Meal planning for dummies

January 23, 2012

Making my way though One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler has been a fun challenge. This week I was determined to get back into the habit of meal planning (item #5). For me, meal planning has been an on and off again routine. Whenever I am in the routine I LOVE it.

Knowing what I am going to make ahead of time:

-Helps me to stratagize what we eat to make sure we are getting a good balance of nutrition.
-Allows me to plan a good mix of new recipes that I want to try with some old reliable favorites.
-Presents the opportunity to be more prepared to bless others in need with a meal.
-Avoids last minute 5:00 dinner stress or unnecessary eating out spending.
-Enables me to buy only what is needed and thus less food is wasted.

What typically goes wrong, and how I am trying to avoid it:

However, after a few weeks of regular planning, an inevitable a holiday or break in routine will bring an end to the plans and I somehow get sucked back into the “I don’t know what we are having for dinner” stress.  I am not naive enough to think this won’t happen again.  But I can try to anticipate the hangups that have caused problems in the past and seek to avoid them.

  • After reading Tsh’s suggestion to plan two weeks ahead at a time I feel that is a good fit for me. In the past I have only planned one week in advance and I feel that left too much opportunity to drop the ball between weeks.  Planning at least two weeks out keeps me feeling more prepared and gives me a little more time to get the next two weeks done.  Plus, as long as I am taking the time to plan one week, doing two doesn’t really take much more time.
  • I have at times gotten too excited to try new recipes and packed my schedule full of “newbies.”  Making new recipes inevitably takes more time and has a higher “risk” factor involved (who will like it?).  To combat this, I am now asking the older two kids and my husband to each pick one homemade meal per week (i.e. if they want Mac & Cheese it is my rule that it will be a homemade version).  They choose what it is and I get to choose what night to make it.  This helps guarantee that everyone has at least one meal they can look forward to and only leaves me with a few nights to plan out myself.  This week Hunter’ picked homemade pizza.  I enjoyed making the dough ahead of time and then allowing everyone to roll out their own pizza to bring over to the “topping bar” where they could choose their choice of sauce (we had spaghetti and Alfredo sauces–both bases to other recipes in the week) and toppings.  It was a hit and Hunter already plans to use it as his “pick” again soon.


  • Plan to double your recipes as often as you can and either freeze the extra or have fun blessing others with a meal.
  • Try to be strategic about the meals you plan in the same week.  Doing so allows you to prepare less to be used for more and is also helpful for saving money.  For example, as I mentioned above, last week we had our family’s favorite Alfredo recipe the night after we had homemade pizzas (allowing us to use the sauce for two meals).  I also used a large jar of Spaghetti sauce for my Baked Spaghetti, Chili and for our homemade pizza recipes.  My Costco rotisserie chicken was used for our lime tacos, white chili, pizza topping and to make several jars of Chicken broth.  If you find a great weekly combination of meals I encourage you to save it and reuse it.  Once you get a few great weeks you can rely on them as handy “stand by” weeks for times that you don’t feel like coming up with something new.
  • If you don’t already have a system in place for meal planning, I suggest considering a free service such as ZipList or Cozi or a paid and slightly more robust service such as Plan to Eat.  A while back I made a review video for Plan to Eat that you might enjoy.  In addition, if you sign up with Plan to Eat, please “friend me” (my user account is “mom4life”) which will allow both of us to automatically see each other’s recipe box (and save those we like to our own).

What do you do for meal planning?

Do you have a system that is working well for you or no system at all?  I would love to hear your thoughts or see a link to some of your favorite recipes!

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