Weekly Meal Planning Made Simple

Bonjour! How was your weekend? On Saturday we celebrated my daughter's seventh birthday by going ice skating, then warmed up with steaming bowls of pho (beef noodle soup) at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. (Birthdays in our family always seem to be accompanied by pho--usually homemade!) Speaking of food, I want to share my weekly meal planning routine with you because this is such a fast, practical, and fun method. I usually do this on Saturdays so I can relax on Sundays & honor the Sabbath. Ready? Here it goes:

  One of my basic weekly meal planning pages at a glance (vertical version) before I fill it in

One of my basic weekly meal planning pages at a glance (vertical version) before I fill it in

1. Prepare a Page

Fold a blank sheet of paper vertically into thirds. (Or horizontally if you prefer.) Label the left (or top) section "Use Up," the middle section with the days of the week, and the last section "To Buy." If you're doing this in French, because everything's better in French (wink, wink), you can label the sections "manger," lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche," & "acheter."

  A sample menu planning page (I'm already starting step two here)

A sample menu planning page (I'm already starting step two here)

2. Check the Fridge

  A vertical weekly menu page ready to be filled in

A vertical weekly menu page ready to be filled in

After preparing my page, I open up the fridge and assess which items need to be eaten soon. I'm especially looking for produce that won't last much longer. All soon-to-expire items are jotted down in the top section--asparagus, fresh olives, a ripe avocado, homemade yogurt, etc.

3. Meal Plan

In the middle section of the page, I identify a few meals that would use those items and schedule them for the beginning of the week. For example, Monday - Greek salad with the kalamata olives & avocado; Tuesday - chicken curry using the yogurt, and so on. These can be starters or main courses; the point is simply to use what you have.

  Identifying a few meals that will use up the fresh produce listed in step 1

Identifying a few meals that will use up the fresh produce listed in step 1

Once you've planned to use up the fresh items, fill in the daily holes in your week-long menu plan. If you struggle for menu ideas (don't we all at times?), you can get some good ideas from Pamela Salzman's blog; on Sundays she lists her weekly dinner planner & recipes. I discovered her blog last month and I'm smitten--she's a health counselor and mama teaching cooking classes in California, and her recipes have that rare combination of being healthy, fast, and amazingly good! (My family's been pretty happy with everything I've made from her menus over the past few weeks.)

Another of my favorite sources for recipes is the Bon Appétit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh. I've been using this cookbook for years because the recipes are simple, healthy, and delicious. There are very few photos, but the recipes are well-indexed, so I can always find ideas based on a particular ingredient. (Though admittedly, I make the chocolate chip cookie recipe most of all! You'll find my blog post with the recipe below.) In any case, identify the dinners you plan to make each day, and make sure they work with your schedule this week.

  My egg noodle & wonton soup from Pho Thanh this past weekend

My egg noodle & wonton soup from Pho Thanh this past weekend

4. Shopping List

As you choose your week's meals, jot down any ingredients you'll need. The lovely thing about using the right third of your page for this list is that you can tear it off (or simply fold it up) to take with you to the grocery store (or farmer's market).

In the space remaining in the last column, I add notes about any meal prep I need to do in advance, and which day I should do it--soak the sticky rice, for example.

  My weekly meal planning sheet in progress

My weekly meal planning sheet in progress

I have to mention that our local grocery store, Fred Meyer, just added online grocery shopping a few months ago, and it's such a blessing! For a $5 fee, employees will find the items you select online, bag them, and load them in your car for you on the day and time you select in advance. The employees choose great produce, accept coupons, and give you the choice to substitute an item if they run out of something. You pay at pickup via their iPad (cash, debit, or credit). It's so convenient! I'd say this is "only in America," but when we were in France last summer I noticed that the grocery store Monoprix had a delivery option where you shop in store but drop off your bags at their counter to be delivered to your home within three hours (or pay a little bit to have them delivered within an hour or at a preset time). This makes a lot of sense in France, where most city dwellers do their shopping foot and have to lug their purchases up multiple flights of stairs.

Do you use a meal planning method? (I've used Plan to Eat too; I'll share about that in another post.) Do you rely on recipes, or do you like to create your own meals?

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