Daily Dinners: Weekly Meal Planning

I'm not going to share a specific recipe today, but instead how I plan my meals for the week. I often get asked while munching away with co-workers at lunch how I manage to make the all my meals during the week. My co-workers think they are gourmet or something - ha! It's just regular, home cooked meals here, friends. So I'm going to share my meal planning secrets with you. 

Okay, that's a lie; it's not a secret, but I had to hype this up a bit to get you excited. It's definitely not rocket science (and if I was a rocket scientist, I'd probably be rich and have a home chef or something). But it did take me a while to get where I am with the meal planning. It all started on paper - literally scraps of paper where I wrote the meals and shopping list. My dear husband played a bit part in helping me get a system down. This system still takes some time, but it's a whole lot less than it used to be at the start. And I'm still refining it...especially in anticipation of the little guy on the way. 

Here's how it goes...

Gather Recipes

Finding the perfect recipe never stops for me. I'm always on the quest for the perfect meal - one that's quick, tasty and healthy. It's like a game - a game I both love and hate. I like to torture myself that way. Anyway, where do I get my recipes? Mostly from the blogs and Pinterest.

Blogs: I have been hoping to write a post about my favorite bloggers, and I still plan to, so below is just a sampling. These are a few favorites for meal type recipes (some are better for treats & sweets - that's for another time). Oh, and I use a blog reader to follow my favorite bloggers.

  • Pioneer Woman - Ree, otherwise known as the Pioneer Woman, is great and I've been following her for years. She's built quite the empire for herself and recently started a program on the Food Network. I've been to her book signing and met her when she signed my book. Her chicken parmigiana is a favorite of mine. 
  • Annie's Eats - Annie always seems to have great solutions for healthy and quick meals. She seems so nice, like she could be your friend. Her Mexican quinoa is one of my go-to's for a quick meal. Just add some avocado and sour cream and chips on the side and you're good to go. And, if you want some meat, I often add the carnitas from Trader Joe's. 
  • Gimme Some Oven - Ali has some awesome meals - yes I know them all on a first name basis (although, sadly, they don't know my name). I love how she lightens up a lot of traditional meals and does recipe round ups by ingredient. Her Hummus Crusted Chicken is super tasty - just serve it with Trader Joe's rice! (Psst, I told you about this before...)
  • Mel's Kitchen Cafe - I tell ya, Mel makes some good, home cooked meals. She often make suggestions on what to serve with the meal, which is helpful. I enjoy the Thai Style Chicken and Quinoa during the spring and summer. 
  • Pinch of Yum - Lindsay is a recipe machine. I follow her on Pinterest and she's got so many recipes pinned. One I made in the spring and will make again soon now that it's cool enough for the oven, is the Six Ingredient Sausage Potato Pie

Pinterest: I use Pinterest to quick save a recipe that looks promising to me. So, when I am looking through my blogs and come across a recipe, I pin it to one of my boards. I also use Pinterest to source recipes. I follow a few of the bloggers I follow as they pin other people's recipes, too. 

Plan the Week

Every Sunday I sit down and plan the menu for the week. Here's the steps I take:

1. Weather Check: Yes, I check the weather. Seriously. I want to know whether I want to turn on the oven or not (this is key for the summer). 

2. Scan my Recipes: This is where Pinterest plays in again. I go to my boards and check out if anything catches my eye. If you have a cookbook you like, look at the table of contents. Or, do a quick web search if you have something particular in mind. Got some ideas now? Good, let's move on...

Before I go to 3, I want to tell you about Paprika as it's pivotal to the next steps. This is is a great piece of software and has served me well. I was doubtful of switching off my paper method (with recipes all printed and in a binder), but Josh convinced me and I haven't looked back. When I have a meal planned for the week, I just imported it into the tool. Slowly the recipe library builds up. I can use this for #2 now as well. It's on my desktop, phone, and iPad so it's really convenient. 

3. Meal Decisions: There is a calendar tool in Paprika, so go through and decide on a meal for Sunday through Thursday (I take off Friday & Saturday). If it's a new recipe, you may need to import it. Or, if you already have it in your library, great! You open the recipe on Paprika and there is an opinion to "Add to Meals" - go ahead and add it. 

Tip: I try to have some variety to my weekly meals. I tend to have one pasta dish, a chicken dish, ground turkey/beef, and pork. 

4. Grocery List: At the same time you add the meal to the calendar, you should click "Add to Grocery List." Then you click all the boxes for the items you need. Don't forget to go through the pantry and refrigerator to see what you have, what needs refreshing, etc. You can also just manually add items to the grocery list. I have some things I get every week - yogurt, bananas, milk, ice cream - so I add those, too. All set, good! The tool is great and will categories them into aisles at the store. 

5. Go to the Store: Sunday afternoons I head to the grocery store. I tend to go to Trader Joe's and/or Safeway these days - sometimes I go to both. It takes me about an hour total. I take out my iPhone and open Paprika, and go through my grocery list. As I put an item into my card, I check it off and the item disappears. 

6. Put the Food Away: This is self explanatory. I hope so. Josh usually helps me bring in the grocery bags, isn't he sweet?

Cook each Day

When you get home each day, open Paprika and get cooking. I use Josh's iPad and a little stand in the kitchen. The recipe is there and ready to help me make a most wonderful meal. I usually make 4 servings (or more!). We eat two for dinner, and then put two in tupperware to take to work the next day. Then your co-workers will look at your lunch and ask, "how do you do it?" 

And if that's not enough to get you going, there here is more Daily Dinner inspiration: