We all know that menu planning can help our days run smoothly, but what if you hate to plan? Or hate the idea of having to decide on Sunday what you're going to eat next Friday? I have help!
I love the idea of meal planning, and I enjoy creating the plan, but I’m not always so great at sticking to the plan! I'll go in phases where we stick to a detailed meal plan and other phases where I want to be a lot more spontaneous. Also, often when I plan out a week of meals at a time, I plan too much food, and I end up throwing food out. Inevitably, something comes up that I wasn’t planning for like a invitation to someone’s house for dinner, and so then the plan doesn’t quite work out. Also, to be totally honest, by the time Friday rolls around, sometimes, I’m simply not “in the mood” either to cook or to eat whatever I planned for us a week prior.
However, having no plan whatsoever, and stopping by the grocery store all the time is pretty inefficient, not to mention costly and sometimes not so healthy. So what’s the solution?
It’s what I like to call the Menu “Planning” for the Non-Planner. This would probably work well for people like me who love organizing and planning, but can’t quite seem to stick with a weekly meal plan. However, I think it would also work well for you if you just really hate planning.
I used this method for a long time a few years ago, when I was working a full time traditional day job, and it worked great. Here’s how it worked for me.
Step 1: Big Grocery Trip Every 8 Wks
About every 6-8 weeks, I did a major grocery trip to Sam’s club and Aldi usually on Friday night. I would buy: 5-10 pounds ground beef, 10-15 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, my favorite tortillas that last 4 months in the fridge, 2-3 bags of apples (would stay good until the next shopping trip), 2-3 bags of oranges (would stay good until the next shopping trip), several bags of frozen broccoli, a large bag of frozen berries, a large bag of frozen mixed fruit, 2 or 3 bags of frozen stir fry veggies, canned green beans, canned corn, canned beans, dry rice, a few jars of pasta sauce, some pasta, butter, a thing of plain Greek yogurt, tortilla chips, shredded cheese, some potatoes (would stay good until the next shopping trip), baking and cooking staples as needed (like olive oil, flour, sugar, big thing of crushed garlic, onions, etc) and a few fresh fruits and veggies that would need to be eaten within the next week or so.
I know this sounds like a lot, but I bought pretty much the same thing each time, and I didn’t even really write a list. I just glanced over what we had on hand before I went. I rarely needed to buy all of those dry food items in one trip. Also, most of it goes into the freezer, so it will stay good for a very long time even if I do buy more than I really need for the next six weeks.
Step 2: Prep and Freeze the Meat
On Saturday, I would spend 2-3 hours, prepping, cooking, and freezing all the meat. (Pretty much everything else is already frozen or stays good for quite a while.)
I would fry up most of the ground beef and portion in 1 lb increments in a ziploc bag. I would quickly shape a few hamburger patties as well and froze those uncooked.
With the chicken, I cooked some of it in a 13 by 9 in the oven with foil, and then shredded it when it was done. I then froze the cooked, shredded chicken in one pound increments. I cut some of the chicken into cubes (for stir fry or something like that), and I froze that uncooked. I also put some of the chicken in a super easy marinade in a ziploc bag and froze that.
Also, I took the huge 10 lb bags of shredded cheese and divided it into 1 lb (or so) quantities in gallon freezer ziploc bags. That way I could remove and put it in the refrigerator as needed.
This wasn’t really like the once a month cooking concept where you need spend all day in the kitchen making entire main dishes, because all I did was cook up or cut up the meat and freeze it. Alternatively, you could just pick up one type of meat each weekend, and only spend about an hour prepping it (but get enough for 6-8 weeks). You’d really only need to do that about every other week, and you would keep your freezer stocked.
Also, only did this about every 6 to 8 weeks so it wasn’t even every month! I do realize if you have a bigger family, you would either need to do it every 4 weeks or it would take you longer to prep your meat.
Step 3: “Plan” Dinner the Night Before
So at this point, you have a stocked freezer with easy to use ingredients, meat that’s already processed and cooked up, so it makes putting together a meal really quick and easy. Therefore, I just decided the night before what we would have for dinner the next day. I even put a reminder in my phone right before bed to think about that. If I needed to thaw something, I would just take it out of the freezer and put in the fridge. Also, if it was a crockpot meal, I would set out the crockpot with a liner, and all the cans needed to make it, so I could just really quickly and easily throw it together in the morning.
This way, if we still had leftovers, I knew I shouldn’t plan to cook anything the next day, so we could eat up the leftovers. I never really know how to predict how long leftovers will last, so this is the perfect way to make sure we actually ate them up before I made something else. Also, I usually knew by the night before if we were going somewhere else for dinner the next day. I even had a better idea of what we’d me “in the mood for” the next day or what the weather would be like for grilling. I was even able to make sure we used everything up. For example, if the Greek yogurt was about to go bad, I would make something using it. I also tried to use up most of the items in the freezer completely before going on my next shopping trip.
The key is to have your meet prepped and frozen, so most dishes are quick and easy to prep. or example, for Texas taco, all I had to do was cook rice, heat the meat with the taco seasoning and heat up the beans. All the ingredients were already there.
Here’s a couple common questions people have about this method:
- How much did this cost – was it more or less expensive than other things?
This saved us money! It’s about the cheapest way I’ve ever eaten. For one, I’m rarely in the store to make impulse or snack-y buys. Second, I’m able to have far less food waste and eat up what we have. I did spend a lot in one trip, though, but it would last me 2 months. In month 1 where I did the big stock up trip, my grocery expenses were much, much higher than in the second month.
- Did you go to the store at all in between the big stock up trips?
I stopped by Aldi near my home, maybe every other week, if that, so honestly not much. If I did stop it was usually a simple trip to run in and get one thing or two or buy some produce that was on sale.
- What about fresh fruits and veggies?
Apples, citrus (non organic), and potatoes stays good plenty long enough to last between big stock up trips. We also were able to eat plenty of canned and frozen fruits and veggies. The bonus is that all the work for these was done for us already! We drank some smoothies with the frozen fruit. I sometimes roasted the frozen broccoli, used it in soups, or just steamed it. Every now and again, I picked up a bag of spinach at Aldi, but I used frozen spinach in our smoothies.
- Didn’t you have to go to the store for milk?
We don’t eat cereal and don’t drink regular milk. I use boxed, shelf-stable almond milk in our smoothies. We also don’t drink juice – just water. However, if you do drink milk, you would need to stop the store every so often for milk. Greek yogurt only lasts 4 weeks, so I did have to rebuy that in between big trips or just do without it.
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