Meal Planning: Gather and Organize Your Recipes

This may seem overwhelming, but I promise it isn't! Once you have your meal plan in place you will be amazed at the amount of time you save each week.

Meal Planning Lingo
Rotation: list of recipes or menus that you rotate seasonally, monthly or weekly
Menu: a cluster of recipes that regularly are used together; e.g. Sunday dinner (pot roast, rolls, beet salad)
Meal Plan: Recipes, menus, rotations, and shopping lists put into action

The first step in meal planning is to gather and organize your recipes.

There are a lot of  FREE meal plans out there with recipes and shopping lists. If you absolutely dread going through your own recipes, are on a special diet (paleo, GAPS, gluten-free), or you don't have very many recipes in general, a pre-made meal plan is always an option.
 HOWEVER, I must warn you I've tried using meal plan recipes from other bloggers, but there were one or two recipes that my family didn't like. The problem is that I can't remove them or they mess up the rest of the carefully-organized meal plans. That is something to think about before you adopt another family's meal plan.

I am a huge advocate of using tried-and-true recipes in your meal plan. Using new recipes only complicates matters and can lead to discouragement and a negative experience. I'm all for trying new recipes, but do not add them to your regular rotation until you have tried them and know they are something you want to cook/eat regularly.


If you have a picky family, it would be wise to go to them first and get a good list of their favorite meals. Once you've got a good list going, comb through your cookbooks, Pinterest boards, ancient recipe card collection, etc. until you've gathered all the recipes you want to include on your meal plan rotation.
That was the easy part.


The time consuming part is organizing your recipes. Now, if most of your recipes are digitized, it will make this step all the easier. If most of your recipes are in cookbooks or written out on small recipe cards, it will take a little more work.
There are 3 ways you can organize your recipes: Printing/photocopying your recipes and storing them in a binder (good), using a document editing program and calender (better), or using a meal planner app (best).

If you are not tech savvy or you just like good 'ol paper and pencil this method will be best for you. Although I wouldn't choose this method myself it can still be very useful and reliable.
Print/make copies of all the recipes you want to include in your rotation. Gather them into one binder or something similar. The point is to keep them all in one place and preferably organized so they are easy to find. 
Next, create and print shopping lists and calendars to include in the binder. You can also find a bazillion free printables online. Here are a couple I found on Pinterest:

Meal Planning Printables

Pros: Simplest method, less time spent organizing recipes, little or no technology required.
Cons: Requires more time creating shopping lists, menus, and rotations, more difficult to navigate through recipes and share shopping lists.

If you don't want to extensively organize, rate, and do all kinds of fancy stuff with your recipes and just want to keep it simple this method is great. Evernote (FREE document organizing app), Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or any other document program is easy to store recipes, shopping lists, and meal plans. In Evernote you can add "Tags" which essentially allows you to organize recipes, e.g. breakfast, dinner, chicken, Mexican, etc.
Along with a document program you can use a calendar to plan out meals for the month. In Google calendars you can create different calenders/schedules, which makes meal planning simple; "pencil in" all the meals for the month, print it out and hang it on your fridge, or just view it on your phone.

Pros: Keep all your recipes, shopping lists, and meal plans in one place (if you're using Evernote or Google Docs you can view documents on phone or tablet), add meal plans to calendar and print or view on phone, takes less time to input recipes.
Cons: Creating meal plans and shopping lists take much longer because you must do it manually (as opposed to an app that creates the lists for you), calender and recipes are not connected, so you must switch between two programs.

The easiest and quickest way to organize recipes and create meal plans is to import them into an app, like Paprika or Food Planner. Paprika will cost you $25 total ($20 for desktop program and $5 for app) while Food Planner is FREE.
I prefer Paprika because the user interface is easier to use and you can do a lot more with it. However, Food Planner is also really good, especially for the price :)

Pros: You can create menus and meal plans, organize recipes, create detailed shopping lists, email recipes and shopping lists to other people, and the apps are easy to use on phone, tablet and computer.

Cons: May cost money and takes time to input recipes.

My Experience

At first I used Evernote and it worked pretty well for the time I used it. My recipes were well organized between being able to put them in folders and add "Tags." I could even add pictures. The only problem was that it didn't automatically make shopping lists and that took a while to do it manually. I usually missed something when making the grocery list so when it was time to start cooking I was super frustrated.
I moved on to Food Planner because it was free. This was a good app, my only complaint was that the interface was kind of cheap and it had a lot of bugs. Each ingredient had to be put in a separate box, so I couldn't just copy and paste my recipes from the webpage into the app. It did create accurate shopping lists and meal plans so that was good! I used it over a year ago so I'm pretty sure that it has been updated a lot. It is worth trying out before purchasing Paprika or another app.
I moved on to Paprika (when I finally realized it was well worth the $25!) and I'm in love. You can read more about it on the website, but just know that I have tried quite a few programs and apps and this is by far my favorite.

That's the first step toward meal planning! Although there are different methods you can use to pick and rotate meals. gathering and organizing your recipes is essential. Once your recipes are all together in once place it will be easy to use them in the method you choose.

Next week I'll be discussing the different methods of meal planning, implementing your meal plan, and tips and tricks/troubleshooting.

I'd love to do a FAQ post at the end of the series, just to make sure all have all the information you need. I am intentionally keeping the posts quite general since there are so many unique situations, but if you feel like I haven't covered a topic entirely, or some things are unclear, please leave me a comment or feel free to email me at jessr90@gmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment