Meal Planning…and my love-hate for it

Are you a meal planner? Is your grocery list organized by store aisle? Do you even make a grocery list? Do you already know what you are going to have for dinner this Thursday night?

I have dreams in which breakfast, lunch and dinner are all planned for 7 days at a time. In which everything I need for all of those meals – 21 of them…more like 30 if you include kids’ snacks and a dessert in there somewhere – is all neatly organized in my kitchen and waiting to be turned into a Rockwellesque dinner around our table.  You heard the part about “dreams,” right?

In that dream I also have a pantry that looks like this.

And a freezer that looks like this.

In reality, I feel like I go to the grocery store every other day and still manage to stand in my kitchen and not have the things I need to make whatever it is I’m throwing together at the last minute. And these are meals that will most likely be eaten by the boys at the senior-citizen dinner hour while they watch Phineas & Ferb, and then something else I come up with eaten by me and my husband when he gets home from work much later. There’s nothing Norman Rockwell about it. Well, except for how cute my boys are, of course. 😉

And in reality my freezer looks like this:

And my pantry looks like this:

But every once in awhile I say, “OK, I’m going to actually put together a full menu plan for the week and only buy those things at the store and not go to the store again for the week and not order out.” I did that today. The impending start-of-school tends to send me into a panicked flurry of wishful organizational dreams. There’s just something about clean, crisp, empty composition notebooks that make me so optimistic about the possibilities.

And today I was once again reminded of one of the many reasons I always feel compelled to be more disciplined about meal planning. I left the store having spent almost exactly the same amount of money I normally spend, but instead of coming home and wondering what we were going to eat for dinner for the week, I have multiple full meal options. I even managed to plan reasonable dinners for the three nights of the week I won’t be home. Why don’t I always do this?

It’s a mystery.

Well, it’s not entirely a mystery. It takes a nice little chunk of uninterrupted time to sit down and plan out the week, the meals, gather the recipes, make the shopping list. I realize it is an investment of time and, in the long run, a huge time-saver, money-saver, stress-saver. But this is the biggest reason I get lazy about meal planning, says the world-class procrastinator. It’s a really lame excuse.

So in an attempt to hold myself accountable to my menu plan…and maybe inspire some planning support out there (hello?) ….here’s the weekly dinner plan:

MondayPan “fried” catfish fillets with jalapeño tarter sauce, roasted corn and candied-bacon green beans

Tuesday40 Garlic Chicken with mashed potatoes, a green salad and baguette (a crock pot meal because it is a support group night)

WednesdayShrimp Étouffée with orange-ginger green beans (something I can quickly cook and leave for the boys before I’m off to see evening clients)

ThursdayPot Roast with roasted carrots/potatoes and a salad (a dinner that can cook all afternoon and be ready when we all get home from “Meet the Teacher” night)

Also enough stuff for a carpet picnic or two, Noodley and the makings for spring rolls with peanut sauce for the weekend.

Of course I’ll be doing my best to post recipes  for the dishes that aren’t here yet. I must admit I was surprised to see that I have never posted a pot roast…it’s only one of my husband’s very favorite things in the world to eat. (UPDATE) In fact, it is in the menu plan at his request (along with the crock pot chicken and the Noodley.) Isn’t that nice of me to let him have a say?

Here’s two fun resources for menu planning assistance:

Eat Your Books – a truly genius website that lets you search YOUR OWN COOKBOOKS!! How many times have you thought, “Hmmm, I think I have a recipe for that….in one of my cookbooks. I wonder which one?” I love this site and have recently added most of my library to my account. In fact, just today I bookmarked several recipes from one of my cookbooks (that I haven’t looked at in years) as possibilities for next week’s menu plan. Isn’t that optimistic of me? And when I did a quick search for “shrimp” I was surprised to learn I had more than 200 shrimp recipes in my very own shelves. I am definitely not utilizing my own library of culinary resources – I hope this site will help me change that because I LOVE my cookbooks!  (And if you are like my Facebook friends you are currently formulating a Forrest Gump joke at my disbelief that one could do so many things to a shrimp!)

Menu Planning Monday – from I’m An Organizing Junkie.  This is a great place to start and get on-going inspiration for incorporating menu planning into your routine. She swears it changed her life and can change yours, too. (I’m saying this to myself right now. Looking right into the mirror. Wondering why I never listen to me.)

Signing out and launching into my fully meal-planned week. Wish me luck!  (And please share tips, tidbits and resources if you are an experienced meal planner…or would like to become one!)


From Facebook friends and others…some meal planning resources:

I forgot to mention this previous service which I used and liked a lot –  Relish!Relish!  Another friend uses this service from The Six O’clock Scramble. And Amy from Living Locurto has 24 weekly meal plans with grocery lists in free printable form.


9 thoughts on “Meal Planning…and my love-hate for it

  1. Selena Shelley

    We do meal planning every week or end up with the “stare at the pantry, wondering what we’re having” scenarios. Just a few weeks ago we started putting our meals (and Damien’s food) on our Google calendar so regardless of whether we’re upstairs, downstairs, or out we can remember what we’re having and what needs to happen when in order to make that happen.

    Congrats on coming over to the dark side… 🙂

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      Yes…well, I’ve been on the dark side before…I just never seem to stay. 😉 I do put the menu on a little chalkboard in the kitchen…just to keep me focused (otherwise I could say, “Oh, I forgot what we are supposed to have, let’s just order Thai food!”)

      1. Selena Shelley

        LOL… we ordered Chinese last night because when we do meal planning each week (and then don’t make it to the grocery store on Sunday to start again) we have no food by the end of the week! 🙂

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      It is nearly the definition of peasant comfort food…an oldie from Ron’s Hungarian side of the family. And also, it’s just fun to say. 🙂

  2. I’m a menu planner from way back. The biggest problem I have is not wanting to eat what I planned by the time it gets here; the second one is having veggies go bad before the planned meal. However, when the plans work, it’s great!

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      That veggie problem is one I have too…I always think I’m using up the ones that will go bad quickly first, but I’m not always right. We’ll see how the week goes on that front.

  3. Erica

    Love the “photo” of your pantry- honestly I had the same thought about mine this weekend and Dave is constantly commenting on my poor organization in the freezer. He actually claims I need to go out of town more so he can clean it out with his creative cooking..and he wonders why I am not changing my ways.hmmm…

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      I found two different bags of egg whites in the freezer tonight. And some veggie puree that I didn’t even bother to identify before throwing out. Maybe Dave needs to come cook at my house? 🙂

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