Have you seen the meal planning website, Plan to Eat? It’s a super program designed to make meal planning and grocery shopping easier. You can save recipes to the site (much in the same way you might pin a recipe), add them to your planner, and PTE generates a shopping list based on that week’s meal plan. The people behind it are great and the site is functional and well-designed. There’s a free thirty-day trial and then it costs about $5/month or $40/year.
I tried PTE earlier this year, got frustrated with the learning curve, and gave up. However, with having some extra free time on my hands during pregnancy, I decided to give it another go. I’ve figured out how to make it work for me and it’s great. I’m glad to get it established before Baby comes and I know I’m going to love being able to print out a grocery list and send my husband to the grocery store worry-free 🙂
Here are ten little things I’ve learned in the process of implementing this meal planning method that have made it significantly easier. Most of them probably won’t make sense until you give PTE a try for yourself. Even if you don’t think you’re the meal planning type or it seems overwhelming, I suggest just trying it out. Even if you only end up planning three dinners a week, that can make a huge difference in your sanity and health.
- Set aside an afternoon to really familiarize yourself with the website.
I know this is a luxury not everyone has. But if you find yourself with a chunk of time to really sit and play around with this website, it makes it a lot easier in the long run. It’s not a complicated website but there are a lot of different features to learn about and some of them are not-so-obvious. This site requires a little bit of a time investment up-front to get it going for your life and from then on it can pretty much run on “auto” (except for the fun of adding new recipes!).
2. Make sure all your recipes’ ingredients follow the same format.
This is one of those not-so-obvious features that really made the difference as to whether I wanted to use the website or not. Here’s the basic idea:
Let’s say I added one recipe from foodgawker.com and one from pioneerwoman.com to my recipe book and meal planner. Eggs are an ingredient in both recipes. However, in the Food Gawker recipe they’re listed as “4 pastured eggs” and in the Pioneer Woman recipe they’re listed as “1 cup beaten eggs”. Since these ingredients do not have the same quantity format (number/cup) or name (pastured eggs/beaten eggs), they will show up as two separate ingredients on my shopping list.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m at the grocery store I do not want to deal with two or more list entries that are the same thing, much less do the mental math to figure out exactly how many eggs I need.
Enter this tip. When you’re adding a recipe to PTE from a website, you can edit the ingredients so that they follow whatever predetermined format you’ve decided to use in your PTE meal planner. So, for example, whenever I save a recipe that includes eggs, I make sure that the ingredient list simply states “# eggs”. Not cups, or half dozens, or “large eggs”, or “free range eggs”. That way, my shopping list in PTE tells me exactly how many eggs I need for that week in one list entry.
The most important thing is to decide what YOU want to call ingredients in every recipe. A few examples: I chose “pepper” to mean “black pepper”, “freshly-ground black pepper”, etc. “# strips bacon” to mean “# lb. bacon”, “# slices bacon”, etc. and “# cups flour” to mean “# cups all-purpose flour”, “# cups whole wheat flour”, etc.
The nice thing about PTE is that is considers teaspoons/tablespoons/cups to all be the same format, as well as oz./lbs. and so on. It makes it easy but if you ignore this tip your shopping list will look really messy and make you want to avoid the grocery store. I promise.
3. Add recipes to your PTE meal planner when you pin them (if you use Pinterest).
If you’re like me your Pinterest consists primarily of recipes for things you want to cook/bake. Whether you ever actually do is another story. Enter PTE, which allows you to add a recipe to your meal plan for this week (or maybe the next) and buy the ingredients at the grocery store. I think this is the ultimate motivation to actually try new recipes! Try to get in the habit of adding a recipe to PTE at the same time that you pin it (or maybe even instead of pinning it). This might help you slow down in your voracious pinning – and you’ll end up getting to try the delicious recipes you’re drooling over. This can also apply to recipes you tear out of magazines, bookmark in your web browser, etc.
4. Update recipes in PTE after you make them with modifications/tips.
Since you’ve hopefully implemented the last tip and your PTE meal plan includes lots of new recipes from Pinterest or around the web, it’s important to update those recipes right after you cook/bake them. After enjoying your meal, log into your PTE recipe book and edit the recipe to include any changes or modifications you made or any ways in which you deviated from the listed instructions. Or, if you really didn’t like a recipe, go ahead and delete it right then. This will help you build a repertoire of tried-and-true recipes and keep your recipe book up-to-date.
5. Work on figuring out how many meals to plan per week.
This is an ever-evolving process. If I plan every meal each week I inevitably end up with too much food in my fridge and the accompanying stress that entails. I like having the flexibility to go out to eat or eat at a friend’s house at the last minute without worrying about food spoiling in my fridge. For me this means five dinners a week, 2-3 lunches a week, and breakfast every day. We end up eating dinner leftovers for lunches. This takes experimenting and tweaking for you and your family.
6. Plan drinks/snacks/baking projects too.
I try to bake 2-3 healthy dessert recipes per week to keep on hand for when sweets cravings happen. I also try to drink Good Girl Moonshine 2X per week and keep fruit on hand for snacks. By adding these recipes/items to my meal plan every week, I make sure I have the ingredients I need on hand and a game plan ready to go.
7. Utilize the “Notes” feature to fill in when you plan to eat leftovers.
When you click on a meal slot in your meal plan, you have the option to add a Note (as opposed to a recipe). This note won’t end up on your shopping list like a recipe will. Utilize this feature to write in “leftovers” or “eat out” or get more specific: “leftover pancakes”, “Zach’s birthday”. This is a great way to think the week through and allow gaps for meals you aren’t preparing from scratch.
8. Don’t be afraid to repeat meals.
When I’m filling in a new week in my meal planner, I automatically choose at least one dinner (and breakfast and lunch, usually) from the previous week. It’s one less thing to come up with – and once I’ve filled in these repeat meals plus “leftover” meals and “eat out” meals, my meal plan is no longer blank and seems much less intimidating.
9. Assign meal planning/grocery shopping to a specific day.
Although I’m saving recipes throughout the week, I sit down on Saturday and fill in my meal plan, print my shopping lists, and head to the store. This helps me stick to my routine and I already know I have committed some of my time on Saturdays to getting this done. If I don’t do it on the same day every week I get lazy.
10. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, work on being flexible 🙂
Being flexible does not come naturally to me. I tend to either be completely organized to the point of ridiculousness – or simply not try at all. Obviously, this is a self-defeating way to live. By sticking with meal planning long enough to make mistakes, work out some kinks, and understand what works and what doesn’t, I’ve learned a lot and had plenty of opportunities to practice flexibility. If this is challenging at first for you keep tweaking it! There are so many different possibilities of how to use this website (or how to meal plan in general) and ultimately they should serve you and your life.