I spent so much time thinking about meal planning this week and I really appreciate all the comments I got on Facebook about how real live women make meal planning work for them.

As I worked through my meal plan and thought about the responses I was able to fine-tune my thoughts and questions a little more. It turns out that the logistics of deciding what to eat each day and planning for that are not the problem here. It wasn’t that I never planned meals, I just did it irregularly and wasn’t planning for all the meals and eventualities that were necessary. What I’m really struggling with is the art of meal planning.

How do you create texture and movement and surprise and focus within your meal plan? Basically, how do you make it a work of art?

How do you make a meal plan that fits dietary, environmental, and social needs? Basically, we need a gluten-free, fair trade, seasonal, organic, pastured, and local food meal plan (listed in order of importance).

And again, how do I do all of that while staying on budget and eating well? It has to taste good and not cost $400 a week!

It would be easy for me to Meal Plan if a) I had a large food budget or b) didn’t care about eating for our dietary needs and in an environmentally and socially conscious way. However, both of those caveats are non-negotiables and they complicate meal planning. I need there to be a large creative component to the meal. I need the meals to satisfy my love of healthy delicious food. I need for meals to fit into real life.

The good news is that I’m beginning to formulate an idea about a system that may work for me. It will be more complicated than the general advice I’ve read, but in the end I think spending some time on it will help me more quickly plan meals that fit our needs: budgetary, dietary, and creative.

My plan will probably include a few parts:

  • an index of meals by main ingredients (I love indexes!!)
  • a list of vegetables and meats with 2-3 ways to prepare them (so I can shop the sales and know I can make a meal out of what’s available)
  • basic week long meal plans that I know work well (so if I’m busy I can just plug it in and go!)
  • room for new recipes
  • a recipe box – I have a notebook and it’s just not working for me

I hope this new system will allow me to include some of the food frugality principles I learned in An Everlasting Meal, while also leaving room for ample creativity. I will never be the woman who picks 14 meals and rotates them – that sounds so boring. I will never be the woman who finds a fabulous new recipe and doesn’t cook it because it wasn’t in the plan – that’s way too rigid. But I think I can become a woman who harnesses the power of planning to help me be better at my job – that sounds just about right.

I updated last week’s menu plan with what really happened. I was please to see that I mostly stuck to the plan!