By semi-popular demand, here is my method for weekly meal planning. It's a simple method that works for me and may work for you, too. One caveat, though. I only shop once a week. I buy everything we need for the week on Sunday afternoons and, unless there is something I couldn't find or forgot, I don't buy anything through the week.
During the winter months I drive my car to shop at a supermarket and a bulk food store. During the warmer months I ride my bike to the farmer's market and get my bulk items at the health food store across the street. As much as I love the idea of daily, European-style shopping, this wouldn't work for our household right now. Sometimes I succumb to convenience to avoid losing my mind.
Step One: Make A Menu
This may seem like a pain in the ass, but it is UNAVOIDABLE. There is no magical way to buy the food you need unless you actually know what that food is. Making a meal plan will probably get you out of any food ruts you may have, because if you actually write down that you will eat brown rice, kale, and tofu every night of the week, you will feel kind of sad.
Here are some things I do to pick recipes for the week:
-Keep a "recipes" bookmark file on my computer so I can save links to recipes that I see on food blogs throughout the week.
-Always plan my menu when I'm a bit hungry so I can really think about what I'd like to eat.
-Ask the Man of Science what he'd like to eat. This is why we have a weekly "soup and sandwich" day.
-Get into bed with a stack of cookbooks and browse for things that sound good.
Step Two: Make A List
Dear God, make a list! I can not stress this enough. Unless you are Dougie Howser, you do not have the brain power to remember everything that you need. How you organize your list is your own business, but this is what I do:
-Have one list per store. That way I don't overlook anything and have to go back and forth.
-If I'm going to larger supermarket I organize my list according to the layout of the store. That way I don't have to go back and forth from produce to frozen foods and back to produce again. This is especially important to me because I shop on Sunday afternoons when the stores are full of people who lose their ability to move swiftly and carefully as soon as their hands touch a grocery cart.
-Make the list while I am standing in the kitchen with the pantry doors open. That way, if I'm not sure how much pasta I have, I can just check instead of ending up with too much or too little.
-Though I only do meal planning for dinners, I make sure that I have ingredients for my breakfast smoothies and that I've accounted for the snacks we will inevitably long for.
Step Three: Put Your Menu and Your List(s) On The SAME PAGE.
Though this may not seem important, it is the factor that makes this whole system work for me week after week. Why does this make things easier? If I'm shopping and something is unavailable or yucky (I'm looking at you, Spinach) I can check back to the menu and see what would make a good replacement in that particular meal. This saves me wondering "what was I going to make with this again?"
Having the menu right beside my shopping lists also allows me for one last check to make sure I have everything I need. Also, it clarifies the amount needed which I sometimes forget to note on my list. Am I cooking broccoli twice or just once? Do I need lots of tomatoes for a sauce or just one to cut up for sandwiches?
Essentially, the one-sheet method provides a safety net for the human error that inevitably happens when one is racing around, readings labels, and trying to decide whether that chocolate bar is a reasonable purchase. As with anything else complicated, it helps to have a system.
When I get home I post the menu on the fridge. You'll notice from the photo above that the Man of Science cooks on Tuesday nights. Having the menu posted means that when he chooses what he will make he can avoid making something that I'm going to be making the next day. He tends to decide what he wants to make on the day of, so he picks up any extra groceries he needs on his way home from work. If I'm/we're going out for dinner on one of the nights I write that in too. It helps us keep everything straight.
For anyone who feels that this would be too structured or limiting, I want to point out that I almost never make exactly what is on the menu every single day of the week. For example, last night the sweet potato bread pudding seemed too heavy, so I switched it for Monday's tofu, rice, and greens. This is also why there is no meal listed for Saturday. Having a day with no meal planned means we are free to go out to eat, or make a fun, spur of the moment, dinner, like last Saturday night's awesome vegan mushroom pizza.
I know this may not be the magical answer to everyone's meal-planning problems, but it works for us and I hope it helps at least a few people.
-Before anyone asks, yes, that is a big box of diet gingerale in the back of my car. I'm no friend of aspartame, but the Man of Science likes it.
-Oh, and the white mesh things in the grocery bins are my reuseable produce bags. They are a bit too big and floppy, but they were cheap.
-When the MoS saw my menu for the week and noticed he was referred to by his pseudonom, he said, "What, you don't call me by my real name anymore?" Rest assured, on next week's menu he'll be addressed by his not-quite-top-secret real name.
This Time Last Year: Warm and Lovely Chickpea Stew