It's that time of year again.  Fresh, local produce, as well as many other goodies, are available at the Athens Farmers Market. 
This is where I get the majority of my produce between the months of April and November.  Here is what I got for this week....

from left to right...golden beets, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, carrots, honey, sprouted broccoli, green garlic, peppers, eggs, and fennel.  i also got a pint of strawberries (not pictured). 

Here is what I typically do to plan out my meals for the week... 
1) I go to the Farmers Market and get whatever I feel like getting.  This may be a challenge for you at first, because you may be overwhelmed with the number of things available and/or you may not know what some things are!  OR, you don't (or think you don't) have a farmers market near some research, you may be surprised!  If you are nervous about going for this first time, that is perfectly normal.  I was a little anxious the first time I went as well.  At the Athens Farmers Market, all the farmers are extremely nice, very willing to answer any questions you may have, and usually provide you with recipe ideas and/or simple ways to enjoy their veggies without you even having to ask. 

I typically buy between 5 and 10 different veggies per week, trying to buy one at each stand to support all the growers.  Sometimes I will buy the same thing week after week.  A couple staples for us are carrots and some sort of green.  Sometimes I will buy something that you can rarely find in a grocery store, like kohlrabi or sunchokes.

2) Right when I get back home, I thoroughly wash all the produce (some not wash berries until you are ready to use, they mold easy), put them in large freezer bags, and put them in my produce drawer in the fridge.  If I have time after that, I plan my meals for the week according to what I purchased at the market.  If I don't have time at that moment, I wait a bit, but try to do it before the minute I am ready to go to the grocery store!

This doesn't take much time for me any more because I have had a lot of practice over the years.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  It is worth it!  Sometimes I simply throw together ideas in my head and come up with recipes based on old dishes that are re-vamped, and sometimes I look up recipes on the web based around a specific veggie I bought.  I write down all the ingredients I will need for each meal, and remember you DO NOT need to get every single ingredient in the recipes you find on the web or in cookbooks.  For instance, if a recipe calls for an exotic ingredient like saffron or just an ingredient you do not like (mushrooms for me), simply don't buy it.  and don't get overwhelmed by huge recipes.  Most times the simple ones with minimal ingredients are the best!   And, you can exchange one ingredient for another, let's say you are not that familiar with leeks, exchange them for onions. 

3) Once I have planned out 4-6 meals (dinners) for the week, I have written down the ingredients I will need for those meals, it is now time for everything else I will need to buy at the grocery store, for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.  I have a master grocery list for this.  This may also take some time to build, but once it is done, it makes life so much easier!!!  I rotate between a few different breakfasts and lunches.  Snacks are usually the same every week, with minor changes here and there. 

Sometimes I go through phases where I will make the same 4-6 meals a couple weeks in a row, but I will change the veggies.  Like peanut butter chicken stir-fry, one week with broccoli, one week with kale.  Sometimes I feel super adventurous or experimental and I do different recipes each and every week.  I recommend the first choice if you are a beginner.

Once you have your grocery list, based on your planned meals and your master list for everything else, you are ready to hit the store.  Try not to buy anything that is not on that list!!!  If you forget to write something down, don't fret, you may be able to make the meal without that ingredient OR you can just go back to the store later in the week.

Like with many other things in life, meal planning takes practice, and consistency with practice (not perfection) is the key!  Please ask me questions if you want to know more about how I plan my meals and/or how I stay consistent.