Meal Planning 101 – The How

Part two of our meal planning 101 series – the how! Including a detailed look into my meal planning system, featuring plenty of tips and tricks to keep you on track, save time and money, and reduce food waste.

A bunch of groceries on a kitchen counter.

So now that we’ve covered the why part of meal planning, let’s move on to the really good stuff.

The making it happen part – which means I can tell you all about my crazy organizational tendencies. I’m going to walk you through exactly how I meal plan (and share some tips along the way!).

Now. Keep in mind that this is what works for me. My obsessive self absolutely loves my system and I personally think it’s totally awesome.

But! Do what works for you. Adjust it or maybe just take away a few little tidbits. Go with whatever is going to make it happen for you.

Because you definitely want to make meal planning happen. It’s fun – so fun! I promise, cross my heart.

So let’s do this. Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair and let’s talk about my meal planning system.

A laptop computer, notebook and iced coffee on a table.

1. Pick your day for meal planning

Decide what day of the week is going to be your meal planning day of fun (it won’t take a whole day, don’t worry). And then stick to it. The only time I ever change the day is if we are out of town.

I even put it on my calendar every week – “make meal plan / grocery list.” Not kidding. This way there is no forgetting. No excuses.

I also always plan to shop the day after I make my grocery list. That also goes on my calendar (I completely love my planner, what can I say).

2. Assess your week

Take a good look at your calendar, with a few things in mind:

  • How many meals will you be making at home? Do you have plans to meet friends on Friday for dinner? Take that day off your list of needed meals. Or just build in one free day each week. Whatever works for you.
  • How busy are you this week? Is it a week where you definitely need lots of easy, super fast meals? Or do you have time to make something a little more involved?
  • Are you being realistic? This one is big for me. I have a little problem with being overly ambitious. Psssh, so I have a jam packed day and won’t be home till 8pm. I can soooo make that trillion step dinner and dessert. Um, no. I try to save those types of meals for the weekend. But need to remind myself of this often. Very often.

A meal planning notebook on a wooden table.

3. Pick your recipes

I start with dinner first. I pick recipes and then assign them to specific days of the week.

If I know there will be leftovers from each of those dinners, that automatically takes care of lunch for the next day (or more, depending). If there won’t be leftovers, I pick something to make for lunch (usually just one recipe that I make for the week).

Lastly, I think about breakfast, snacks and sometimes dessert. I decide what we’ll have that week and write it down as well.

And with that I give you…. drum roll please…

An open fridge stocked with lots of groceries.

Meal Planning Tips & Tricks

Use a template for each week.

For example:

  • Monday = taco or mexican night
  • Tuesday = pasta or italian food night
  • Wednesday = big salad night
  • Thursday = soup night
  • Friday = pizza night
  • Saturday = asian night
  • Sunday = crockpot meal night

This makes it so easy to just plug in recipes and helps give you a variety of dishes. It also gives you a good place to start if you feel stuck one week.

And change it up! You don’t need to stick to that exact schedule but it helps get the ideas flowing! If you really want soup twice that week, I say go for it.

Keep a running list of recipes during the week.

Write down anything that sounds good or that randomly pops into your head (if you’re always thinking about food like me).

I actually keep a draft in my gmail that I use to jot things down as they come to mind.

That way, come meal planning day, I usually have at least something I already want to make. This is especially true if you read tons and tons of food blogs and everything constantly makes you drool.

Check out your pantry / fridge / freezer.

Is there anything that needs to be used up? Find recipes that will put those items to use.

What produce and other items will go bad first?

When you are assigning meals to specific days, think about any ingredients that will expire quickly.

Schedule those meals toward the beginning of the week so they don’t go to waste.

Make reminders to yourself as you go.

As you are assigning meals to days, make notes if there’s anything that will need to be defrosted. Or if you need to start something in the crockpot before work one day.

Put those in your calendar now so you don’t forget.

Check out any sales or coupons from your local stores.

Work them into your menu for the week. Since I’m always testing recipes for the blog, this one isn’t as helpful for me.

But, I still make sure I bring any coupons for items I’m planning to buy!

Is your week balanced?

Make sure your week is balanced.

Too many dishes with loads of cheese? Switch out a recipe for something a bit more healthy. Making pulled pork? Make sure you also include a side dish for that night!

An open freezer drawer filled with groceries.

And now getting back to my meal planning system…

4. Make your shopping list

Gather / pull up all your recipes for the week.

Take your time and go through them all slowlyyyyy, writing down exactly what you need.

If you think you already have enough honey or flour or whatever, just go double check to be sure. You’ll thank me later.

Add any random items that you need. For us – I always add coffee and milk. They are just staples that aren’t necessarily for a recipe but that I know I need in the house.

5. Shop and stick to the list

Bring your list with you.

Stick to it. Cross things off as you go.

And if you’re completely anal like me – right before you check out, pull over the cart so you’re out of the way and double check to make sure you have everything on the list. Then run back down an aisle to get what you forgot.

Lots of groceries out on a kitchen counter.

6. Unpack and organize that fridge

As soon as I get home, I freeze anything that may go bad before I use it (like meats).

I also try to wash any fruits so they can just be pulled out for snacking during the week. This doesn’t always happen.

I ALWAYS put everything in the correct “place.” Yes, I have a system for organizing my fridge. It makes life so easy friends!

7. Smile because you are awesome

And because meal planning is fun. So fun.

And go ahead and write your weekly menu up on your chalkboard (that may just be me). But really, the chalkboard holds me accountable. Something about it makes me want to stick to my plan.

It also alleviates questions from the husband about what’s for dinner.

Also, please clean your chalkboard better than I do. It’s a little streaky.

A chalkboard with a weekly meal plan.

I do promise that if you stick with it, over time meal planning really will become routine. You’ll barely even think twice about it anymore. It just happens.

Seriously, without meal planning, I’d be a giant mess. I’d be that lady wandering around the grocery store for hours trying to decide what on earth to buy. And no, I’m not kidding. Okay, maybe a little.

I have one more post for you on Friday on this awesome topic … are you excited??

Cheers to meal planning! And a super long post. I clearly talk too much.

Additional Meal Planning Posts You Might Enjoy: