Archive for the ‘Epic Meal Planning’ Category


This year, I threw my first annual Hemingway party. The food was simple and good – like Hemingway’s prose – and the party was alcohol-laden – like Hemingway himself.

Yesterday, we talked about the benefits of planning ahead when you have traditions that you like to celebrate every year. Today, we are going to talk about the importance of having a way to find, share, and save ideas that will make your planning easier.

For me, that way is Pinterest.

I wrote a miniature love note to Pinterest last month, but I want to talk more about it this month. It’s one of my favorite planning tools. I currently have 97 boards, and many of them are categories of recipes that I have tried or that I want to try. This is what keeps my recipe cards down to one box instead of twenty. It also is what helps me plan a party months before it happens.

Some of my traditions have their own boards. I like to have at least one theme party a year, and the Let Me Entertain You board has some great ideas about simple ways to do that. After I finish editing Epic Meal Planning, I’m going to revisit Feast, which will be about Easter specifically, but also celebrations and party planning tips (and three course meals with champagne cocktails) in general. The day after Thanksgiving, my family makes candy, and every once in a while I like to throw something new in the mix.  The year that Maggie and I had a cookie weekend and a pie weekend, both followed by omg-come-eat-all-these-things parties, I collected a lot of recipes that I still use and will revive the next time said parties happen.

Epic Meal Planning also has its own specific board, and I pin recipes and tips to it (as well as all this month’s posts). So if you like what you have been reading here and want to read deeper  or want to see alternatives to the various steps we’ve covered, I try to find at least one alternative method for everything we’ve done. I like to create my own spice list and pantry list, for example, but I’ve been cooking for 20+ years. If you haven’t, that may have been overwhelming to you, so there are pins on this board that give you solid starting lists.

What are your favorite ways to organize your planning tips and ideas?

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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My traditions involve rampant serving platter usage.

When I get my new calendar every year, the first thing I do is mark off my personal traditions. Any time I can foresee feeding or planning food outings for a group of people starts getting dreamed about in January. The parties go on the calendar, and I start planning menus.

Planning menus this far in advance, particularly if you are short of budget, can be a lifesaver. You can start buying things in January for a party in July (assuming they won’t go bad before then *cough*tequila*cough*) so that the party isn’t a burden on your pocketbook and you can enjoy it without eating Ramen noodles the rest of the month (unless you want to. Live your life.).

You can also plan your timeline better if you go ahead and get it on the calendar before everything sneaks up on you. For meals that tend to be big productions, it’s not enough to have the meal itself on the calendar; you also need to plan time to cook. You can even start weeks in advance to make the portions of the menu that can keep for that long. Cookie weekend (tl;dr version – we made multiple dozens of 13 different cookies and then had people come over to eat them and to bring buckets to take some of their favorites to go) would have been less exhausting if we had made some basic doughs – like the shortbread – in advance. I’ve got cookie weekend on the calendar already this year, though, so I’m going to shoot for 20 different cookies. Because I can.

The task for today is to start shopping for next year’s calendar/food planner. If you already have next year’s calendar (my people!), go ahead and plot party days and traditions. You can plot in pencil if you want. But get them on there.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Clementines are like candy. This is the kind of happiness that comes with putting a generic intention to buy fruit on your grocery list.

 You know how to shop for groceries. Grab your lists and coupons (if applicable). Steel your resolve. Go forth and shop.

During this shopping trip (and all trips hereafter), you can be a little freer. If you see something you want or something that’s on sale that doesn’t exactly fit into your plan, go ahead and pick it up. I am eyeballing a new ice cream I want to try (Halo Top – have you tried it? Thoughts?), so I will probably browse that section in my next trip. I put fruit on the list and then just pick up what looks the best. You can be less specific with a few things now that you are shopping more mindfully, and it will still lower your grocery bills in the long run.

Other things that can lower your grocery bills are paying attention to weekly ads and shopping circulars. For example, I don’t need ten bags of frozen vegetables this week, but I know I will use them eventually, and they’re on sale 10 for $10 at Kroger with my card, so why not go ahead and stock up this Friday during my scheduled trip? Stores also often have their own coupons that they send out to their regular customers, so make sure you have signed up for the loyalty programs at places you frequent.

What are some other ways that you save money on groceries?

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Empty wine rack is sad. Guess I know what needs to go on the grocery list.

Your meals are planned, and after today, your grocery lists – for all of November – will be, too. As long as you keep up with this system, this is how you will make your lists from now on.

For demonstration purposes, we are going to presume three shopping days for the month – two regular and one holiday. Adjust as necessary

  1. Print out three staples lists. Put the dates of your shopping days on the top of the pages. On the first one, put a check next to all the staples you currently need to replenish. On the second one, put a check next to the staples that you will use during the first round of meals (between the first and second shopping days). On the third, put a check next to the staples you will use in the second round of meals and that you will need for your holiday meals.

    Of course, if you use a handwritten system for your grocery list, you will need to list the staples rather than place a check mark next to them.

  2. Next, you’ll make the list of all the non-staples you will need for each upcoming round of meals. If you store your recipes electronically, just copy, paste into a new document, and print. If you store your recipes on cards, make sure you get all of them on your written lists.

And that’s it! You are ready to shop (practically, if not mentally) with the confidence that you are not forgetting anything you will need, thus eliminating the annoying rush back to the store at the last minute.


I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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It takes a full 24 hours to prepare my heart and mind for the supermarket.

Today’s task is simple – setting yourself up for success.

It doesn’t matter how awesome and detailed your plan is if you don’t remember to follow it. A plan without action does you no good.

Who in the world would do all this work and forget to follow it?

*raises hand*

When I went through these steps the first time to make a meal plan, I hardly ever got past the calendar stage. I would put all my meals on it, proudly display it on my kitchen wall, and then proceed with my life as if it didn’t exist.

There are many reasons why this happened. I was so relieved to have a plan, but I had already worked so hard at creating it (oh, gosh – all those recipe cards) that I lost steam when it came to implementing it. Thus, I fell into my common habits. I liked to go through the drive-through on the way home, and I often chose that instead of going to the store. I made huge portions of my first two meals, and those lasted much longer than anticipated. I planned meals that I thought I should eat rather than meals I knew I actually would eat. I tried to resolve too many bad habits at once.

This went on for a good six months. Ridiculous – I know. I expect that almost everyone in the world will have faster success than I did, if for no other reason than they have the benefit of learning from my mistakes.

The main thing that finally got me on track was putting an alert reminder for shopping and cooking days in my phone. My phone let me know a full day in advance so that I a) remembered to do it and b) didn’t feel like I was being rushed into it. This was especially helpful with cooking days, because after changing my meals to things that I enjoyed cooking and eating, the alert meant that I spent the whole day looking forward to them.

Meal planning is not a new phenomenon. And you have not survived thus far in your life without eating. If this is the first system you have ever used, there’s a reason for that. Your tasks today are to list your heel drags – the obstacles that might keep you from making the work you’ve done so far actually work – and to list what you need in order to overcome them.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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The cutest insulated grocery bag that ever was. 

Take a minute to gaze lovingly at your calendar. You did it! You have a plan! For every night next month, you already have an answer to “What’s for dinner?”

Be prepared to hold this plan lightly, however, especially for the first few months. If you decide you want to order pizza on a night that you originally planned to cook, that’s okay. This plan is to help you, not to tie you down and remove all fun and freedom from your life. You can shift your calendar schedule to allow for it (another plus in the pro column for electronic calendars, as shifting makes my written calendar look messy). You can have your plan and your pizza, too.

If your life is anything like mine, however, you can’t just shift with wild abandon.

Your event evenings are probably not shiftable (WordPress says this is not a word. Of course, WordPress also says “WordPress” is not a word, so I’m keeping it. I do what I want, Internet.). They stay where they are.

You start with your shopping days. Shopping days drive your meals, not the other way around. One delayed meal is probably not enough to warrant shifting your shopping day. Three or four delayed meals, however, will probably mean you need to consider it. Are there perishables on your list that will go bad before you get to them? If so, you will either need to move the shopping day or keep those meals where they are.

