Meal Planning 101 and 10 Tips to Make it Happen

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What’s for dinner? Um… what time is it? Oh, it’s 4:12 already… um… I don’t know what I’m making for dinner… sigh.

This has happened in my house, admittedly way more than it should have. And a scramble to throw leftovers into something new and brilliant doesn’t always work quite so – brilliantly. Or a run out to pick up pizza or get Chinese delivered is just a foolish way to get the budget off track.

Enter the Meal Plan! We all know this is a wonderful practice and that it helps save money, it helps to keep you sane during that pre-dinner hour, and it keeps you from having to make one.more.decision.


But how do you actually plan out your meals?

  1. I’ve found it helpful to have a running list of the meals we like to eat and meals we would like to try out.
  2. Flexibility is a must. There will be nights when you don’t want to cook what you planned, you’re just not in the mood. That’s fine, be okay with moving on to another night’s plan. Sometimes you’ll be invited over to the in laws for dinner. Plan to not follow the plan exactly.
  3. Keep leftovers in mind. I really don’t want to cook dinner 7 nights of the week. I plan to make extras of every meal. Usually it carries us through lunches and one meal of leftovers.
  4. Plan 2 weeks at a time. Seriously. Once you get this down, you’ll save time on thinking about what to make, time on making a grocery list, and the number of times you have to go to the store.
  5. Consider your calendar. There will be days where you’ll be out at an event and choose to eat out or come home to a meal cooked in the crock pot. There will be days where you’re going to a party, or hosting one and you’ll need to plan accordingly. Our weekends tend to be a bit more spontaneous (especially in the summer months) so I plan to eat leftovers or quick and easy simple meals. That way if we come home late in the afternoon I am not stressing over the roast that takes hours in oven that I planned to cook but can’t anymore because we’d be eating it at 8 o’clock. I leave the easy stuff for the weekend. Your calendar might not look like mine, maybe you need the easy meals during the week when if you have extracurricular activities planned in your evenings.
  6. Assign meals to your calendar. I love this 2 week planner from The Project Girl. Try to think of ingredients you already have and need to use up and put those meals first on your plan.
  7. Don’t forget about breakfast and lunch. I usually write eggs, oatmeal, french toast, granola, yogurt, leftovers, sandwiches, and salads. Then I just make sure that I have the ingredients on hand.
  8. Make a grocery list. Don’t forget to add fruit and veggies to have on hand for snacks or side dishes. And add any other snacks you like to have on hand.
  9. Know what you’re making the day before. Now that you have your plan you can look ahead a day and pull out meat from the freezer the night before. I like to do this when I’m cooking or cleaning up from dinner. I am already in the kitchen. I just look at the plan that’s posted on the fridge and make sure it’s what I want to cook and it’s feasible (because sometimes things come up and get added to the calendar).

10. Keep a running list of items you may need to get on your next shopping trip. Things you might run out of but not think of when making your grocery list. Spices, coffee, household items, peanut butter, and condiments are sometimes easily forgotten items in my house.

There is a bit of a learning curve to meal planning but once you’ve been working at it for a while it becomes really easy. It’s one less thing to worry about. And it really is a time saver in many ways. So if you “fall off the wagon” just get right back on. It’s worth the effort to make meal planning a habit, it’s so nice to not have to think about food all the time.

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