The Meal Planner

From talking to friends who don't meal plan, and don't know how to, the thought of meal planning is DAUNTING! This is just the basics to help you get started. There are of course tips and tricks to make it more efficient as well as save you extra money, but if you are just getting started start with these steps first. You can always add the other tricks in later when you feel more comfortable with the whole process.

Sit down with cookbooks or the internet and write down recipes (including your tried and true favorites that you don’t even use a recipe for). Include 5 or 6 different recipes.
  • Professional meal planner Sandi Richard recommends a 5-day meal plan, because if people “overplan” she says the plan falls apart. She allots the two extra days a week for eating out, or leftovers.
  • I personally can’t afford to eat out twice a week, so I plan a 6-day meal plan so that there’s the wiggle room for being invited to someone’s house for supper, having leftovers, etc. Something always tends to come up in the week, so I find 6 days of meals works well for us.
  • If you have a certain day of the week that you go grocery shopping (for example Saturday) then you will want to make sure you have enough meals to get you through to that day. We are flexible with what day we go, so my grocery day never falls on the same day of the week - we just go when we run out of meals.

Look through the ingredients of each of the recipes you have chosen
  • What do you have in the cupboards, freezer, fridge, etc.
  • Put only ingredients you DON’T have on your shopping list.
  • Add to your grocery list other essentials that may not be part of your recipes – milk, bread, lunch stuff, etc.
Go shopping for your groceries
  • Buy ONLY the ingredients on your grocery list - don't get distracted! No impulse buying!
  • The exception to the rule is if something is on sale for a REALLY good price and you want to stock up - such as ground beef, chicken, laundry detergent. (Meat is your most pricey item so if you get it cheap now, you can meal plan with it later.)
Hang a piece of paper on the fridge with your 5 or 6 meals for the week and what they are.
  • Each day (or the night before) you can take out the meat you need for the meal you've chosen that day.
  • Cross items off your list as you make them.

Keep in mind this is only the basics of meal planning. If you don’t plan AT ALL, this is a good place to start and ease yourself in. If you start by adding too much for yourself to do, you will get overwhelmed and stop doing it. However, do take a look at Tips for Better Meal Planning and see if you can incorporate any of the tips without getting overwhelmed. They will definitely make your life easier.

If it seems like too much, just stick with these basics for a little bit until you feel more comfortable with the whole process. You will get the hang of it and then be looking for those ways to make your job more efficient ;)

Or if you really want to avoid doing the work of meal planning all together, I've posted my own meal plans, with recipes, and grocery lists...takes all the work out of it doesn't it? Just use my meal plan as your own. You know you usually have to pay for this kind of thing...and I'm just givin' it out for free :)

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12 Responses
  1. Getting started is the easy part for me. It's staying motivated to eat what I have planned that is the hard! How do you keep up the meal plan without getting bored? Or what about the nights what you have planned just doesn't sound good so you make something else?

    Or my absolute favorite...if what you made totally bombs what do you do then? PB &

    I look forward to perusing your blog more... :)

  2. Oh man Mrs. Q you have so many good questions!

    How do I keep up the meal plan with out getting bored?
    - Even though we have a ton of favorite recipes stored away, I don't recycle recipes all that often. I'm constantly trying new a week of 6 meals, sometimes 4 or 5 of them will be totally new. Which excites me! I get so excited to try new recipes and discover a new fave. When I do whip out an old fave, it's been at least a month or two since we had it last.

