I've always enjoyed meal planning. Lists make me happy, so that aspect of mapping out the week's recipes is satisfying, but it's also enormously rewarding to open my fridge on a Sunday and see mostly bare shelves. I feel like I've accomplished something culinarily if I've used up what I had bought the weekend prior and when I have nothing that needs to be thrown away because it's expired or gone bad.
But also, you see, if I plan my week well food-wise, I save money.
First of all, it means I only buy what I need at the grocery store. Making a shopping list based on specific recipes encourages me to actually look through my pantry to see what I already have, a lesson I learned after finding three jars of dried thyme in my spice rack. Second, it means I can't let my desire to be healthy trump the realities of how many vegetables I can eat in a week; it's embarrassing how many times I've bought an extra bag of spinach, convinced I'll have fresh greens with every meal, only to throw it out half-consumed. A weekly meal plan, complete with a list of ingredients that I need, encourages me to stay away from the "oh, I could totally make this one night" purchases at the supermarket, ensuring I spend money more wisely and waste food less irresponsibly.
As I've gotten used to my new routine, working a full-time desk job again (plus a 45 minute commute each way) with delicious restaurants just steps from my office tempting me at lunchtime and occasional evening events throwing a wrench in my dinner plans, I've added another step to my weekly meal planning: updates.
I can make all the menus I want and shop only for what I really need, but sometimes life gets in the way and I don't end up eating what I meant to. Every once in a while, my tupperware of leftovers is just too unappealing and I sneak off to grab Thai food with my colleagues. Every once in a while, I accidentally eat my weight in pita chips and guacamole while braising the chicken thighs. Every once in a while - well, you get the idea. So, over the past few weeks, I've found it productive to update my weekly meal plan with what I've actually eaten so I can keep adjusting my understanding of what's realistic given my schedule. For instance, while I might enjoy lasagne on a week night, I now know that has to be made ahead of time because I can't stop myself from noshing while it's in the oven. And some leftovers are fine when they're reheated for dinner, but they're not appetizing out of the microwave at lunch time. A lot of this is common sense, of course, but I just process it more effectively when I see it all in writing.
I've tried a few different types of weekly meal planners: I made my own chalkboard one with a vinyl sheet that I stuck to my fridge but I gave up on that after a few weeks because I had a hard time writing vertically; I used a small weekly calendar for a while but it didn't have room for a grocery list; and I wrote on a menu printable once but managed to lose the piece of paper three times in the span of seven days. I love the one that Jolie at Brim Papery created, up at the top of this post, and I think I might try that next - I like the idea of a magnetic planner that can live on the fridge but with detachable pages for trips to the store. At the moment, I'm using the wooden one you see in the collage below (and in the photo above). I don't think it's technically a menu planner, but it's got one column that I designate for lunch and one for dinner and a notes column on the left that serves as my grocery list. The whole notebook comes with me when I go to the supermarket so I don't lose the individual sheets and it's nice to look back on what past weeks' meals have been, especially when I need some inspiration.
Of course, Jon thinks this whole process is ridiculous and so I'm sure I'll have to tweak my methods when he gets here, but it's working for me really well right now! Though I can always try to bring him over to Team Organization...