Raise your hand if you loathe spending at least an hour every week hunting down recipes through cookbooks, magazines and Pinterest. (Raising mine nice and high!) About 4 years ago after my little guy was born, I was looking for ways to make meal planning for my growing family easier. I came across this amazing blog where she details out the recipes on individual sheets and then makes a combined grocery list at the end. It's amazing! You can pick anywhere from 7-30 day plans, paleo options, Whole Foods only meals, kid friendly meals and the list goes on. I usually sit down with a huge cup of coffee and a notebook and get started. I print out the packet and go through each individual recipe to see if there is anything I want to tweak due to having a picky husband ;) and then go to the back combined list and tweak there too. I also go through the huge list and see what ingredients I already have. Since she includes all of the spices and how much you'll need as well, I make sure I have enough to get me through the recipes because it's the WORST when you run out halfway through and then have to add that as an ingredient later on.
From here, I write my long list and divide everything up between Costco, Whole Foods and my local grocer. Costco is great for the canned goods and meat since you're usually buying about 20lbs of chicken breasts and they have individually sealed packs making it a bit easier. Whole Foods, if you didn't know, carries the best variety of frozen veggies! A few recipes I use call for butternut squash and if you've ever made it fresh, just cutting those things are a HUGE pain in my neck. So boom. Frozen and already cubed for me! They also have frozen chopped white onions. I'd say about 80% of the recipes use onions and let me tell you, there is no worse smell than onion hands days after you've finished meal prepping and washing your hands/showering multiple times. YUCK! So buy a few bags of frozen onions and thank me later.
I also make sure to stock up on my ziplock bags (always get extra just in case!) and don't skimp on buying the cheaper brand. You're only saving a few cents and the quality just isn't the same as the major brand. If you have these already, feel free to start labeling your bags. I keep mine numbered along with the recipes too. Another item I have learned to LOVE is the bag holder. I got mine on Amazon and they came in a 2-pack so I can split the same recipe in half OR if I'm brave enough, prep two meals at the same time. Oh, and make sure you have a shiny, brand new Sharpie. You're going to want to read your bags clearly and neatly so it saves you from guessing or having to pull your printed recipe sheet out later. You can also print a calendar with each meal on each day so you know you won't have two chicken meals in a row. I also love knowing the week of which sides or fresh veggies I may need to run and grab from the store. It's amazing how little I see my grocer (and how much money we save) when I do these!
Now it's time to shop. Be prepared for this. I'm not kidding. I prefer doing this without my kids (they're normally perfectly behaved in stores and come with me everywhere but THIS is like a day trip!) I venture to Costco first to make sure I get my bulk meats, bulk veggies, canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chicken broth and anything else I can on my list. From there I go to Whole Foods and get whatever frozen veggies are needed, browse the canned items for ones that are special (fire roasted diced tomatoes - YUM!) or on sale and then do the same with their fresh produce. Once my list has been shortened, I'm left with my regular grocer for the remainder of the items. You're going to get some crazy looks and your bill is going to sound insane but remember, you're making dinners to last you 30 nights so you aren't going to the store every week (except for your staple items and any fresh sides you're going to want). You'll thank yourself later -- We're going to keep repeating that this whole step of the way! ;)
Once home and all of my pantry and produce items are laid out on my counter and frozen items are in the freezer I get started organizing it all into sections: canned goods, spices, produce and so on. This helps when you have about 75 things all scattered on your counter. If you didn't label your ziplock bags before, do them now before you start filling everything.
It's time to get those bags filled and in the freezer! I sometimes group the recipes by protein so I can keep my giant bag of chicken out instead of having all of my meat sit out and going between all of them. You'll find what works best for you after doing this a few times. Once you have a bag or two filled, you can start stacking them laying flat in your freezer. Once these are frozen, it's easier to store them like file folders and in numbered order for easy finding. You'll see that a few with roasts and larger pieces of meat won't go flat so these just fill in spaces behind and on top of the other ones. Remember to keep repeating every 5 bags or so, "you'll thank yourself later" and keep moving. You've got this!!
I hope this helps some of you better see how I do this every few months! Once I hit my busy season in Fall and then post-holiday/sick of winter blues January-March I love doing this so that dinners are cooking all day and I'm able to get more done and play with my kiddos. Be sure to share which are your favorites below, I'd love to hear what you've tried!
**PS: I used an Amazon Affiliate link above, just wanted you to know ;) AND I am in no way getting credit or paid for the freeze-ahead blog, Costco, Whole Foods, Ziplock or any other brands mentioned above**