I plan our meals for four weeks at a time. Every four weeks we go to SamsClub and max out their $750 limit for scan and go and then we go to HEB and get the rest of the nonperishable stuff for the month plus perishable stuff for the week. It’s a long day of shopping and cutting chicken and weighing ground beef and FoodSavering it into meals, but it makes the rest of the month so easy (and the weekly shopping trips quick, too).
I have my recipes on my phone in emeals (I’ve been a subscriber for a few years now) and Paprika. We also have a bunch of cookbooks, but I never really look at those since it’s so much more convenient to just find what to eat (and cook them) from my phone. I will often type recipes from cookbooks or that I find online into Paprika for future use.
I use Artful Agenda to organize our lives (calendar, random notes, book planning, etc.) including meal planning. One of the notes I have in the app is our basic meal plan. Setting this up saves at least an hour every time I do my meal planning. Snacks are the same based on the day of the week so I don’t have to think about them at all. Some breakfasts and lunches are the same as well. For the rest of the meals, I have a base assigned to each one. Chicken, ground beef, pasta, vegetarian, fish, etc. This makes it so easy to go through my recipes looking for one using that base. We get a variety of types of meals this way, too.
Emeals has a couple handy features that I use all the time. One is favorites. Those are the recipe hits I’ve saved to use again. The other is the shopping list. I don’t use that to make my shopping list (with such a big family I have to dramatically scale up recipes so it’s not really useful for me), but I do use it to save the recipes we are using over that four weeks in an easy to get to list. As we make them, we remove them from the list.
I use a word document to do the actual planning. I take the basic plan from Artful Agenda and copy and paste it and then put in the names of the recipes I pick. Once the recipes are chosen, I copy and paste again putting the daily menus into the appropriate sections in Artful Agenda. This four weeks I had to do a little rearranging of basic meals because Birthday Season started and we had five kids having birthdays on four different days in that particular four week period. Kids always get to choose what they want to eat for their birthdays.
Once the menus are set it’s time to make the grocery lists. I go day by day and, referencing the recipes (this is when it’s extra convenient having everything on my phone), I write down everything we need for the recipes that day right down to the number of chicken breasts (minus things like spices that we always have on hand). Then I go to yet another app I have on my phone, OurGroceries, to make our grocery lists. I make five of them. The first one I make is for SamsClub. The second I make is for our first HEB shopping list. For both of those I go through the entire four weeks of menus. Then I add the remaining items to the appropriate lists (week 2, week 3, and week 4). I don’t think about whether we have the ingredients on hand when I make these lists. I add everything needed.
Once I’ve made the five lists, I head to our cabinets and check to see what we have on hand and delete those items from the SamsClub and Shopping List lists. I leave the weeks 2, 3, and 4 lists as is. Every Friday I go through the appropriate week’s list and remove anything I don’t need to buy from them. As we use things we generally have on hand, those get added to that week’s list (most things we always have an extra in the cabinet waiting so we don’t run out completely).
The final step is my plan for our big shopping day. It tells me what to do with the meat we get. I cut the chicken as directed and weigh the ground beef. Then I put them in labeled FoodSaver bags and seal them up. It makes finding what we need when we’re ready to make the meals easy and also prevents them from getting freezer burned over the course of the month.
All together it takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to do everything to plan our meals for four weeks. Considering I was spending about an hour every week, this is a great time savings. Plus we don’t have any more of those time where I was clearly in the mood for one type of meat or vegetable and nearly every meal that week ends up including it!