This may also affect your coupon usage. If a coupon is near its expiration date, decide whether it is really worth an extra trip to the store just to use it.

After you get your shopping days reestablished, you can move the meals that go with them around if you need to do so. Then, your plan is back on track.

Tomorrow, we set you up for success by keeping you on track.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Tabula Rasa *rubs hands together maniacally*

Everyone, grab your calendar.

Your calendar can be a traditional wall calendar, like mine, that you hang in your kitchen. You can use a planner, which would be nifty for also storing coupons and shopping lists. You can use a digital calendar, which would be convenient if you cook every day and have a desk job where you can access it every afternoon before you leave. Whatever your choice, it needs to have enough space to list 2-3 meals a day (depending on whether you actively plan breakfast and whether you follow the 3-meal-a-day habit).

You also need to decide how often you will plan. I plan monthly, but if you would rather plan weekly or seasonally, there’s no reason that won’t work just as well. You will need to adjust your meal count from yesterday to reflect your new timeline.

The first thing you need to plot on your calendar are the plans that affect your meal production. For example, I note the days/evenings that I have dinner with friends (or are cooking dinner for friends). I note nights that involve choir practice, book club, writers group, and committee meetings. And I definitely write down days that I will be out of town, because there’s no need to plan anything there.

Next, you will need to choose shopping days. Personally, I eyeball my open Friday nights or any days that I have planned to take a personal day from work, because I would rather eat a bug than deal with the grocery store when everyone else in the world is there. I choose two or three days, depending on how many of my listed meals have gone renegade from my staples list. Find shopping days; write them on the calendar.

Now all you have left to do is fill in your meals. When I plot meals that can stretch into two (or four), I list them with their serving number on each subsequent day beside it. You can see an example of this in the picture on the master list post:


Most of my leftovers are lunches, but some of them end up on the nights I have something planned that does not involve eating (such as choir practice).

I have started leaving a few days blank at the end of the month for when I inevitably have more servings than I expected or when I spontaneously decided to go out with people for lunch/dinner or saw a new recipe to try in the middle of the month. Experience has shown me that I do these things frequently enough that I hardly ever end up having to come up with something to eat for those final few days because they shift the meal plan. If you already know this will likely be the case for you then feel free to leave them blank as well, but there’s no real harm in planning something for every day until you see how that works for you.

We will talk tomorrow about how to shift your calendar efficiently if such a need arises.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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When my counter starts to look like this, I know it’s time to visit the bulk spices aisle.

Today, you are going to make a list of all the meals you want to make next month. Don’t worry if this sounds daunting – I’m going to walk you through it.

First, we will need to determine how many meals you will need to list. I cook in bulk most of the time, and I rely solely upon staples for breakfasts, so my monthly list is comprised of 10-15 meals. If you cook every day, you will need at least 30. As next month is November, if you are in the U.S.A., and you are primarily responsible for Thanksgiving food, don’t forget to include that meal, too.

Second, review what you will  have in your kitchen once your staples are replenished. As I mentioned on Day 4 when we talked about snowed-in meals, it’s a good idea to do this every time you shop, but it’s really useful before you even plan. This review will take less time the more you do it. At this point, I am so aware of what is in my kitchen that I don’t even have to be home to tally how many and what kind of meals I can still make. List the meals you are already stocked to make and meals that you will be able to make once your staples list is restocked.

Third, pull recipe cards for other things you are interested in making next month, including holiday food, and list those meals. If you use coupons, try to match them with meals you can make, and list those meals.

At this point, if you still don’t have as many meals listed as you need for the month, go back and double up on those meal staples. There’s no shame in having spaghetti twice a month. In fact, I encourage it.

Repeat these steps as often as it takes to come up with the number of meals you will need to cook next month to feed yourself and your people. Tomorrow, we give them a timeline.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Recipe card by day (for Simply Scratch’s stuffed shells) – grocery guide by night.

Today we start Section 3 of our process – making your monthly plan.

You already have your staples list, which should include everything you need for basic staples, meal staples, and saving graces. You may, however, occasionally want to eat something that is not represented on that list. So now we are going to talk about the extra recipes you may need to include on your meal plan (and thus your grocery list). For these recipes, you will need recipe cards.

