why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT of time and mental space, because then I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment. 
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed in our house. 🙂
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus, nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

goals & menu plan for the week of 1/6

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a lovely Sunday. It’s been a calm, cozy weekend here in West Lafayette, with lots of green tea, unpacking, and reading on my agenda. {It always floors me how long it seems to take to unpack all my stuff after a trip, especially a month-long trip home when I have two big suitcases crammed full!} Mike and I also watched a couple movies this weekend: the clever romantic comedy Ruby Sparks {I definitely recommend this one!} and the campy horror flick Drag Me to Hell {okay, I didn’t really watch this one —  I’m a wimp when it comes to horror movies! I baked in the kitchen while Mike watched it in the living room. He gave it a 1.5 thumbs up.}

I can’t believe school starts tomorrow! Actually, it officially starts on Tuesday for me — I don’t teach on Mondays this semester — but I will probably still go to campus to get some work done and straighten up my office for the new year. If any of you are starting back to school tomorrow, too, I hope the semester is a great one for you! 🙂

Here are my goals for the week:

  • finish planning out entire semester of lessons for both courses I’m teaching
  • submit fellowship application at least one week before the deadline
  • debut first Act of Kindness on blog {tomorrow!} and complete it myself this week
  • write out responses and pack for Key West
  • finish Christmas thank-you notes
  • begin new knitting project
  • finish the new one-act play I’ve been working on
  • finish reading Who’s Irish? by Gish Jen {a wonderful short story collection I began reading last semester and then never finished}

I also made a weekly goal check-off sheet to keep track of my progress on bigger yearly goals that it can be difficult to keep a handle on over the course of an entire year. I find that if I am able to check something off my list every day, it makes me feel more motivated and productive, and soon turns that goal into a habit. Feel free to download my goal list for the week and fill it in with your own goals!

I’ll close off with the list of meals I’m planning to make this week:

Have a wonderful week!

*This post is linked up with Menu-Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie.*

meal planning whiteboard

Happy Friday, everyone! I must admit I am really feeling the TGIF vibe today. I love teaching, but the first week back at school always seems so loooong … I think because everything is new, I’m learning all my students’ names, figuring out my new schedule, etc. I’m looking forward to a weekend of recharging my batteries and getting ahead for the upcoming week!

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten really into reading different organization and recipe blogs {you can find links some of my favorites here.} Something I’ve seen recommended again and again is using meal-planning to get organized, save time, and save money. For as much as I like to cook, I’ve never been a weekly meal-planner. I’m the type of person who decides what to make for dinner that morning, at lunch, or even sometimes when staring into my half-empty fridge, stomach rumbling, trying to figure out what I can throw together quickly for a meal.

And you know what? It can be stressful! One of my least favorite things is heading home after a long day with no idea of what to do for dinner. Those are the days I will end up grabbing food out somewhere. I do enjoy eating out in restaurants, but I like it best when it’s something planned in advance, something I can look forward to all day — it feels more special that way.

Which all goes to say, I’ve been thinking about implementing a meal-planning schedule into our routine for a while. This week, with the beginning of a busy new school year, I finally did something about it!

I went to Target yesterday and in the back-to-school aisle I found this adorable whiteboard with a blue frame and attached pen — plus, it had a magnet on the back. Just what I needed! Best part of all: I snagged it for only $3.00.

All I had to do was take it out of the packaging, slap it up on the fridge, and write out my planned menu for the week. On Tuesday Mike and I are planning to go to Outback Steakhouse for dinner to use a gift certificate we have, and on Friday I’m getting together with my friends Xun and Hai for dinner.

I chose to place the whiteboard on the side of the fridge where I’ll see it every time I walk into the kitchen. I hung it right above a monthly calendar/newsletter I get from the apartment complex. It’s my new “information station”!

It makes me feel so great to have the week sketched out like this — no more stress wondering what to have for dinner! And I think planning out the week this way will help save money {and last-minute grocery trips to get that one ingredient I don’t have…}

Do you use weekly meal-planning? I’d love to hear any of your tips!


Time spent: 5 minutes
Cost: $3.00