Meal Planning Ideas & Recipe Organization

by Kara on January 16, 2010

Meal Planning

In my quest to eat more healthily, I think I will do a lot better if I plan ahead. But in the times when I have planned out my meals by week, it turned out to be a LOT of work on the weekend. However, it was great during the week when I already knew what we were doing for dinner when I got home exhausted from work each night. I am trying to find ways to make meal planning a little easier, while recognizing that it will probably take some extra organization in the beginning. But if I can find something that works for me, maybe I won’t lose steam on planning our meals.

I looked at all sorts of meal planning templates, but what bothered me was the waste of paper by printing one out for each week or using pads with tear-off planners. Then I ran across an idea I thought was great. Print out your lovely meal planning template on a piece of 8.5×11 paper, then put it in a picture frame. You can use those wipe-off markers to write on the glass, then at the end of the week, you just wipe it all off and start over. You can even hang it on the wall in your kitchen, then take it down to write out the new weekly menu. No wasted paper!

I still need to deal with weekly shopping lists. I used to use a shopping list I created in Word that was organized by the aisles in my grocery store. I just sat at the computer with my week of menus, then added each item under the correct aisle. I printed it out and away I went. I used to have people reading my grocery list over my shoulder, getting excited that I had it organized for that particular store. But again, more paper wasted. There is probably some sort of shopping list app for the iPhone, so maybe I should investigate that. I don’t know how good I would be about utilizing that type of thing. And walking around the store while staring at my iPhone sounds like it would just be annoying. I don’t think I’ll try the picture frame idea for the grocery store!

Recipe Organization

I probably have around 30 cookbooks, but there is no good place to store them in or near the kitchen. I am wondering if maybe I should just take one cookbook at a time and type the recipes I know I will use into my computer, then get rid of the cookbooks. My husband would love this. There are a couple cookbooks I would definitely keep, like Joy of Cooking, but then I would clear out some more books and make more room in our house. Of course, if the recipes are on our computer, then that necessitates printing them out and wasting more paper. My Mom has a great setup. She has one of those little counters between her computer/tv room and her kitchen. If she is working on the computer (which is on the computer room side), the monitor faces that room. When she is cooking, she brings up the recipe, then turns the monitor to face the kitchen. It works great. I’d actually have to have some sort of computer on my kitchen counter to make this work. If I had unlimited funds, which I don’t, I’d mount a Mac Mini under the cabinets and set the monitor on the counter.

What I want to avoid is spending tons of times paging through cookbooks at meal planning times, when half the recipes are things I would never make. It seems more efficient to have only the recipes I like stored on my computer. I looked at recipe organization software for the Mac awhile back, and it seemed a little pricey. My Mom just uses MS Word, then stores each recipe in the appropriate folder, with names like “chicken”, “dessert”, etc. At some point, I think she’d like to scan her hard copy recipes and drop them in those folders as well.

I have a huge three-ring binder with lots of my favorite recipes in those clear plastic sheets. The idea was that I could take a plastic sleeve out to use a particular recipe, then just wipe it off if there are any spills. I can barely lift the thing, however, so it seems less than practical. It was a good idea at the time, but if I add another recipe, I’ll need a forklift.

I’m still thinking about ways to make meal planning and recipe organization easier, and I’d welcome any suggestions.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Shirley January 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I’ve tried every method you mention! I have a shelf full of cookbooks just outside the kitchen, a huge file of recipes on my computer, some that I’ve typed into Word, some PDFs that I’ve scanned… but I rarely refet to any of them except for recreatinal reading. Mostly, I have some tried and true cooking methods that I use for soups, chops, vegetables that I “plug in” various ingredients depending on what is in season. The more I stick to Pollan’s advice to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” the less I rely on recipes. When I try something I need a recipe for, it’s either something new I’ve seen in a magazine, or some dessert thing that I’m making for a special occasion.

Meal planning: check out — great tools for lifestyle change.

Mom January 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I do like my computerized recipe room arrangement, although it took me three years to figure it out! I also like the convenience of the computerized recipe files, and it is so easy to attach to an e-mail when someone requests a recipe. I like your idea of scanning recipes, although I probably won’t be able to give up my hard copy recipe files. There is something warm and fuzzy about using a recipe in my mother’s handwriting or that of a friend.

Kara January 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Stephen suggested I could just take my laptop into the kitchen. The screen is a little small, but it’s a good idea.

Kara January 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Lately, Stephen and I have been reduced to about four different dinners that we rotate. It’s getting a little boring. I have tons of recipes that I like to make or would like to try, but finding what I want when I want it is kind of a pain.

Mary Ellen January 16, 2010 at 6:17 pm

This is a problem that I’ve struggled quite a lot with also. When my husband and I first lived together we used to do grocery shopping when we ran out of stuff, and we just bought a lot of things that we used a lot like pasta, cereal, fruit, etc. We only occasionally made big dishes. I got tired of this and set up a grocery scheme. Now we take a piece of binder paper and write up the grocery list. My format has evolved over time. On the left is the actual grocery list. There’s also usually a few items to buy that aren’t at the grocery store that go into a separate column. There’s also a place to put our schedule for the week, if we’re out for the evening, or if we want to plan to make a specific dish. I also keep track of what’s leftover in the fridge, and I have a list of recipes that I want to make soon. We also have a separate sheet of paper that has all our staples. I read this off and my husband looks in the fridge and cabinets to see what we need. We keep the grocery list in a binder that we can check when we get home to find out what we have a plan for.

It takes time to look through recipe books and find dishes that you want to eat. When I was working on this, I would try to make one new thing each week. Then if it was successful I would add that to our recipe book. I keep a list of our favorite recipes separated into seasons to give me inspiration. I really like getting cook books from the library because I can find specialty cookbooks (fast, low-cal, slow-cooker, vegetarian, or whatever) and then after I’ve found a couple of recipes that I like, the book goes back to the library.

I would recommend picking some method, and plunging ahead. You’ll find that it will change and evolve in any case, so think of it as an on-going process, as your mom suggests. You’re welcome to check out our system any time.

Kara January 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I would indeed like to check out your system. The more ideas, the better. I also like the idea of checking out cookbooks from the library, because really I will only make a small fraction of the recipes in any cookbook.

We bought a little two-person crockpot today, thinking that would make some of our meals a little easier.

Mary Ellen January 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm

A couple more thoughts.

When I was dieting, it was my most successful strategy to plan what I was going to eat. It made me feel less deprived, because if I felt a little hungry I always knew I would be eating again soon, and exactly what I was going to eat.

Eric feels that it isn’t as important to have the recipes on the computer as it is to have a good index–just a piece of paper with a list of your favorite recipes and where to find them. That’s easier to keep in the kitchen.

I don’t think that I would like keeping my recipes in plastic sheets because I tend to change them a little each time, and I like to record my changes. I don’t mind some splatters.

I’ll be interested to see how this all evolves for you.

Margot January 17, 2010 at 2:02 am

Forget the cookbooks, then. is a great site for recipes. You pick one (or more) and it will make a shopping list for you. If you want to use your favourites in the notebook, take the pages out of plastic. Messy recipes show you’re a cook! :-) I used to plan my meals around the week’s grocery specials, doing my planning when Thursday’s Washington Post came out. Efficient and money-saving.
I laud your efforts to plan your meals, but don’t go overboard. You need time for life, too.

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