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Friday, August 26, 2011

Feeding My Family – Putting Microsoft Excel to Work for Me

If I don’t plan a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and shop accordingly, I end up frustrated and staring at the refrigerator for an hour at dinnertime every night, trying to come up with something to make from random ingredients, and usually end up making several trips to the grocery store through the week or eating out multiple nights.  Not only is this not cost effective, but it adds stress to my days.  Read on about the system I’ve developed to combat this.

System: I take some time one day a week to plan meals, make a comprehensive shopping trip with a well-organized list, and even do some prep-work ahead of busy weeknight meals.  This makes dinnertime a much more relaxed, enjoyable part of the daily routine. 

I use a customized Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to organize my meal planning and shopping lists. 

I start with an area to plan out dinner meals, with placeholders for main dish, vegetable and starch to help me plan well-balanced and varied meals.   I take requests for meals from my husband and my daughter, and I also like to incorporate new recipes to keep it interesting and try new things.   I plan a couple of meals that might take a little more preparation time for the nights I am able to devote more time to cooking.  I also plan several meals that can either be prepared quickly in the evening, or can be prepared ahead of time and popped in the oven at dinnertime.  I purposefully do not specify the night each meal will be prepared when I’m planning, so even though things are planned out, I still feel the flexibility to prepare whatever meal sounds best at the time. 

Once my meals are planned, I circle needed items on the shopping list and use the room in the margin for rare items purchased for specific recipes.  I also plan accordingly for breakfasts and lunches, trying to add some variety so we don’t get bored.  I also consider lunches in planning dinners.  For example, if I make a meatloaf, I make it bigger and I don’t purchase any sandwich meat that week, since meatloaf sandwiches are at least as good as the original meal!

A Note about Buying Organic

I try to have a balance between the added expense of buying organic and avoiding excessive pesticide exposure for my family.  The Environmental Working Group tests produce for pesticide residues and puts out a list every year of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables with the highest detected pesticide levels.  I buy the items on this list organic, and let prices drive my purchase choices for other items.  I copy and paste the list right onto the shopping list when it is released every year, so I don’t have to remember it.

Added Benefits

I keep the list posted to the refrigerator, along with a small magnetic container holding pens at the ready, so staple items can be marked as needed as soon as they are finished. 

I keep a copy of the list in my purse, so if I’m unable to go through the full meal planning exercise ahead of time, not only can I plan and buy for simple meals on the fly AT the grocery store, but I can also scan the items we purchase regularly to minimize forgotten necessities.

If you need help customizing a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to meet your needs, please contact me at or visit my website,

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