There are a few reasons that kept popping up for why people don't like to do the weekly meal planning thing.
1. It's expensive because I buy all this stuff and it doesn't take into account what's on sale!
-Pull up your grocery store's weekly circular online the day you're putting the menus together and going shopping.
-When I don't plan, it regularly results in us ordering pizza or last-minute grocery runs. Add in (a) how much you're spending at the work cafeteria/nearby fast food, (b) pizza orders, (c) gas and grocery costs for those last-minute grocery runs. Now does it seem cheap?
2. But I never want to cook when I get home!
-Is this lack of desire to cook due to "what are we having for dinner?" syndrome? Would it be easier to cook if you have something planned out?
-If you're genuinely exhausted at the end of the day, plan around that. Make slow-cooker meals that involve work in the morning instead of the evening. Prep ahead so that you aren't chopping three onions at 7 pm. I generally pick dinners that are either ready straight out of the slow-cooker or only involve a little work (stir-fries, baked chicken with a salad and/or easy side).
3. It's so much work!
-Yeah, it is, and this is why I still don't do it every week. I'm considering it an accomplishment when I do it every other week. It's work, but it means that we save money, eat better, and have tastier food during the week. What's not to like?
My comment to the Unclutterer entry is under the cut; it includes my Sunday (shopping-day) schedule for an ideal week when I actually get this done.
I'm a grad student who typically works 9:30-6:30 on a given day and just plain does not want to cook when she gets home most evenings.
I've developed a plan for getting around that issue, which get implemented most weeks.
(1) Plan at least a couple of slow-cooker meals each week; these are usually either ready-to-eat or a couple simple steps from ready. I would heartily recommend Robin Robertson's Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.
(2) Plan in at least one leftover night a week.
(3) Shop and prep on Sunday. Sunday is my "I will only set foot in the lab for cell culture" day, and so is usually safe from the demands of labwork. It's nice to have a set day for grocery shopping, but the key thing is getting the prep out of the way.
- Typical Sunday:
- Sit down on couch with favorite cookbooks, laptop with online circulars and Erin's spreadsheet, and a pad of paper.
- Map out the week (what days we aren't at home for dinner, what days I will be home but the SO won't and vice versa), discuss what we'll be showing on movie night and therefore what food will be appropriate.
- Pick out recipes for the week - usually about half tried and true, half new. We're slowly shifting towards more old favorites as we develop a larger library of favorites.
- Write down all the ingredients for everything on the notepad - yes, everything.
- Go to the kitchen and check the cabinets, crossing out everything that we already have. I usually discover that I don't have something that I was sure I had about every other week.
- Merge the remaining items with the running grocery list we keep on the front of the fridge.
- Come home, unpack, do food prep (as follows).
- Wash, peel, chop, julienne, whatever all the veggies and fruit for upcoming recipes (if they will tolerate being in that state until it's time to cook - most hard veggies are perfectly OK).
- Make spice mixes and sauces for recipes (many slow cooker recipes are simply the meat and/or veggies with a sauce or spice mix poured over the top). Label and store (this usually results in some funny-looking tupperware containers in the fridge with a weird-looking goop inside).
- Saute or pan-fry anything that should be sauted or pan-fried prior to being put in the slow-cooker. Pack in tupperware or in an oven bag. (Yes, typical oven bags fit perfectly into my 4-quart slow cooker).
This reduces the amount of work that I have to do on the day of to a minimum, which is especially important when I want to get something started in the slow cooker and I'm dragging in the morning. For example:
Slow-cooker Torta Rustica: pull sauted onions and pan-fried potatoes, prepped sauce, defrosted chopped spinach, and brined eggplant out of the fridge. Slice tomatoes and assemble all layers, pour sauce over top. Set slow cooker. On arriving home: top with parmesan and take the lid off for a few minutes to let it dry out a bit.
Veggie Borscht: Pull oven bag containing tons of chopped veggies and spice out of fridge. Place in slow cooker. Add veggie broth to cover. Set slow cooker. On arriving home: serve, topped with sour cream.
Chicken Stir-Fry: Slice chicken, pull out chopped veggies, grab sauces/oils/spices from pantry. Go!
It makes for more time spent prepping on Sunday, but it makes things almost infinitely easier the rest of the week.