This post isn’t exactly about homeschooling, but as all homeschoolers have to eat and most homeschooling parents have to cook, I think it’s worth mentioning.

For starters, I must admit that I do not love cooking. In fact, I consider it to be pretty much a necessary evil. The worst part for me is actually planning meals–coming up with ideas for what to cook again and again. Not planning, though, is even worse. It means multiple trips to the store, extra expense, or too many unhealthy meals. In the past, we have tried the various monthly cooking methods a few times, but we aren’t big casserole eaters, the monthly cooking is a real marathon, and it didn’t seem like it saved as much time as one would think, so I wanted something different.

For the last year, I have been using an online service called Plan to Eat, and I think it’s brilliant. It combines the ability to add recipes from anywhere with a calendar, and it automatically makes your grocery list based on the meals you drag into the calendar. I have loved using it, but I’m also always trying to find ways to save money, and while the program is definitely worth what it costs, it does cost something. So as the renewal date was approaching, I was trying to figure out how to do my own version of Plan to Eat.

For many of you, I’m sure you thought of something like this a long time ago, but for me, this is one of those things where I wonder why I didn’t come up with this years ago. I’m just in the second week, but it’s working really well so far.

Here’s what I did. I got a pretty notebook, and I made dividers for 4 weeks. In order to find the balance between the need for protein and the need for frugality, our basic plan looks like this:

  • Monday -something with beef
  • Tuesday – (mega-lesson day around here) something easy and frozen to pop in the oven
  • Wednesday – something with chicken
  • Thursday – something with pasta or eggs
  • Friday – something with fish
  • Saturday – some sort of soup
  • Sunday – I know this is weird, but instead of the traditional big Sunday dinner, we have either smoothies or popcorn and family movie night.

Next, I made a calendar in Excel and chose recipes that most everyone likes most of the time using the general daily plan as a guide. In other words, I found 4 beef recipes, and used one each week on Mondays, etc. I only repeated one recipe in the 4 weeks so there would be a nice variety. I planned the vegetables and starches to go with each meal and tried to avoid too much repetition there as well, though salad, rice, and baked potatoes are frequent flyers to be sure. Next, I printed out all the recipes and put them in order behind their weekly dividers and in order by day.

Last but definitely not least, I took the recipes and made a check-off grocery list with every ingredient needed for the recipes for that week along with all the other stuff we usually buy. I tried to recall the order of aisles in the two stores I usually go to so I could start at one end and go to the other without back tracking much. That took a long time, but the goal is to make it so I don’t have to reference the recipes ever again before I go shopping. Instead, when I get ready to go shopping, I go over the list and check off everything we need to buy. In the shopping list, I used one color for the foods from recipes and another color for pantry items and household goods. All the kids who are old enough know to add anything we run out of or need to the grocery list on Cozi, so I can just add those things to the paper list as well. After that, I went ahead and printed several copies of each week’s grocery list and put them in the notebook so I wouldn’t have to find the file and print it every time.

The grocery list is a bit of a work in progress as I notice things I forgot to include, but overall it’s working really well. It’s nice to just look at the meal plan and get cooking instead of trying to decide what to make over and over again. I do have to remember to take things out of the freezer a few days in advance, but that sure beats having to plan the week’s meals every week. And if something comes up that necessitates changing the night’s meal, I can just move it to the next day, especially since a couple days of the week are food that stay in the freezer or the pantry until it’s time to make them, so those can just be skipped until the following week or even the following month if need be.

If you love to cook and try new recipes, this is probably not the best way to go, but if you find yourself making the same things over and over anyway and you’d like to save time for other things, it might be worth a try. Anything that helps save a bit of time in the life of a busy homeschooling parent gets an A+ in my book. 😉