Some of you may only have these cards (or files, if you are using an electronic system) for special occasion recipes, especially if your meal staples are pretty constant throughout the year. My meal portion of my staples list only includes basic lasagna (with goat cheese instead of ricotta – no other cheese needed – DO IT) and tacos, because all my other meal staples change seasonally. Therefore, I have a lot of cards like the one pictured above.

These cards need to include 2 elements:

  1. Ingredient list and instructions (i.e., the recipe itself)
  2. Some indication of which ingredients are not a part of your staples list and thus will need to be added as extras to your grocery list.

My indications are color-coded. Green means the ingredient is outside my staples list. Each season also has its own color, because I differentiate between ingredients that have little hope of being in my kitchen at all (green) and those that tend to magically make an unscheduled appearance during a certain season (e.g., butternut squash in the fall, salad greens in the summer, etc.). Summer is yellow, fall is orange, winter is blue, and spring is red. Of course, you can just use one color if that makes more sense to you.

As you can see from the picture above, in order to make these particular stuffed shells, I basically need to buy everything but salt, olive oil, and eggs. Translation – not a recipe that I’ll be making the same month the car needs new tires. During that month, I’m going to choose a recipe that has maybe three things circled. These cards keep me from accidentally overextending my grocery budget.

Your goal for today is probably a big one, unless you have a stellar staples list that includes every meal you ever make except for major holidays. Which is…well…stellar. Good job, you!

  1. Collect your non-staple recipes (whatever that looks like for you).
  2. Circle all the non-staple items on your ingredient lists.  If your recipes are stored electronically, I recommend separating the staples (e.g., salt, olive oil, eggs) into different columns from the non-staples (e.g., arugula, Italian sausage) so that your copy-paste into a printable grocery list is easier.
  3. File the recipes in some organized way – whatever works best for you. I have a recipe box. Flash drive works, too. If you store your recipes electronically, pleasepleaseplease make a back-up. That would be a really sad thing to lose.

Tomorrow we discuss how to revisit your kitchen inventory to choose meals for the month.


I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.


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One of the hideous, glorious things that come from having a well-stocked freezer. Getting good pictures for this series has been more difficult than I imagined it would be. It turns out that my favorite foods – the ones that are most nourishing and most tasty – are usually not much to look at.

Freezer space is a saving grace all on its own. Food lasts so much longer in the freezer than anywhere else. The freezer can help you plan months in advance. For example, I’m certain my mom already has some dessert we’ll see at Christmas already made and in the deep freeze.

I also like to freeze things like bread or cookie dough. One of the biggest deterrents to baking for me is getting all the stuff out and clearing a spot on the counter in the kitchen to put it all together. It seems like such a chore. So while I have all the stuff out already, I just make extra. It freezes beautifully (wrap tightly in plastic – store in something air-tight for extra protection), and then I have ready-made dough that I can thaw and bake without rearranging my whole tiny kitchen.

Freezing can also help you when plans go awry.

Sometimes, I go a little nuts with the meals. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you always make the perfect amount of food and nothing goes to waste. Good work! I aspire to your level of self-control, but I’m not there yet.

Soup is my storage downfall. I start chopping vegetables, and I can’t seem to make myself stop. Then I have more soup than one person can possibly eat before it goes bad. I have to either find fourteen people to come over to eat with very little notice or I have to freeze the soup.

Freezing soup (or sauce…or lasagna…or whatever…) turns bad planning into good planning. Instead of having too much soup, I have a whole other future meal. Instead of wasting food, I have expanded it.

I meant to do that. Of course.

Having an extra freezer is even more wonderful. You can stock up on frozen staples when they’re on sale, saving you so much money in the long run. Although I don’t have an extra freezer yet, I like to practice for my future freezer with things like the locally-raised, pasture-fed ground beef that I buy. I don’t have a lot of freezer space, but I save some of it so that I don’t have to sacrifice quality for price.

How could you use your freezer space more efficiently?

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 days – click to see the master list.

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