year we discovered a local butcher who sells local meat in bulk packs, and that changed things considerably. It forced me to start planning around what we already had and just like when any system changes, I just sort of stopped doing it for a while as I mulled over how to do it the best way for our family. In the end, I decided to stop planning my meals in the traditional sense and create my own system that better suits our lifestyle.
Why I Stopped Planning My Meals
I say it all the time; we need to create systems that work for us, not the other way around. My old way of planning my meals was a case of me working for the system. It was doing nothing to help simplify our lives and it was no longer really doing the job it was supposed to do. Eventually, I just gave up trying, and we sort of floated along without a system and I learned so much about how our family approaches meals. There were many reasons why our system stopped working, but I’ll spare you a novel and stick to the main points.
- we changed how we shopped, which meant that half the reason for planning my meals was no longer valid.
- we never stuck to the plan
- we rarely cook following a recipe
- my husband loves to cook, and he likes to make things up as he goes along. (I wish he could cook every night!)
- we tend to choose our meals based on what we feel like for dinner. One of the boys might mention wanting pasta, or it might be rainy and cold out so a stew or roast appeals more than a chicken salad does.
- without a plan, we didn’t resort to take-out or dining out. To be sure there were nights when I was scrambling last minute, but we cook almost all of our meals at home, reserving eating out or getting take out for special occasions.
There were more reasons it was no longer working, but these were the big ones. The last point was especially eye-opening. I learned a lot from stopping my meal planning and observing how our family really works in the kitchen. Even though traditional meal planning wasn’t working anymore, I quickly realized that I did need some sort of plan. Something to help balance out the different meats and make sure I had enough ingredients in the pantry and fridge to make well rounded, wholesome meals from.
What I do Instead
So, if I don’t plan my meals, what do I do? Well, it all started when I stopped planning and started watching. Specifically, watching my husband work his magic in the kitchen was the big eye-opener. You see, I used to follow recipes all the time, some were actual recipes and others were more like my own standard way of cooking things. Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks from my husband who only uses recipes for certain things. The rest of the time he just tosses stuff together and turns out these amazingly yummy meals. While I don’t quite have his talent, I’ve noticed that I’ve started doing that a lot more myself, and our teen is doing the same thing.
So how do you plan meals when no-one actually uses a recipe? I’ll show you.
For dinners, I use this little printable I made.
While I’m no longer planning out 2 weeks of specific meals, I do still need to plan for those meals.
Meats – Because we order our meat is large packs from the butcher, I needed something that would allow me to make note of what we have, and also let me plan for items that may not come in the pack we chose, such as fish, poultry, and eggs and other alternatives.
Sides – I have a good general idea of what we usually pair with what. So here is where I note down the grains and starches we usually use, such as pasta, rices, potatoes, tortillas, buns/breads and so on.
Veggies – I like to make sure we have veggies with every meal. This is column is where I keep track of what we might need, and it also helps me make sure I purchase enough when we do our shopping. So say I have ground beef, followed by tortillas, in the veggie column I might add peppers and salad fixings. Each line usually ends up with two options on it.
Extras – This is the fun column, it’s where I note down anything we might need that doesn’t fit the other categories. Salad dressing, salsa, sour cream, certain spices, vinegar, other sauces or ingredients that we might need.
This has been working really well for us. It makes sure that we always have items on hand that we need. I can take a quick peak in our pantry, fridge, and freezer while making the shopping list and make sure we’re not buying duplicate items, especially perishables that might not get used before they go bad.
For everything else, I use a second planner printable.
Again, I just simply jot down ideas for what we normally use for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and extras. Snacks is the column where I note down a lot of the fruits we tend to like, and extras are where I track things like baking ingredients, juice, and other items that don’t fit any of the other categories. This way I have a good idea of what I’m going to need for the following few weeks.
This system has been working fairly well for us. Whoever is cooking that night decides what they’re making in the morning and makes sure they pull out anything that needs to be thawed. And if we plan on making something specific, like when my hubby makes a giant pot of borscht, I jot that down on our family calendar and make sure the ingredients needed get added to our shopping list. Meals like that become almost like special events for the kids.
All in all, it’s been really nice not planning my meals every two weeks, and I know, for our family anyway, this system has been nothing but great. I’m still making sure we have what we need, without confining us to the same dishes over and over again. Next on my list for meal planning, is to start planning on trying one new recipe per month. I’m thinking it might be fun to try choosing a different country and maybe working in some learning into the dinner. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m just going to keep on as we have been going. planning my meals every two weeks, and I know, for our family anyway, this system has been nothing but great. I’m still making sure we have what we need, without confining us to the same dishes over and over again. Next on my list for meal planning, is to start planning on trying one new recipe per month. I’m thinking it might be fun to try choosing a different country and maybe working in some learning into the dinner. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m just going to keep on as we have been going.