At the beginning of June I posted on Facebook that I was working on a six-week meal plan, with the intention of not having to meal plan during the school year. (I got this idea from Pinterest, but modified it from the four-week version that I pinned.) Since then I’ve had many inquiries about my process and the ultimate product — a binder full of weekly meal plans, grocery lists, and recipes. My goal was to reduce the amount of time spent planning what we’ll eat; I’m super excited to see if this project is a success once the school year is rolling!
- 1″ binder (or larger if your plan will be longer than six weeks)
- sheet protectors
- 8-tab sheet protector / divider combo (similar to this)
- wet-erase marker
First, I made a cup of tea and nestled into a comfy chair to make a list of meals we actually eat. This list does not include interesting recipes I’ve pinned but never tried; nor does it include the ninety-two step family recipes that I only make around the holidays. Remember, the point is to make the every day feeding of my family easy, so the recipes are simple and (hopefully) quick. I can “play” in the kitchen during my summer break! Since I wanted to create a six-week rotation of meals, I needed at least 42 meals on the list.
Next, I opened my word processor and set up a table that looks like this:
The actual document is six pages long — one page per week.
I began inserting main dish recipes based mostly on this formula:
- Large piece of meat
- Two extension meals that can be created from leftovers from this meat
- At least two crock pot/oven-roasted meals
- A green, main-dish sized salad of some kind
- A cold meal that can be made ahead of time
While I didn’t stick to this exclusively, I think I did an okay job of staying in the ballpark. After I sorted six weeks worth of main dishes, I inserted side dishes. Note that I didn’t specify how I’ll cook the asparagus or corn (or whatever vegetable is listed). This is to allow for creativity (because I easily get bored with my food!) and a chance to try things I find on Pinterest, in a magazine, or online. (I’ve been known to snap a picture of a new recipe while flipping through magazines in a doctor’s waiting room.) Again, I tried to use things we can/actually will eat.
To me, this was the fun part. After I finished the six weeks of planning, I lost a bit of motivation because the next part — while easy — is less fun to me. Then I was reminded that the whole point is that doing the work now means I won’t have to do it later. So on I marched to the next step: printing recipes!
After a quick trip to Office Depot to get my supplies, I printed the necessary recipes from my recipe program. I use MacGourmet and absolutely love it! Before Evan & I traded computers (now he uses the laptop) I didn’t print recipes at all. I simply brought the laptop to the kitchen, turned on “Chef View” and started cooking. But now that he’ll need the laptop for class I get to use a trusty binder. 🙂 If you don’t have a recipe program, then you would gather the recipes on your plan and sort them by week.
I chose to assemble my binder as the pieces were ready, so here is what I’ve done so far in this post:
The final step was to create my weekly grocery lists. My general format has two columns. The left column is for items specific to each week’s plan. The right column has three parts:
- Staple Items: These are items I typically keep on hand. I’ll need to double check my stock of these items before heading to the store. I will not purchase these every time I cycle to this meal plan.
- Buy Every Week: These items we buy and exhaust on a weekly basis.
- Additional Items: I have a thin, wet-erase marker tucked into the front pocket of the binder for adding additional items to the list. I’ll write the item on the sheet protector, take that to the store, and clean it when I get home. (I use wet-erase because dry-erase markers will be erased by the time I get to the store!)
Once you’ve inserted everything into sheet protectors and placed each page behind the right meal plan, you’re done! If you’re so inclined, making a cute cover for your binder is fun, too. 🙂
Optional Sections: Aside from sections 1-6 (my weekly meals plans), I utilized the two remaining dividers to house 1) side dishes we like that require a recipe (cornbread, for example) and 2) homemade dry mixes. (Since we are a gluten-free family we avoid packaged mixes like those for taco seasoning, Italian dressing, and dry onion soup. I make these in bulk and divide them into single-recipe servings. Affordable, easy, and (let’s face it) healthier, too!
If you have questions or comments — or if you make your own rotational meal plan binder — we would love to hear from you!
Happy meal planning! 🙂
P.S. — I plan to post some of our recipes as time progresses!