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November’s Third Thursday: It’s What’s for Dinner November 18, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Eating Down the Fridge, Freezer Meals, Information, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to November’s Third Thursday!


First, I think I need to clarify – when I say “it’s what for dinner,” that is not to say we’re talking about beef.   In fact, this month, we’re not going to be talking about a particular recipe, either, or even (gasp) food.  Specifically.

Not unless you want another soup . . . because honestly, right now, that’s about all I’ve got.

No, what we’re going to talk about this month is meal planning.

Oh great, yet another blog post about meal planning.

I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this for a while, but there always seemed to either be another great soup, or I’d run out of time, or, well, something.  After all, who am I to tell our tens of readers that they should do something?

Then I read Michael Ruhlman’s recent blog on weekly meal planning – and I realized that I’d better get on the ball!  So here goes.

Dude.  You should do this.  Besides ultimately you saving scads of money, it will help save your sanity (or what’s left of it)!

Everyone does it differently, and if you don’t do it at all, well, I can see how the very idea would get overwhelming – where to start?

Well, here’s what I do.

First, I start with a running grocery list – right in the kitchen.  It’s a dry erase board with magnets mounted on the back, and as we run low on things, they get written on the list.

Opened the last can of coffee?  We write it on the list.  Last pound of butter?  It goes on the list.  Running low on rice?  List.

You get the idea.

Then, we check our grocery store’s sale ads – our sales run Sunday through Saturday, which is great, because we can get the shopping done first thing Sunday morning (usually by 8:00).   We generally only buy items on sale – and when they’re on sale we stock up.

Occasionally, our supermarket has the big cans of ground coffee on sale for $4.99, which is an excellent price – so we’ll often buy 2 or 3 cans at that price; one can lasts us about a month, so odds are, by the next time we need it, it will have gone on sale again.

I try to keep track of what’s in the freezer and what should be used sooner rather than later.  While I haven’t done as well with this as maybe I could have, I’ve started kind of pre-scheduling proteins.  For instance, if I buy, say, 8 chicken breasts, with two being a meal for the two of us, that’s four meals  – actually, 6 meals, because I trim them myself, so we have four meals of chicken breasts, one of chicken tenders, and the last is usually chicken chunks or nuggets of some sort.  Most of that gets packaged and frozen for later – we usually keep two breasts out to enjoy freshly pan-roasted. (I cannot imagine life without a freezer!)

I keep a running three-month calendar – each month is divided into 4 weeks (or 5, as appropriate), so, keeping with the example of chicken, that will get penciled in for each of 6 of the coming weeks.  I usually update the calendar every month – right now, I’m finishing up November-December-January — in a couple of weeks, I’ll start December-January-February.

Finally, I’ve created a weekly template with space for Monday through Friday, plus the weekend.  We don’t generally plan for weekends (a little spontaneity isn’t completely over-rated!), but sometimes, we’ll decide to prepare something time-consuming – a roast, say, or a turkey, and we need a little more than “after work” to do it.

I’ve also left space for notes for something that we might want to do for a future week – often, we’ll be going through recipes and come across two chicken recipes, say, that sound really good, and since we’re can only eat one at a time, I like to make a note so we don’t forget about the second one!

I’m going to link to my templates – you’re welcome to them, if you’re interested: Meal Planning Templates It’s really not as complicated as it sounds – you just need to get into a rhythm!

So tell me, do you plan your meals ahead of time?  How does it work for you?  What tips or tricks do you use?

And, of course, if you’d like to play along with our Third Thursday challenge, leave a comment with a link to (or description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here! 



1. sjbraun - November 18, 2010

Here ya go:

We sound very similar with meal planning. I did it for years, kind of stopped, and then the blog and Menu Plan Monday got me going again. It really is a great thing to do. When I wasn’t planning the meals, I would get that sinking feeling around noontime – what’s for dinner? Did I have the ingredients I needed? etc.
Thanks for the template as well; it’s simple but got all the basics you need.

Exactly! I remember hauling something out of the freezer in the morning before work, and wondering whether it was going to be thawed in time for dinner, and if it wasn’t, what I could do with it. . . ugh!

And you’re quite welcome for the templates. 🙂

2. judy - November 18, 2010

This is ORGANIZATION. This is how my daughter thinks in many ways and I will share the column today. When the kids were all home I had a large freezer and it really saved my life. I also had gardens and froze vegetable all summer. Cooking for one and only having the freezer in the frig changes the choices but I do follow ads and cut coupons. Every little bit helps.

Judy – your daughter sounds like a wise and clever lady. 😉 Ya know, another thing I do, is when I make soup, there’s almost always some left over, so I usually put a serving into a ceramic soup cup (one with a lid) and pop it in the freezer. Makes a great quick lunch later on – I only have 4 of the mugs, so I don’t end up getting overrun with them. And it’s kind of nice to re-enjoy something a couple of weeks later. 😀

3. Anne - November 18, 2010

I really, really need to do this. I’ve done it in the past, and it makes things soooo much easier. But I always fall off the wagon. Our stores run Wed-Tues, but I like to do most of my cooking on the weekend, so it just never seems to work out well. Eating vegetarian makes it harder to know what to have in the freezer.

I do seem to have a handle on excuses, huh? 😕 If I spent as much time menu planning as I do finding reasons not to, I’d be done by now.

I think you just need to find a system that works for you. I’ve always found THAT to be the hardest part – once the system is in place, then it should run itself.

My biggest pet peeve is running out of something – I hate planning, say, a lentil soup, and starting it, only to realize that I don’t have enough lentils – makes me NUTS!

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