The Meal Planning System That’s Changed my Life

(Every single bit of game-changing wisdom you find in this post, from the meal-planning system itself, to the suggested shopping list, and eventually, the mouth-watering recipes, came from My Own Personal Kitchen Mentor, aka The Meal Planning Wizard, aka my AIL (that’s aunt-in-law), aka Aunt Kris.  Aunt Kris, thank you so very much for the time you’ve spend investing in me these last few months..I’ve loved our Tuesday afternoons spent in the kitchen. It’s been a huge blessing to me, to that cute little nephew of yours I’m married to, to our boys, and now to everyone reading this post.  Love you!)

Dramatic title? Yes.

True? It really is.

If you meet the following criteria, it may change your life, too:

  • You either ARE, or you are the EQUIVALENT of, a Baby Adult, fresh out of the dorms, or your parents care, and cooking like a “big girl” for the very first time
  • Every Single Night, at about 5:30, you frantically ask yourself (or anyone who happens to be around you) “What on earth am I going to make for dinner tonight???”… then ultimately decide to throw some ground beef (the sell-by date was two days ago…it’s ok. Right??) and shredded cheese in a bowl, dubbing it “Taco in a Bowl”.  Eat up, fam!

  • You spend exactly $838 every week at the store (that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly) and yet somehow, can’t find a single thing to eat at your house, so take-out it is, for the umpteenth night in a row. Your family is actually kind of pumped about this, because your cooking sucks, but the point is, you could fund an entire month vacation in Europe, with the amount of money you are wasting by eating out so often.

The reason I provided all of these criteria, is because I don’t want any of you, “Meal-Time Typically Goes Very Well At My House, and My Family Is Generally Pretty Satisfied With What We Eat” People to read this and say, “this isn’t that life-changing”.

I KNOW it isn’t life changing for YOU.

You don’t meet the criteria.

But for the REST of you….you’re welcome.

First of all, here’s what you need to get:

a bunch of index cards
Some sort of index card-sized box to put them in
Index cards with tabs (approx 25)

Step One: Get a piece of paper out. (I guess you could also live in the 21st century and TYPE it out, but I personally prefer paper and pen). List out every meal you can think of that you like to cook/know how to cook/your family enjoys eating/etc. For me, that was exactly six meals. That’s not good. Ideally, you would have maybe 40ish. These need to be COMPLETE meals, sides and veggies included (exp: Spaghetti and meatballs, with Caesar salad and garlic bread).

Step Two: If the list you composed in Step One consisted of less than 40 meals, hit up your friends, the Internet, the recipes I’m (eventually) going to provide you with, whatever, and try to accrue a few more. (If I were you, I would rely more on friends or family or me, to provide you with tried and true recipes, over those found on the internet, that may or may not be good. This is no time for experimenting. You are trying to come up with meals that you can count on to be good, add to your file, cook for the rest of your life, and eventually pass down to your offspring and their offspring. I’m serious.)

Step Three: On the index cards with tabs, label one for each month, January through December. On the other index cards with tabs, write labels such as “soups”, “casseroles”, “desserts”, “chicken dishes”, “beef dishes”, “sides”, “vegetables”. Whatever food categories you can think of. Set all of this aside for now.

Step Four: Decide how many meals you want to make every week. (Think through which nights of the week you already know you’re never home, whether or not you want to cook during the weekend, etc). Try to settle on a realistic number of nights, that you know you will be able to, and will want to, stick with. I went with 4.
Now, using your Master List of Meals that you composed in Step One, begin making weekly meal cards. A Weekly Meal Card is just a list of what meals you will make that week. 3-5 per meals per card probably, depending on how many nights a week you have committed to cook.

(Excuse my writing.  It’s actually kind of embarrassing)

Make four meal cards for each month, and then file them in your box, behind the Month Index Card Tabs, beginning with the month you begin this program (so assuming you start this plan immediately upon reading this, which I’m certain you will, stick four Weekly Meal Cards behind “December”, four behind “January”, etc etc. File for as far into the year as you have cards made for.

Step 5: Assuming you don’t have all the recipes/ingredients you will need for each meal committed to memory, you need to write out each recipe (well, or print themselves). Once that’s done, file THOSE behind the appropriate Food Category Index Card.

(This is a lot of work up front, but hardly any work at all for the whole rest of your life, so that’s a good trade-off, right??).

Step Six: Using the recipe cards to help you, list out on the back of EACH Weekly Meal Card EXACTLY what all you will need, ingredient-wise, for that week’s meals. This is basically your grocery list, forevermore. You will never need to write a grocery list again, because each week, you will pull out your meal card for that week, flip it over, and everything you need to buy will already be written on it. Snap a pic on your phone, and take it with you to the store.

(This list is small for an entire weeks worth of meals, but that is because I would already have purchased quite a few of the necessary ingredients…especially the meats.. in bulk from Costco, at the beginning of the month.  More on that later)

Step Seven: Each week, after you have finished making all the meals for that week, file that card at the very back of the Weekly Meal Cards….depending on how many meals were on your Master Meal List, it will probably be another three months or so before you are eating any of those meals again!

Bonus Advice: Become a bulk shopper! Once a month, go to Costco or Sams, and buy as much as you possibly can in bulk, and store in your freezer. All the meats you will need for the month, rice, pasta, sauces, literally whatever can be bought in month-or-more supply of. Then your weekly or bi-weekly trips to the grocery store will be just for the handful of things you need that can’t really be bought in bulk supply.

If you are a Costco/Buying Things in Bulk Virgin, here is what I now buy monthly at Costco (under the tutelage of Dear Aunt Kris.  She literally went with me the first three times and filled my cart for me.  I had to pay though.  Darn):

I used to hate the idea of Costco. I had a membership for an entire year that I never used. I didn’t understand what the hype was all about, and proudly declared myself “not a bulk-shopper kinda gal”.

That being said, I started doing this whole meal-planning, bulk-supply shopping, thing in October, and:

-I spent $600 less on groceries for the month of October, and $500 less for the month of November than I normally do
– My weekly trips to HEB took about 15-20 min, as I was only buying a handful of things. 15-20 minutes inside a store is do-able, no matter how many kids you have, and how crazy they are.

Ok, I don’t know what else to tell you, other than go do this now, and you’re welcome.

In my very first blog post, I claimed that this blog of mine would be many things, but that one thing I could guarantee is that it wouldn’t be the place you’d come to for recipes, or cooking tips.  Never say never though.  That was all before I became Aunt Kris’ Apprentice.

Another blog post coming your way soon, chalk full of (tried and true) (by Aunt Kris) recipes!


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1 comment

  1. This. Is. GENIUS. I love it all! As a mom of 3 somewhere between newish-to-the-kitchen and feeling confident there, I can see this also being life changing. Glad you blogged about it!

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