Meal Planning

When people find out that Boo and I both take part in the meal prep around our house, they’re typically surprised. Usually, meals are a one-or-the-other type of thing; the wife does all the cooking (with the exception of the occasional BBQ feast in the summer) or the husband does all the cooking. I guess we’re unique in the sense that we share kitchen duty…and we both enjoy it!

I have a confession: Jason was actually much more capable in the kitchen when we started dating. I had grown up around a father who was a gourmet chef in his former life, and I’d never really needed to learn how to cook myself. I got through college eating crappy processed foods that were donated to my workplace. So, when we started spending time together and sharing meals, I was kind of clueless. I didn’t even know how to chop an onion. However, when I finally did start bumbling around the kitchen, all of the techniques and expertise I’d watched my dad using kicked in, and now I think that Jason and I are at least on equal ground when it comes to cooking a tasty meal ;).

As much as we both like cooking, one thing we don’t like is getting in the car to go to the grocery store and realizing that we have no idea what we’re going to make for the week. This happened a lot over the summer, when we were moving in and painting, and it just got to be too frustrating. So, I sat down one day and threw together a template in Microsoft Publisher with a meal plan, complete with shopping lists. Jason had a lot of things on his plate at the time, so I chose most of the meals myself through the end of 2012. When it came time to do the meal plan for the first quarter of 2013, we sat down together and chose the meals. Well, he chose one week’s menu and I chose the next, to be more specific. Having to collectively chose and agree on every single meal probably wouldn’t work for us!

A note on how we do meals and grocery shopping: because it’s just the two of us, we make one huge meal on Monday night and eat it for dinner all week. Typically, it lasts until Thursday or Friday, depending on how much we make. We also plan one simple, healthy meal for the weekend. Each of us is on our own for weekday breakfast and lunch. Any other meals (Friday nights, random weekend lunches or dinners, etc) we either eat out, share a meal with friends, or make ourselves sandwiches or something simple like that. On occasional weekend mornings, we make a huge brunch together and sit around leisurely enjoying it and drinking our coffee šŸ™‚

His weekday breakfast is usually cereal (Raisin Bran and Cheerios) and I have a big green smoothie with a small snack later in the morning. He always does a turkey sandwich with some fruit and veggies for lunch, while mine is different every week depending on my mood. Some of my favorites are yogurt, sweet potatoes, salads, and soups. We always have fresh fruit or vegetables, canned soup, tuna, peanut butter, bread, pasta, eggs, crackers, and cheese on hand for a quick snack or meal. If we do brunch on the weekends, it’s almost always something we can make from pantry staples like flour or oats.

The point is, we aren’t usually cooking a meal on a daily or even every other day basis. I know this won’t always work for us, especially if we have kids, but right now it makes our lives simpler and we’ve found that some foods taste even better as leftovers!

Here is an example of what our monthly menu looks like:

Menu 2013

We’re not vegetarians, but we do eat a few meatless meals, and we always try to incorporate lots of vegetables into our menu. When we do eat meat, we to eat a lot of lean proteins, like fish and chicken. Even when we make something with pasta or other grains, we include lots of fresh non-processed ingredients. We don’t cook fancy meals (if it has a cheese in it that I can’t pronounce, forget it) but we do cook good, tasty fare with lots of spices and herbs. Overall, I’m happy with the way we eat in relation to our lifestyle.

Another way that we simplify things is that we only go grocery shopping once a week, usually on Sunday. We used to go Monday nights after work and after a full day in the office, combined with having to cook and clean up the meal, it was just too much. So, Sundays it is. It saves us a lot of hassle of running around and hopefully it saves us money!

Now that we’ve started planning our meals, we know a month in advance what we’ll need. So, I make a trip to Woodmans at the beginning of every month to buy all of our non-perishable items and to stock up on any items we buy in bulk (cereal, flour, granola bars, tuna, etc). Woodmans has some of the best prices and best selection in the Milwaukee area, plus it’s an employee-owned company so we like shopping there. We’ve actually had conversations with the cashiers and other workers, and most of them say that it’s a decent place to work and they get paid a better wage than other similar jobs. It’s a bit out of our way, which is why we only go once a month. Jason has a Sam’s Club membership for his business, and we occasionally go there…I try to avoid it, though. I know they aren’t treating their employees well, they don’t have as many healthy or organic options, and the whole experience is pretty overwhelming and frustrating for me. On our non-marathan-shopping weeks, we just go to a local grocery store – whatever is closest – for our produce and other perishables. If everything goes according to plan in the garden, we’ll be grocery shopping less on a weekly basis and eating fresh food from our backyard more. Hopefully it will also mean we’re buying less canned goods and using our own!

Anyway, here is an example of what our monthly shopping lists look like:

Shopping List

We work out our meal plan on a quarterly basis. Last time, with both of us choosing meals, we basically sat down together with our own stack of recipes we wanted to try and each picked a week. Occasionally, the other person offered a suggestion or tweaked things according to our schedule for that month, but overall it was a fun and easy task. It did take some time (an hour, I think) to get through everything, and then it took me about another hour to type it all up. But I know we’ll save at least that much time and headache in the long run. We keep all of this information filed in a big binder, with the printed recipes (when we use them) following the calendar for that month so all we need to do is open the binder and get to it!

When it comes to cooking, we trade off being the “Head Chef”. If it’s a recipe Jason chose, he calls the shots and does most of the actual cooking over the stove/in the oven, while I do the chopping and clean up after him. If it’s my week, we switch roles and I get to be head chef :). We tend to work really well together in the kitchen if we do things this way. Cooking becomes something fun and creative for us, AND we get to sit down to a wholesome meal every night because of our efforts.

So, now you know how we do food! If you’d like to use our menu and shopping list template, you can download them here and here. Have fun and cook something delicious!

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