Easy Steps to Making Meal Planning a BREEZE

For many of us wives and mamas, including me, meal planning can be something we really struggle with. I was having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about meal preparation and she gave me this brilliant idea.  As she told me about it, I knew it was something that I needed to do ASAP.  I was so excited about it that I knew it was a topic I wanted to share with all of you too.
So what is this brilliant idea you ask? Well, here you go!
My friend told me that she had 2-4 weeks of meal recipes on hand that were her 'go to' recipes and that she would do a new recipe maybe once every 1-2 weeks that wasn't in her 'go to' recipe book.  If they liked it then they could add it to their favorite recipes.  These recipes were all together so it was very easy for her to plan her meals out ahead of time.  If you are like me, my recipes are ALL over the place - on pinterest, email, saved on my computer or in various cookbooks/magazines.  That makes meal planning take a lot longer then it needs to on a weekly basis.  Her idea was genius and I knew it would be a time saver if I put in the work to get organized.   
The first thing I did was pull out a binder - an empty one used or brand new would work.  I put in 3 different dividers that I had on hand.  My dividers were for main dishes, breakfast and side dishes.  We normally do leftovers for lunch so I didn't feel the need to make a separate divider.  I also had some plastic paper covers on hand to easily put in and take my recipes out of (these are not a must, you could just hole punch your recipes, but it helps keep them nicer and if you get them wet it will save your recipes). 
I started pulling recipes off of pinterest, going through my email for saved recipes and actually printing them, and typing up the ones we really enjoyed from various cookbooks that I knew we would like and printing those off too.  It is some legwork and took me a couple of days during my kids' quiet time/naptime, but believe me when I had the finished product it was so worth it!
I knew I wanted to have a variety of recipes so we didn't bored, so when I was looking for what recipes to put in my binder, I tried to focus on what types of meat we eat (my husband prefers to have meat so my plan evolved around that fact).  We purchase half of a cow almost every year so it is crucial that we utilize what is in our freezer.  We also eat chicken and pork.  So as I was looking, I tried to find 4-5 different variations of roasts, chicken, ground beef and pork dishes along with a few soup dishes as the temperatures get cooler outside.  By the time I was done, I had over 30 main dishes in my binder! I did the same with breakfasts and side dishes but with those only had 5 breakfast dishes since a casserole will go a long way for our family and the side dishes are normally items we have harvested from our garden - green beans, corn, potatoes. 
This is the beginning of my binder.  I have it broken down by main dishes, breakfasts and sides.   For the first page, I have written down what recipes follow for a quick 'summary'.  I can take the paper out and add to it as I add more of our favorite recipes into the mix or if we get bored with one, I can easily cross it out.  In the bottom corner I also added some obvious dinner ideas that don't require a recipe for myself such as hamburgers, mac & cheese, tacos, etc. 
 Here is a glance at the middle of my binder and how I have my recipes layed out.
Here are the meals I planned for the week of 9/15.  Literally took me 5 minutes to do this and another 5 minutes to make out my grocery list.  Can I get an AMEN!?

Doing all of this also enabled me to recycle my cooking magazines since I pulled out my favorite recipes and lets face it, I never looked at them anyways.  My office shelves are so much more organized than before. 
Another positive note to doing this - I went to the grocery last night and my grocery bill for the whole week was only $20 and $6 of that was for 3 lb of apples!  This is helping me utilize what we have in the basement in our freezers, in the pantry and what we have harvested out of our garden.  
I urge you to take the time to do this because you will use it and it will be such a blessing.  You will save so much time in the long run and hopefully will not run into another 4PM wondering to yourself 'what am I going to make for dinner tonight?'  If this seems like too much all at once for you, maybe make a binder of 10-14 favorite go to recipes and then add to them from there.  If your family doesn't mind eating the same things over and over each week it can be very simple!
Happy non-stressful meal planning!!
What other easy ideas have you found to make meal planning easy and non stressful?

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