Got your list? Does it have more than two dozen potential meals jotted on it? If not--do not pass go, do not collect $200! No, seriously--you really have to come up with at least 24 meals to make this process work. Get creative! Even your picky, picky eaters surely have almost a month's worth of meals in them. Think hard. Grilled cheese can count as supper. Write it down. You like to pull off the occasional breakfast-for-dinner, right? Write it down. No matter how ashamed you are to admit that it's part of your repertoire, it's in there. So write it down. (And how do you think I feel about having "chili dogs" on my list, anyway?)
Next step in making a meal plan that will work for you is filling in the blanks. Yep--it's really that easy.
There is a small part here that requires knowing yourself. Are you more of a straight list person, or someone who likes a day-by-day calendar format? Both will work just fine in the long run, but you'll help yourself along in the process of getting used to the whole mindset if you pick the format that makes the most sense to your brain. Then, decide how many blanks you want to fill in. A week? Two? A whole month? There are a lot of variables that lead people to pick a certain schedule. A dear friend of mine does a month at a time because her husband is paid on a monthly basis, so she does all of the "big" shopping just once every four weeks. I go with a two-week schedule for the same reason--Mr. Blandings' payday rolls around twice a month, so that's what we work around.
One of my menus:
Because I am addicted to my Mac, I have cute little menus designed for my 14 days. There is no magic to these menus, though--a plain text file will do just as well. I give each day a heading, and alongside that I include our evening plans, if any. This is a very, very important step--if you skip it, you may find yourself lined up to make lasagna on the same night you're heading out the door at 6 p.m. to get one of your children to violin practice, or find that a stew was supposed to have been simmering for a full two hours while you were at your Bible Study. This is a recipe for stress, and stress is not what meal planning is about! It's supposed to be the antidote to stress ... so take a minute to note the recurring activities that pop up in your life. Plan accordingly.
(We'll work on customizing menus with non-recurring events in our next session.)
Now that you've outlined the when, it's time to throw in the what. Simply start dropping meals in on days. Don't think too hard about it unless for some reason you have a strict aversion to the idea of a tuna casserole on a Monday. Some people have certain meals on certain nights (ie, Sunday is always spaghetti night). Go ahead and make those accommodations, but otherwise, willy nilly is really, truly fine.
Have more meals than slots? Good for you! You are now in the realm of the rotating menus. Here's how it works:
You decided to do a two week menu. But you have 24 meals. You've filled in 14 blanks, and you have ten meals left over. Create a NEW 14 week sheet, and randomly toss your four favorite meals onto that new schedule. Fill in around them with the meals you haven't written down yet. Voila! You now have an entire month's worth of meals planned. Simply use one, then the other, then go back to the first ...
And these, essentially, is it. The very basic meal planning technique. There are, of course, more advanced tools ... and we'll get to those on Friday. That ought to give you plenty of time to have a couple of menus under your belt. :-)