meal + menu planning – getting it together, a goal for this year

{one of my favorite photos, taken by my hubby in 2010, I loved his comment when I pulled this  up. “Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight since then!” He’s a keeper.}

One of my goals for this upcoming year is to come up with a system that works for me for meal and menu planning for our family. I know that when I plan, I do a much better job of sticking to a budget, which is important to me. Not only that, but when I just walk into the store without a plan {because I tell myself that I didn’t have time to plan?}, guess what? I walk out with a bunch of junk/snacks and without the goods I need to make the healthy meals. So then I end up back at the store. Sound familiar? Yeah. I thought so!

Anyway, I know this is gonna look archaic, because, well, frankly – I don’t always want to do everything on my computer or mobile device. I’m an iphone user and lover, but I still seem to sometimes need that connection to physically holding something in my hands. Writing. So here’s my idea/goal for this upcoming year:

Come up with a “meal master list”. A list of our family’s favorite meals that I can rotate through. I cook 5 nights per week, so just 20 menu ideas will get us through a month without repeats. I can alway go above and beyond that, or throw a few repeats in of favorites if I want, but this list will make it easier to just pull from and slip into a planner.

The fact that we’ve switched over to mostly vegetarian meals over the course of the past year has made this a bit of a learning experience for me, and I’ve still searching out new recipes to try and mark as favorites. {You can see some of my favorite places to gather new recipes here. I always love finding new ones, so feel free to link to your favorites!}

Set up a planner system. I’m leaning toward picking up a physical planner/journal, and I can scribble my two weeks worth of meals into at a time, then create a shopping list.

I’ve really already started on this process and so far, it’s working wonders. It’s taking a bit of time up front, but ultimately, I think it’ll save me a quite a bit of time and money! Which, as you know – with two growing boys? Well, ‘nough said! It’s also important for keeping the family eating  healthy – which is a big priority in my book!

For those of you that are looking for some systems that are already set up, I found these! I’d love to hear if you’ve tried them and like!

Food on the Table – looks like it could be cool. It let’s you pick a local grocery location, select your meals, and then it creates a grocery list for you along with an  estimate of cost. It looks like a free program, so it might be fun!

Meals – this one doesn’t look to be quite as comprehensive. Looks like it gives you a document to enter your meal choices in, and you do most of the leg work. Which in some ways is great, because it gives you the flexibility to enter your personal favorites, like I’m doing. Looks like they also have some great recipes on their site!

I love this idea from Real Simple! A simple one month meal plan that’s based on 6 basic recipes that you modify through the month.

Basically the pitfall that I experience with any of the pre-made programs is a lack of options for vegetarians. So I’ve started researching that a bit more, and will share what I come up with! These I may actually try. At the very least to find some fun new recipe suggestions!

Eat Close to Home – Vegetarian Menu and Recipes for a Month

The Simplest Method for Weekly Vegetarian Menu Planning – LOVE this post from Jules Clancy of  The Stone Soup. I’ve just discovered her blog and will be adding it to my favorites! She has great info and stunning photography. Two things that bring a big thumbs up from me!