Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meal Planning and Organization

Last year, I shared my system for keeping track of menus and the recipes that I use frequently.  This has proved to be an invaluable tool for me, especially when I'm trying to focus on healthy eating habits.  Since I started the Game On! Challenge again last week, I thought I'd revisit last year's post and show you what works for me.

When it comes to sticking to a grocery budget and having healthy food choices, I realized that if I was going to accomplish my goals, I needed to plan our meals carefully.  Admittedly, at least once a year, I try to follow a menu.  I've known for years that this is the way to do things.....I just have a hard time following through with my own plans.    Having a menu was the way my mom stuck to her grocery budget for HER ENTIRE MARRIAGE.  My mom is super, super organized and lives for routine.  (Hmm....maybe the reason why I am super, super unorganized and live for spontaneity.  Funny how that works.)

So I made a special binder.  Binders help me feel like I'm in control.

I filled it with all kinds of handy tools.

I plan my menus for two weeks at a time.  This is partly because I do two big shopping trips a month.  Above is a sample of the menu for our family meals, below is a sample of how I plan my meals during the Game On! challenge.  I really do eat breakfast....I just hadn't finished the menu plan for this week when I took this picture.

I used my Mac's spreadsheet program to make most of the tools for my menu binder.  It took a little time, but now I have them saved and can print them out any time I need them.  Here are some of my other planning tools.
Clockwise, from top left: 
1. I have a section in my binder where I store recipes that are family favorites.  
2. I also have a place to keep master copies of my menu calendars, shopping lists, etc.  
3. One section of the binder has info on the the special diet guidelines I am currently following.  
4. Another handy tool is my pantry list, which helps me keep track of all the food items I store in my pantry, storage room, refrigerators, and freezers.

When I plan each two week set of meals, I look first at what is on my pantry list that I can use, then I plan my shopping list.  This is a picture of last week's list.  Would you believe I spent less than $70 on two weeks worth of grocery items for my family?  I'll have to spend a little more on fresh items (milk and salad vegetables) next week, but most of what I purchased this week will last into next week.  That's what happens when I have a list of all my pantry-stocked foods available as I plan out the menu.

So, my diet is going great, because I have everything planned out and don't have to sit and think, "Hmm, what can I eat right now?  Oh, since I can't think of anything, I'll have eight of these cookies, since they are handy."  Tell me you've been there, too.

Have you found a way to keep tabs on your family's meals?  I'd love to hear what works for you!

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