I hate cooking. Honestly, it is the bane of my existence that my children have to eat more than once a month. If I could justify the expense and the lack of nutritional value I would order takeout or pre-made meals from the grocery store all the time. But, as I am not rich, try to care about what I eat, and care even more about what my kids eat, I try to provide some type of meal each day. It's a struggle. If I also didn't get totally bored with food we'd just eat burritos every night. And we eat a lot of burritos. (I make my own beans, there's lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado... I've justified it.)
Anyway, I tried planning a week at a time but it was too easy to blow it off and eat popcorn when the re-fried beans ran out. A month at a time was okay but I DREADED the planning and would put it off until Steve was standing at the door with his keys in his hand waiting to go grocery shopping.
Then I found this pin on Pinterest (a sigh of adulation for Pinterest...). It was from this lady who plans a full year out. WHAT?? There's no way! But the more I thought about it the more sense it made for me. Get all of the horrible planning done at once and then, if I already had a plan in front of me, maybe I'd be able to stick to it and have dinner on the table more nights out of the week than not. I'm going for overall percentages here.
So, I printed out her templates (link at the bottom) and gave it a try. The first year I managed to plan October through April before I lost steam - summer is bad for cooking anyway, right? (justifying again!) It was SO helpful. I wasn't close to 100% but it was so much better. No more trying to come up with something last minute, I just pulled out the ingredients and made what the calendar told me to! (Having the menu planned ahead means I can then buy just what I need when I go grocery shopping which has reduced wasted food and also makes it easier to shop)
This week, I've managed to plan September through May (it was easier this time around because I had my old calendars to help. I spent about 1 1/2 hours. The first time I split it up over a few nights). We'll see if I get to the summer months, although with grilling I think those months are easier anyway.
One of the things I did last year was try to utilize my crockpot more and, when possible, I made a double recipe (or with soups you just get a lot with the normal recipe) and then froze 1/2 and planned that into the menu for later. This year I have one day in October already on the calendar where I plan on doing a bunch of freezer meals where I put all the ingredients together in gallon ziploc bags, throw them into the freezer, and then pull them out later as needed. (more links at the bottom)
There are a lot of really well thought out resources on the internet for this type of stuff so I'm not going to go into more detail - no need to reinvent the wheel. I will say that Pinterest is a wonderful source for recipes - both the regular variety and the freezer meal kind. (link below) On my food board you'll see that I've made notes on the ones that I've tried already...
Meal Planning Binder - Yes, it really is a binder. She's way more scheduled than I am, taking into account their activity schedule and that type of thing. But it gives you something to start with, take what you want, and don't re-create the wheel... Mine is a simplified version, though I have found that her recommendation to have all of the recipes you're going to use printed and then filed behind that month's calendar is actually really helpful, both for ease of creating a shopping list and when making dinner. I've printed the computer/internet recipes, haven't converted my cookbook recipes (doubt I'll ever get that far!)
Pinterest Food Board - start at my board and then just browse Pinterest (click the Pinterest logo at the top of the page), each pin will lead you down a rabbit trail of deliciousness...
Freezer Cooking - (to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. There are a TON of resources)
I'll do a separate post to show you an actual month of meals that I've planned. It's not quite as impressive as it sounds but it does keep people fed and me sane, so that's good!