Good Ideas: Meal Plan Folder

I love hearing about a great idea! Don’t you?

Recently, a friend shared her method for keeping track of meals for her family. It was simple and sweet, covering what she needed in a way that was easy to access.

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A yellow file folder had all seven days of the week written in black marker on it. Under each day was a sticky note with three meals written out. At the end of the week, all she has to do is remove the sticky notes and start over.

The plan is to eventually have the breakfast for each day of the week be the same, so then it could be written on the folder also. Then, the sticky notes would only need to have lunch and dinner on them, saving one step each time.

Also, the sticky notes can be stored inside the folder to be reused in the future, giving meal ideas and saving time writing them out again.

The folder is kept with several other household folders, keeping bills and school records and such ordered and within reach during the week.

I love it! Perhaps you will too.

Notes:

  • The same process could be done by hole-punching the folder and including it in your household binder, if that is your tool of choice.
  • Once the breakfast is included on the folder itself, smaller notes (i.e., 2×3 instead of 3×3) could be used for lunch and dinner plans.
  • You could also use the really small sticky notes to have lunch on one and dinner on another for each day. That would let you re-use individual meals easily when you did your meal planning.
  • If you plan two weeks or a month at a time, you could have two or four folders set up and ready to go.

Unpleasant Duties

“Disorganization, procrastination, addiction to technology, or refusal to do unpleasant duties tends to stress us more than diligence, organization, decisiveness, or self-denial.”

Reset by David Murray has a good point here. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes? Putting off things we need to do, leaving the mess because it’s overwhelming, not mopping the floor for a month because we really hate it?

Most of us would agree that we don’t like stress and its effects on us. We’ve even heard, and tried to ignore, the health horror stories of how stress makes you sick over time.

BUT

Has that made a difference in how we tackle life?

  • Making an hour to plan out two weeks of meals will cut out the daily stress of answering “What’s for dinner?” with “I have no idea!” for a beautiful 14 days.
  • Creating a cleaning routine and racing yourself to finish the daily section will take the stress out of housework piling up and add a little bit of fun to your day.
  • Going to the grocery stores for the main shopping with a list and a plan saves time and constant decisions in the store.
  • Biting the bullet and cleaning out that closet you try not to see will give you access to storage and a more peaceful environment. Then you can exercise tiny bits of effort to maintain the order and hold off the chaos from coming back.
  • Having a current to-do list and calendar keeps the day on track and gives you the comfort of knowing where you are going and what you truly need to do.

Just one of these steps will help you and your stress level and the peace of your household. It will take some effort up front, but that work will pay off over and over after that.

Meal Timelines

Do you ever get to the end of the afternoon and realize with a shock that dinner will be expected shortly and you have no idea what it will be? Well, it happens to all of us, but if it happens regularly, I’d recommend reading two previous blog posts, Planning Your Day and Meal Planning. This post will build on what we have already started discussing.

Planning ahead involves knowing how your day will go (roughly) and knowing what you plan to make for a meal, but you also need to know how the various steps for your chosen menu will fit into your schedule. When do you need to start preparing? Do you need to figure on 2 hours in the kitchen or 20 minutes?

Many recipes now include prep time and cook time, which is very helpful. But you still need to know what you’ll be doing when.


Note: if you use frozen meat for your meals, remember to add defrosting the meat to your steps or your schedule the day before or early the day of.


As you look at your menu, map out the different steps and when you’ll need to do each of them (i.e., 2 hours ahead, 45 minutes ahead, right before serving, etc.). Some recipes or dishes are simple enough that you only need 5 minutes of prep time 2 hours before dinner. Some have a few more steps. Others are all last minute, just before you eat. Write it down in a timeline, counting backwards from your target mealtime.


Note: if you collect tried-and-true recipes or standard menus for a monthly meal plan, this will be helpful to keep with the recipe. That way you don’t have to think it through each time.


For an example, using the menu outlined in A Simple Meal, you would sketch out a timeline like this:

  • 2 hours prior — prepare meat and put in oven
  • 45 minutes prior — prepare sweet potatoes and put in oven
  • 15 minutes prior — set table and steam vegetables

Now you know that you have less than 30 minutes needed for the meal, but also you don’t need to do anything between the 2 hour mark and the 45 minute mark. You can plan on 75 minutes to devote to other tasks.

Now you also know what you are doing and that your bases are covered. Way to plan!

Budget Meals

How can you feed your family well for less? There are a number of things you can do to stretch your grocery dollars. Try them out and incorporate the ones that work best for you and your family.

Use cheap but nutritious ingredients

Eggs and beans provide protein without costing a lot. Rice also provides nutrition cheaply. Cooking a large chicken on sale and using it for multiple meals will save your dollars. Bananas and baby carrots are not expensive fresh fruit and vegetables.

Shop at the cheapest grocery store

I am a huge ALDI fan, but there are other options available. If your staples are consistently affordable, you are a long way toward meeting your budget. Also, be careful that store-hopping for deals does not cost you more in time and gas money than you are saving on the groceries.

Stay flexible to take advantage of sales or windfalls

You never know when the manager’s special will be a jackpot or day-old bagels will be available for use. Remember your meal plan can be tweaked, so take advantage of the bagels or whole chicken and work that into the next meal or two while it’s fresh.

Use storage mindfully

If you have a freezer or large pantry, make the most of it. But do so mindfully. If you don’t rotate stock or forget to use items until they are out of date, you are throwing away food (and thus money) and wasting space.

Use meal plans

When you plan out your meal menu, you will provide boundaries for yourself. This makes it easier to buy only what you plan to use. You can stay flexible, as noted above, to use bargains, but your list will be complete without room for impulse purchases that are unnecessary and potentially unused.

Eat at home when you can

It is so tempting to just pick something up on busy day after busy day, but remember that groceries go farther. You also have the added benefit of family time, good conversation, and healthier menus.

Junk food costs money

Similarly, snack foods are generally pricy carbs. If you can cut out sugary drinks and pre-packaged snack packs, you will be healthier for drinking water and have more money for good, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Note: Many thanks to multiple family members, far better at this than I am, who contributed ideas to this post!

Eating Vegetables

So, entrees aren’t everything. Most of us want to keep up or increase the level of fresh vegetables in our diet, but they can get old without variety. And it can be hard to convince some family members to enjoy them!

Steamed

You can use the same principle as the pre-packaged frozen steamer packs of veggies with fresh vegetables from the store or farmers market. Green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, medleys with peppers and carrots all work well with this. Use a saucepan with an inch of water and a tool like this or a metal colander, to keep the vegetables all out of the water and only in the steam as the water boils. Boil just until vegetables are done. Serve with a little butter or olive oil and seasoning.

Roasted

We have already mentioned this, but I’d like to bring it up again as a reminder.

Line a cookie sheet with foil, coat chopped (or smaller, like broccoli florets or Brussel sprouts) vegetables with olive oil, spread out on cookie sheet, sprinkle with seasoning, and place in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees. Timing depends on your oven and the thickness of the vegetables, but it is generally around 15-20 minutes, so experiment until you are comfortable.

Play around with combinations and seasoning blends, or find one or two that work for you and use them regularly. A balsamic vinaigrette can also jazz up the taste. Either way, make the option work for you.

This is a great way to try vegetables that are new to you or you may have tried other ways before and didn’t like. (For example, I hear radishes are good this way.) I can’t stand Brussel sprouts usually, but a friend roasted some to share one evening. Ever since, I could devour the whole pan myself. They are so good!

Slow Cooker

It is also an option to cook root vegetables in your slow cooker. You can mix them with meat (like a roast) or just cook them with seasoning for a side dish. Put some liquid in with them, to prevent drying out, but you do not need to cover them with water or broth.

Sauté

A little butter or olive oil, a nonstick sauté or frying pan, and you are good to go. You can throw in a little minced garlic or chopped onion as you warm up the butter or oil. When the butter is melted or the oil is warm, add your clean and chopped veggies. This is good for fresh green beans, sugar snap peas, and asparagus.

Salad

The combinations are almost endless when it comes to salads. Chop up what you have, whatever is in season, and enjoy! With fresh vegetables, you don’t even need lettuce to have a great mix. You can even branch out into fruits (dried or fresh) and nuts.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and balsamic vinegar or Italian dressing are delicious. Basil or dill can be fresh herbal seasoning for that mix also.

Kids often love dipping, so pile up the fresh vegetables, set out a good dressing and let them go to town.