Meal planning is a beast. And while Pinterest can be a great way to save recipes you are interested in quickly and all in one place, it isn’t the easiest to navigate or sort, or the most efficient tool out there. So what’s a good meal planner to do?
You could purchase premade meal plans. There are tons of great options out there. Real Plans is highly recommended and I’ve liked the variety in the free samples at Once a Month Meals. These plans are highly tailored to your specific food needs (paleo? dairy-free? gluten-free? hate tomatoes? It’s all possible!). These meal plans are super easy to use, can even adjust to your serving size and includes meal ideas, recipes and grocery lists. But if you’re like me, meal planning is a tool to help save money, not spend more, so paid meal plans are not an option. Several bloggers offer weekly meal plans or meal ideas with links to recipes for free. Paleo Parents is one of my favorites. They include some links to recipes, though some recipes are only available in their cookbooks.
But what if you have the recipes already, you just need a system?
I stumbled upon Evernote a few years ago as a way of keeping advertising clients different projects organized. It is a great way to have digital to-do lists and keep track of different versions of projects or freelance clients. While I prefer handwritten to-do lists, I quickly realized Pinterest as my sole meal planning organization tool was just not cutting it and started using Evernote. It has been my go-to ever since.
Meal planning made easy with Evernote
If you only use it on two devices, you can use the free version. It does limit your monthly upload capacity but it is really rare that I reach that. In fact, it has only happened twice over the past 3 years – once when I first started and was moving all my recipes over from Pinterest and once again recently when we decided to try doing a Whole30 and I was madly saving tons of new recipes. In each instance, I just had to take a step back from adding any new recipes. If I found good ones, I simply pinned them to a special secret Pinterest board for a month and then moved them over once my uploads reset. So easy!
So you download Evernote. Now what?
You’ll have to do some trial and error to figure out what system works best for you. For me, simple is best.
Step 1 – Create A Notebook(s)
The first step is to create some notebooks. This is fairly simple but the method will vary depending on whether you are using mobile or desktop (top) apps or if you are on Evernote.com (bottom). I have three notebooks – Recipes to Try, Recipes We Love and Weekly Meal Plans. You can drag these together to form a “Stack” and label it whatever you like. Mine is simply “Meal Planning Stack”. If you don’t use Evernote for anything other than meal planning, you could definitely skip the stack and just have your two notebooks.
It is really helpful to keep recipes you’ve tried and liked separate somehow from recipes you’d like to try but haven’t yet. A good, manageable rule of thumb if you have a busy schedule is no more than one new recipe per week. One every other week has been my max lately. I try to arrange it so we try a new recipe for dinner on Saturday or Sunday so we have plenty of time to go through all the steps. We try to do more elaborate dinners on the weekend since we stick to crockpot and one pan simple meals during the week.
Step 2 – Start Clipping Recipes
Evernote has a tool similar to Pinterest’s PinIt plugin called Evernote Web Clipper. It will be a little elephant on your toolbar. You can clip recipes directly from the website to whichever notebook you want to save it as.
(Free account hack: Since you are limited to your monthly upload storage space, instead of clipping the entire webpage, you can select the simplified article, bookmark or screenshot options to take up less storage. This will remove some of the extra images on the page, leading to a smaller file size. Sometimes this will result in the actual recipe being removed. If this happens, go into the info panel of the clip. You should be able to go back to the original webpage where you can then copy and paste the recipe into your clip.)
Step 3 – Start tagging
This step should technically begin at the same time as the previous one. The biggest meal planning tool in Evernote by far is its tag function. You can tag each entry, or “note”, with however many different things you want. This will be some trial and error, but you’ll figure out what tags you go to search for when meal planning and be able to adjust from there.
Here is my tagging process –
- What meal/time of day is this for? (entree, breakfast, dessert, appetizer, snack, etc.)
- What ethnicity or style is this food? (Mexican, Asian, Greek, spicy, etc.)
- What is the main protein/ingredient in the dish? (beef, chicken, bread, fish, pasta, salad, soup etc.)
- What is the cooking method? (Crock pot (be sure you pick either slow cooker or crock pot, not both), One Pot, oven, freezer, raw, grill, etc.)
- What other identifying aspect of your dish would you search for? (Paleo, Whole30, easy, three ingredient, etc.) One that I recently noticed I hadn’t used but should have was if it contained eggs.
Regardless of tags you can still search your notes so if you do realize you didn’t tag something, you should still be able to find it.
The great part about the tagging feature is that you can add tags whenever you want. If a few months into this process you realize you are always searching for a specific term or ingredient, go ahead and add it in! It is so easy to tailor to your specific needs.
Step 4 – Meal plan away!
Tagging is so great because you can search by combinations of tags. This is where meal planning, especially on a budget, becomes so much easier.
I buy meat based on what is on sale at EarthFare or available at the market. Since that is the largest portion of our grocery budget, I try to base our meal planning on that. Then I go through our pantry, freezer and fridge to see what else we have and try to combine them into meals I already know. You can search your Recipes We Love with whatever you’ve got – beef, chicken, etc. Then when you know what protein you want to use for your new recipe of the week (if you are doing one) you can switch over to that notebook and search there.
Where it gets really useful is when you search for multiple tags at once. It lets you narrow your recipes down even more! A common one for me is “crock pot” and “whatever meat” or “easy” and “meat”. This tag function is especially useful when you get down to the end of your budget. The more you add and the better you get at tagging, the more useful Evernote will be.
In my “Weekly Meal Plans” notebook, I start a new note each week. I copy over the plan from the week before, which is just simply like this:
And then I fill in my new meal plans. You can copy and paste the ingredient list over to your weekly meal plan note for all the recipes you are using and then just delete all the ingredients you already have. Wa la! You have your grocery list. Evernote seriously makes meal planning so simple!
So what are you waiting for? Try it today and make you meal planning work for you! If you sign up for Evernote using my referral link, you’ll get one month free of Premium (and I’ll get points toward free Premium subscription)!
Try this small step toward a healthier, happier home today!