Meal Planning 101: Meal Planning Made Easy

Meal Planning 101: Meal Planning Made Easy

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Nothing’s worse than coming home from work to tired, hungry kids, and no plan for dinner.  In our house, meal planning is an absolute necessity.  Without a meal plan we eat way too much convenience food, and spend way too much money.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  Our process is incredibly simple – but it works!  We do our meal planning on a weekly basis, and grocery shop either on the weekend or at the beginning of the week (online grocery shopping makes this even easier!).  Here’s the process that we use to plan our meals for the week.

1. Build a List of Favourites

Before you sit down to meal plan, take the time to build a list of your family’s favourite recipes.  Having an easy-to-reference list of ideas means you’re not starting from scratch every week.

I’ve written our family’s favourite meals down in a Google spreadsheet that includes:

  1. Recipe name
  2. Source (blog name, cookbook, etc.)
  3. Tags (i.e. chicken, beef, soup, pasta, quick, crockpot – this lets me search the spreadsheet quickly for a certain kind of dish)
  4. Unique ingredients – this is an attempt to reduce our food waste.  I hate buying perishable ingredients only to use a little bit for one recipe and throw the rest out.  This allows me to search for other recipes that use the same ingredient.

Related article: Sanity Savers: One Simple Tip to Reduce Food Waste

2. Check the Calendar

Don’t schedule an elaborate meal on a night that one of the kids has an activity at dinner time.  Similarly, if you or your spouse are going to be out, make your life easier by scheduling a simple meal – the last thing you need is a power struggle over dinner!

3. Check the Flyer

We do our grocery shopping at Costco and our local grocery store.   Before I make our meal plan, I’ll have a quick look at the grocery store flyer to see if there are any great sales that I should be taking advantage of.

4. Take Stock

Are there any perishables that you need to use up before they go bad?  Check the fridge before you make your meal plan, to try to minimize food waste.

Meal planning simplifies grocery shopping

5. Follow a Formula

Finally, sit down to plan your meals for the week.  Barring any special circumstances (i.e. out of town visitors or entertaining) we only plan our dinners.  We follow the general formula of:

  1. Chicken
  2. Meat (i.e. beef, sausage, pork)
  3. Pasta
  4. Vegetarian
  5. Seafood

Obviously there’s some overlap between the categories, but this gives me a rough template to work with, so I don’t feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every week.

Use categories that work for you – for example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Crockpot, BBQ, etc.  We don’t tie our categories to a certain day, as our schedule varies considerably week to week, but for some people that works perfectly.  The less thought you have to put into it each week the better!

Related article: The Invisible Mental Load and How to Reduce It

6. Be realistic

Don’t schedule labour-intensive recipes on a busy weeknight.  Include easy meals if you know that’s all you’ll have time or energy for – breakfast for dinner is a completely acceptable meal in our house!

Don’t plan on too many new recipes.  I love trying new recipes, but limit myself to one a week, as they inevitably take more time than the tried and true favourites.

7. Build In Flexibility

We schedule a maximum of 5 meals per week.  Build in room for leftovers, too-tired-to-cook nights, and whatever else life throws at you during the week.  Stock your pantry and freezer with ingredients for last-minute meals and a few convenience foods.  I’d much rather heat up a frozen pizza one night than have to throw out ingredients we didn’t get to use before they went bad.

8. Write it Down

Lastly, write down your meal plan, so everyone in the family knows what to expect, and you can refer to it later.  We plan our meals in our Cozi calendar, and post our weekly meals on our whiteboard on our fridge.  If I’m stuck for inspiration in the future, I can easily refer back to previous weeks for ideas.

Related article: 9 Time Management and Organization Tips for Working Moms

Do you meal plan?  What tips or tricks do you use to simplify the process?

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9 thoughts on “Meal Planning 101: Meal Planning Made Easy”

  • Awesome post! I am very much a list maker. Do you have a specific planner or system for planning your weeks and months? I have used the bullet journal method (the super simple version, with a few modifications) for about 3 years now. I also keep a lot of lists like shopping lists and “eat up food” lists on my phone. Would love to hear your system and how you balance paper and digital planning (if you do use both)… 🙂

    • I love the Plum Paper planner for a paper planner! It’s super customizable, and I’ve used it long enough now that I’ve got it set up in a way that works well for me. I actually was going to try a bullet journal this year (I thought it might be more flexible given that COVID is changing everything all the time), but ended up going back to my normal planner – I’m not very good at change!

      I feel like I haven’t quite got the paper versus digital thing figured out. We use the Cozi app for our master calendar and shopping lists, shared between my husband and I, and it works really well. My paper planner has a duplicate of our Cozi calendar but I also use it for my personal to-dos and sketching out our monthly meal plan, as well as things like habit tracker, tracking projects/goals, etc. Then we also have a little whiteboard on the fridge that has a week-at-a-glance overview of all activities and meals for the week, which I like because the kids can see it. I definitely feel like I write the same thing out multiple times, but I’m not sure how to simplify it because I feel like we need all of them!

      • I just listened to a podcast (Best Laid Plans) where she talks about the Plum Paper Planner. I will have to check it out! I use a 1917 Lechttrum planner for my bullet journal. One journal usually lasts me 2 years because I only use weekly spreads. I do find I might need a more detailed to do list each day but I do find that keeping it limited helps me stay focussed on the things I need to get done. I use Apple notes app and google calender to share lists and schedules with my husband. It works well but interested in Cozi. I also have a white board near the kitchen which I write out what we are having for dinner each day. No activities each week cause nothing is happening! Lol. I agree though it’s hard to reduce it to one system.

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