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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meal planning tips

On Monday, I talked about a method that helps me save both money and time while eating healthier - meal planning.

Today, I'm going to give some practical tips to get started meal planning and a few different ways that people plan their meals. Don't worry, it doesn't need to be daunting and it doesn't take much longer than simply writing a grocery list. (If you're already thinking this might be too much for you, skip to the bottom part that says "What if I'm overwhelmed?". It will help you muchly.)

How many meals to plan.
In reality, our family ends up eating outside our home at least one a week. More if we have a fellowship dinner at our church. So, the first thing you want to do is see how many meals your family will be eating at home each week.

Next, you want to think about whether you want to plan all of your meals, or just dinners. I personally just plan our dinners because breakfast tends to be the same rotation of dishes, and lunch is usually leftovers, salad or a sandwich. Some people even like to plan snacks. Whatever works for you.

How long to plan for.
I plan for a week at a time. A reader commented that she plans for two weeks at a time because that's when her paycheck comes in and she goes grocery shopping. Makes good sense to me! Some people even plan for a month at a time. They do one big shopping list per month and then just do a few short trips for perishable items in between. I tried this one time, and found out right after I'd gone shopping that my husband needed to go on a special diet, so a lot of that food and time planning went to waste. I decided that life is too unpredictable for that method. Some people even shop and cook just one day a month for the whole month, and then pull the already made dinners out of the freezer each night. This website is a good resource if you're interested in trying this method out. Let me know if you try it!

What to cook.
This is the fun part, but it can also be intimidating. If you love to cook, set aside a few nights a week to try new recipes. A lot of people find that it helps to do "theme nights" to provide a guideline each week. We do this sometimes. It would look like this:

Monday: Chicken night
Tuesday: Vegetarian night
Wednesday: Mexican night
Thursday: Date night
Friday: Fish night
Saturday: Beef night
Sunday: Crock pot night

Of course, you might make a mexican dish with beef in it or a crock pot recipe for chicken, but it's just nice to have a general guideline. If you're on a tight budget, do a soup night and a bean night. You could also do a breakfast for dinner night. There are a lot of options.

I like to take it one cookbook at a time. Each week, I cook a few recipes out of that cookbook that look good to me. It's fun trying new dishes and it helps me keep from getting stuck in a rut.

What if I'm overwhelmed and I don't know how to cook much?
This is no problem! Make a list of dishes that your family likes and you can easily make. Write them down. There's your meal plan! When your list runs out, start over. Make a goal to try one new recipe per week, and you'll eventually have enough items on your list to fill a whole month. You could repeat the same month meal plan for a few months and no-one would even notice. After all, the same meal would only come around once each month!

In the first 2 months after Izzy was born, we had the same meal plan each week and I could easily shop for several weeks in one trip. It looked like this:

Chicken casserole
Date night
Church fellowship dinner

I eventually got tired of this and branched back out into cooking more, but it was nice not having to think about dinner while trying to figure out all that new parent business!

Ok guys, that's about it. On Monday, I want us to share our meal plans so that we can help each other with ideas and recipes! I'll be sharing some sample meal plans on Friday. See you then!

This post was shared at Fight Back Friday.


  1. Just wanted to share... there is a great website called that basically plans your meals on a weekly basis for only $5 a month. You could chose all different kinds of diets (low cal, normal, vegetarian) and you can even choose what store you shop at for a customized ingredient list. The menus are designed to keep you at $75 per week. We use this and found that if you really stick to it (which is always key!) it definitely saves you money on your budget. : )

  2. I don't fully plan but we always know that Tuesday is Taco Tuesday - and everyone always looks forward to it! I like your theme idea.