Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Meal Planning That May Actually Work for Me

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If you’ve been around my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I am not a very good cook. I’ve often lamented this. And, I won’t post any blog links for the number of times I’ve said- “Ah ha! I’ve found the perfect way to meal plan.” The truth is, unless I find a meal plan where a person actually shows up at my house to cook the meal, it won’t be a perfect way to meal plan.

As a new wife, I didn’t even think about meal planning. Meal planning for me involved coming home and talking about where we were going out to eat. When we discovered that this was not very financially feasible, I had to decide which box to open. “Shall I make Hamburger Helper tonight or will it be Pasta Roni?” As a new mom, I was determined to have those perfect family meals around the dinner table. You know the ones where the kids are beautifully behaved and there is Bible reading and family discussion around the table. So I began trying to actually plan meals. I printed cute menu planning sheets every week. I tried the marker board method. I tried writing it on a cute calendar. In the last few years as technology has advanced and I have added more and more tech toys, I’ve tried almost every digital way to meal plan. After all, digital has to be better, right?

I could probably fill a book with every online and downloadable meal planner available. If you google “online meal planning,” I’ve probably tried every site that shows up. Some were free; some I paid for. None cooked for me.

A few years ago, a wiser, more experienced mom had shared her meal planning technique. It involved writing out a list of meals she could cook, putting them in weekly lists, and writing out the ingredients needed for each list. I dismissed the idea when I read it. It was too “low tech” for me. I just knew I could do better if I did something digitally.

Several months ago, once more in a meal planning slump, I decided to try a simplified version of her plan. Believe it or not, it worked! I was amazed. And also skeptical. I’ve used it now for several months, lest I post prematurely only to have to tell you later how it didn’t really work. But, so far it has been the best thing I think I’ve ever used.

Here is what I did.

1. I listed out the meals that most of the family liked and that I could make well.

2. I came up with fifteen meals that I could spread over three weeks with five meals a week. We eat at church on Wednesdays, and on Sundays we eat leftovers or cereal for supper.

3. I made a chart for each week with the meals listed- in no particular order. This last part was especially important. I need flexibility in a meal plan. Some plans have failed for this reason. I have five meals listed, but I can make them any day during the week. So if we are going to be out all day, I choose a crockpot meal. If I have hamburger already browned and waiting, I might choose a hamburger recipe.

4. I made sure I had a printed copy of every recipe I needed for each week. I also made printed copies of some other favorite recipes that I make frequently. I have recipes saved in places all over the web. But if I make it often, it’s hard to have to look it up every time.

5. I also made a grocery list for every week. I didn’t list every single ingredient like milk or butter or eggs. I did list anything I don’t usually keep in the pantry and fridge.

6. I got a large binder and sheet protectors. I put every meal plan sheet, grocery list, and recipes behind divider tabs that say “Week One”, Week Two”, Week Three.” I put the other recipes in sheet protectors at the back of the binder.

7. I printed out our lunch rotation. I have set things that make for lunch each day of the week. I’ve done this for a while but never really had it written down.

8. I got two magnetic clips. I keep the lunch rotation clipped onto the fridge with one clip. With the other clip, I hang the current week’s meal list. Each week all I have to do is change the meal list and double check the needed ingredients.

TaDa! So far, it is working for me. I know if you are a great cook and organized meal planner, you’ve probably been doing something like this for years. Don’t burst my bubble. I’m excited about it, and, even though I still can’t hire a personal chef, I actually feel like meal preparation is easier now.

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