Meal planning can be tricky whether or not you cook from scratch. I thought I would share my specific method for meal planning to help you simplify your meal planning. I usually take thirty minutes each week to sit down and plan meals for the week because I like to vary meals from week to week, but you can always create weekly meal plans that repeat every couple weeks to cut down on time.
I will say that I am slightly type A, but not a hundred percent. So take from my advice what works for you and leave what doesn't. I also meal plan and grocery shop every week because I find it too overwhelming to plan for a whole month and we eat a lot of fresh food that typically doesn't last more than a week.
Examine and Clean the Pantry
The first thing that I do before meal planning is I clean out my fridge, freezer, and pantry. This not only helps keep things clean and organized, but also frees up space for the food I'm about to pick up. Another reason I do this is because then I can see what we already have and need to use up.
For example, if I see there is a chuck roast in the freezer, I might pick up potatoes and carrots to go with it on my next grocery trip. I then check the staple ingredients like spices, oils, fats, and condiments to see if we are running low.
I buy our meat in bulk locally. So when I am planning meals, I plan meals around the meats we already have in the freezer.
If you buy in bulk or produce your own food then you will be planning your meals around what you already have on your homestead.
Find Recipe Ideas
We do have a bunch of recipes that are family favorites, so I usually include at least one of those every week. For the rest of the week, I pick recipes from my favorite food blogs (including my own), Instagram, cookbooks, and sometimes Google. Take some time to find good sources for recipes to cut down on the time you spend meal planning each week.
If you get stuck, pick a type of meat the you like or a meat that you already have and google "pork chop recipes", for example.
Create a Grocery List
The next thing that I do is pick about 6 recipes (one night will be leftovers). I make a double batch of each recipe so that we can warm up for lunch the next day. This cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend in the kitchen, while still eating whole food, from-scratch meals. When we don't have leftovers, I create a snack/charcuterie board for lunch with a couple of the following: fresh fruit, soaked oat granola, sourdough crackers or bread, pate, crispy nuts or nut butter, soft boiled eggs, avocados, tuna salad, raw cheese, raw milk yogurt, and cold cut meats. So it's good to keep items like these on hand.
For each recipe, I look at the ingredient list and put the ingredients that we don't already have on the list. You don't have to use all the ingredients in the recipe. I often reduce the spices and add ins to make a simplified and budget-friendly meal.
For breakfast, we always have eggs, and then will rotate through sides like kefir smoothies, fresh fruit, oatmeal, cream of wheat, sourdough pancakes, bacon or sausage, sauerkraut, home fried potatoes, sourdough tortillas (with the eggs on top plus whatever we have on hand), and sourdough bread with raw butter. I don't typically plan out breakfasts, but just pick sides from what we have on hand.
To summarize, this is what I look at when creating a grocery list: about six recipes doubled, staple items like milk and eggs, condiments/oils/spices we are running low on, snack items, and breakfast sides.
Make Grocery Shopping Efficient
This is an optional step, but it helps me get in and out of the store quickly when I am grocery shopping. I like to organize my grocery list by the order I walk through the grocery store. So I create headings on the list, like "produce" is at the top because its the first section in the store, and then fill in ingredients underneath those headings.
I also find it helpful to have a place to write down ingredients that we are running low on because sometimes I miss things when I am doing my weekly pantry/fridge clean out. This could be a dry erase board on the fridge or a note in your phone.
Don't Plan Every Meal
As I mentioned above, I am not one hundred percent type A, so I don't have every single meal planned out for each day. Instead, I pick out six recipes that I can later choose from throughout the week. So if I am not feeling like doing a lot of cooking on Thursday night, I can pull out an easier recipe to cook. But Friday night, let's say I have a little more energy, I will make a more difficult recipe.
This also reminds me to mention that when choosing recipes, pick recipes that you will actually be able to cook. Because I think we have all done that thing where we load up our grocery cart with healthy groceries and then later that week don't want to cook any of it.
Something I do as well is pull out 3 cuts of meat from the freezer at a time and plan to make those meals in the next few days. Once a week I meal prep for the week by soaking/preparing our grains, legumes and sourdough items since these items take more time to produce. This reduces the stress of having to prep throughout the week.
I plan to do a more specific post on meal prepping in the future, but this is how I plan meals and grocery shop each week. If you are looking for an example meal plan and grocery list, I have one here.