    What about the nights you have a meal planned, but it doesn't sound good to you at the time so you make something else?
    - This is one nice thing about meal planning is that you can be flexible. Even though you assign a meal to a certain day, it doesn't mean you HAVE to stick with it. If I have perogies scheduled tonight but I really am not in the mood for it, I can always make Tuesday's taco's instead and then make perogies on Tuesday. The only time you can't do that is when you have a specific meal planned for a specific day because of commitments or work or something (like a crockpot meal) - but in that case, I'm usually so thankful to come home to a no-hassle meal in my crockpot, that I just eat what I made and am grateful I didn't have to cook :)

    What happens if a meal you had planned totally bombs?
    - I have to admit that I did this SOOO often in my first year of marriage. I got a little too carried away trying new things and some meals were AWFUL. Luckily I learned from those experiences and I haven't had a complete bomb where the food was inedible in at least a year, but we have had meals that we didn't necessarily like. We will sometimes suffer through it and eat what we can, or there's always eggs, bacon, toast, etc in our fridge so we wouldn't starve :) We also like to buy frozen pizza's when they are on sale and I have coupons so those are good for bomb-nights or even those nights you don't want to make what you have planned. But I think the more you experiment and have bombs the more you get to know recipes and you can determine pretty quickly if you will like it or not.

    I hope that was straight-forward enough and answered your questions. Thanks again for checking things out.

  3. Oh I forgot to mention that I plan on tagging my recipes when they are a "Flop"....but I haven't one yet. I've made some things that were a 6 or 7 out of 10, so I won't necessarily make those again, but no recipes have been super we haven't had to bust out a frozen pizza or PB & J yet ;)

  4. Meal Planner,
    Thanks so much for answering my questions! I guess I just need to be more I could make a meal plan work for me. Ok, you have inspired me to try again :)

    Here's to hoping that we won't be having to eat PB & J... ;)

  5. I think this is kinda great... i usually just cook and buy on impulse, taking what i like or what's seasonal and mix with them. However when I found a recipe that I really want to try I'm usually out of those ingredients =( therefore i think it's a good approach to do both! (buy on impulse on seasonal items and meal planning!)

  6. I Love Tastes - Yeah for sure, you could definitely do meal planning that way. Just plan for a few meals in the week, and leave the rest of the meals to whatever catches your eye at the store that week :) I think if you are too rigid, or you meal plan in a way that doesn't suit your personality, it won't stick and it won't work for you.

  7. Pam Says:

    I always get hung up on the details - for example, what do you do about breakfast and lunch? You only plan dinners, as do most sites I've read on meal-planning. My husband and I both work from home so eat most all of our meals at home, including lunch. How do you plan for lunches?

  8. Great question Pam. I may just dedicate a whole post to this subject. I only plan suppers because breakfasts are always toast, cereal, bagels, etc. in our house. I never halve recipes that say "serves 4" even though it's basically just my husband and I (and a 2 yr old and 1 yr old but they eat so little it doesn't really count) and then we eat the other two servings the next day for lunch. We've done this for years so I don't think my husband would let me feed him sandwiches or other regular lunch fare! He is addicted to his leftovers and loves eating them the next day at his job...he gets to brag about my cooking skills everyday ;) I like your question so I may just make it a bit more detailed and turn it into a post in the future. Thanks for asking!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    You are AMAZING! Thank you for sharing your template for grocery shopping!

  10. MicheleMac Says:

    I LOVE this site! So glad I stumbled upon it. I'm 31, no kids but dating someone and my boyfriend and I have been spending so much time together that we've started to make meal plans and grocery shop together. Amazing how much money you can save. I'm pretty creative, love to cook and grocery shop and I thought I was doing a decent job but you just made things a million time easier. All of the recipes look amazing! He's away this week and coming home on Monday. I can't wait to surprise him with a weeks worth of incredible meals! What an awesome website. You really thought of everything. A great big Thank you!!

  11. Jene Fox Says:

    Thanks for this! This is something we really need in my house, and its a bit daunting! The hardest part for us is picking what to eat - we barely manage on a daily basis, let alone weekly! But it really is as simple as you make it sound, I'm sure! :) -Jess

  12. Virginia Says:

    Hello Meal Planner! I LOVE this - I have been searching for great meal plan ideas and ways to keep organize in the kitchen. It's usually a fly by the seat of your pants cooking for us when it comes to dinner. I am terrible at planning ahead. THANK YOU for this!!! I think my husband will be pleasantly surprised in the days ahead! 8-)