Meal Planning Made Easy – Seriously!

imageFor the last 20 years, between a crazy busy life and kids with health issues, I have made myself plan weekly meals ahead of time. One day recently, I was describing this process to a co-worker, and she suggested that I blog about it.

Before I start, I would ask you to please refrain from mumbling any of the following under your breath:

“Yeah, right, like I’m going to actually take time to PLAN meals!”

“I just don’t have time to plan meals.”

“I can grocery shop just fine without a list.”

“She’s nuts.”

…because I guarantee that this system 1) doesn’t take more than an hour a week; 2) will save you money; 3) will give you peace of mind every night when you hit the door and your family whines, “What’s for dinner? I’m hungry!”

Also, as far as the busy part – I started this system when I was working full-time in international sales, working anywhere from 60-80 hours a week, travelling out of the country about 50% of the time with young twins at home. These days, although my kids are at college most of the year, they are very big eaters, and they both eat very healthy – which means gigantic grocery bills. Myself – I work full-time, try to go to the gym at least 3-4 times a week (usually in the evening after work), serve on multiple non-profit boards, and I eat a modified Paleo diet – which means most of my food is fresh and cooked from scratch.

OK, so excuses out of the way, just give me a chance to convince you…

You’ll need the following tools:

  • Notebook small enough to keep in your purse (I got this cute flowered number from Wal-mart for less than $2.00).
  • Pen
  • Your favorite cookbook, recipe website or iPad app
  • Your calendar (I keep EVERYTHING in my iPhone)

The Process

image
Step 1: What’s on the calendar

In the first photo of my notebook, at the top of the page, you’ll see the days of the week with a few checkmarks. I check my calendar for the week and note anything going on in the evenings. This week, I’m going to the gym on Monday and Thursday. The checkmarks mean that I either need a quick dinner or something in the crockpot, so that we can eat as soon as I get home. If I’m not able to cook at all – for example, if I have a board meeting, or if we’re going out to eat for a family birthday – I will mark an X under that day of the week to indicate No Meal that night.

Step 2: What on the menu

Start listing your main courses. Once you have the right number of main courses for the week, add sides. I then assign each meal to a day of the week, but you don’t need to get that specific. (The 2 stars on my list are the gym night meals. The meatloaf went in the crockpot.)

I also list a few general things for breakfast and dessert, just to have on hand. And make enough so that you have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Tip: Always have the ingredients on hand for one mindless, easy meal. Mine is a box of pasta, a can or 2 of organic tomato sauce that I doctor up with spices (you can use a jar of spaghetti sauce), a pound of ground meat, and salad fixings or a can of green beans. (I don’t eat pasta, so I just use the meat sauce on a big plate of greens.)

Step 3: What’s on the list

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Now it’s time to make up your shopping list. Keep it simple, but list everything that you don’t know by heart (like toilet paper!) I usually shop at one of two stores, so I list my items together in the areas of the familiar store.

The idea around the notebook that will fit in your purse is twofold: first, you will always have your notebook with you when a meal idea pops into your head, and second, once you start using this process, you can look back at earlier meals and lists for ideas.

And don’t forget your cloth shopping bags. Not only are you helping the environment, you’ll have fewer trips from the car to the house, and your produce won’t roll all over the back of the car.

Remember I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Give it a try for one month, and if it doesn’t work for you, share what does!.

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2 thoughts on “Meal Planning Made Easy – Seriously!

  1. Great tips Sara! Dan and I are HORRIBLE at meal planning. Part of it is having picky eaters in the house but it is mostly because neither of us are naturally organized. I know once the boys start school we are going to have to go against our natural grain and do more of this so I’m going to remember these ideas. And I have that same notebook…we have great taste! 😉

    • Mandy, I hope you find it useful. I wouldn’t even think of going to the grocery store. And not to preach or anything – but being as busy as I was when the kids were little, I have never cooked a separate meal because someone didn’t like something. They ate what I cooked, or they didn’t eat at all. Sounds radical, but my kids eat just about anything now that they are grown. Just for your consideration…

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