The way I plan meals is constantly evolving. Nowadays, I plan around 6 separate dinner meals every week (the 7th night is either leftovers or one of the many unscheduled, last-minute dinners with family). I don’t necessarily assign each recipe a hard-and-fast day, but I try to include a couple of easily-portable meals, in case we have to eat at taekwondo. I also usually have at least one slow cooker meal, for those evenings when I arrive home exactly at dinner time due to piano lessons, classes, or an appointment. And I do a lot more prepping ahead for those rare meals that are just normal sit-down meals at home, with no scurrying around town beforehand. Why? Because I have discovered that I am more likely to follow my meal plan if the food is almost entirely prepped before lunchtime. After noon? Forget about it. I keep a few running “possibles” lists on my fridge: veggie sides, fruit sides, bread sides, and desserts. This takes out of the equation the difficult (mentally, okay?) task of rummaging through various cabinets, fridges, and freezers to determine how to fill in the meal. And it helps me remember the things I’m trying to use up, either before they go bad or to free up freezer space. I’ve also adjusted the way I make these lists: I check my stock before I go grocery shopping, noting the items that need used quickly; and then I update the list after my grocery run. I prefer not to update the list before grocery shopping mainly because I often turn down on-sale produce, even though it’s on my grocery list, because it just doesn’t meet my standards.
I never used to plan certain meals for specific days, but once my oldest started full-day school it became much easier for me to actually follow through with my plans (or at least be more reasonable with myself on what I actually think I can accomplish) if I looked not only at the grocery ad and my pantry, but also at our calendar. I use a month-long dry erase calendar to write out main dish ideas, making special note of days that I need something that is particularly easy or quick to prepare. Why dry erase? Because it is an outline of a plan that inevitably changes. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape! Like Katie, I always keep fruits, veggies, and desserts on hand. At the last minute I’m never as concerned about those sides, but do write them down if I know I want to use them with a certain dish or need to use them by a certain date. I do make note of bread items that I want to make that need rising time, since apparently yeasted bakes are super challenging for me during the week when I have multiple pick up times during the day. Sure, I could do it, but I’m not a morning person. At all. Ever. No matter how much sleep I get. But if I have a plan, I’m at least prepared for the moment that my brain wakes up, whenever that actually happens to be!