How to Meal Plan

I have had several questions from others about how I can plan all my meals for a week and only shop once a week. I’m going to attempt to explain how I do it. I really think that meal planning is one way to cut down on your grocery bills. I have been reading this blog on budgeting, which is helping me to keep going. Being on 1 income is making this process much more important.

1. I take a little piece of paper and write a letter for each day of the week (usually 5-7 days). I take another piece of paper and start a grocery list. I put any staple items we are out of down first (flour, butter, etc.). I have tried fancier ways of doing this (palm pilot, special notebook, Google Calendar type stuff) but they are too complicated and give me a headache.

2. I try to think of at least 2 meals that use what I already have. If I need a few more ingredients, I write those on the grocery list.

3. I then get out my recipe binder and cookbooks and try to fill in the other days of the week with meal ideas (just dinners). I try to alternate chicken with beef or pork recipes, and add one day of vegetarian and one of fish. Another thing I do that helps when I hit an inevitable brain freeze is go to some old standbys: breakfast night, spaghetti, tacos, hamburgers. As I add a meal, I also add all the ingredients I don’t have on hand to my list.

4. What the final meal plan looks like will depend on how energetic I am feeling. Some weeks I try 2 or 3 new recipes, some weeks it is all old standbys. What matters most is that I have a plan.

5. I hang the plan on the fridge, add lunch / breakfast and snack items to the grocery list, and go to the store!

6. I try not to go to the store A: Hungry* or B: With Wes or especially C: A Hungry Wes

Keep in mind that I got the planning gene, but it only applies to long-term planning (like thinking past today). I have been meal planning like this since my second year of college. I just made a plan of all the races I am going to do next year. I plan goals for each year and plan trips a month ahead of time or more. Yup – I have the planning gene.
However, when it comes to planning out what to do each day, I am a total mess. This is why I can’t find my keys and often say I’ll be in two places at the same time. For instance, *today I went to Costco hungry, with Abi. When you leave the house at 10:30 to do errands, you should think about lunch, but I don’t/can’t. What happened was a little victory. They had all the sample people out at Costco. So, Abi got a free lunch with lots of variety and I had enough snacks to keep me going until we got home. We stayed on budget. Yay!

I think I will add a post in a few days about two other tips for meal planning. Despite doing a weekly plan for a while, I still have trouble buying enough lunch and snack food. Comment with any questions / suggestions and I will try to answer in the next post!


5 responses to “How to Meal Plan

  1. THis is awesome. This is my third week meal planning for the week – planning 7 meals and going to the store once. It is the first month I have been within $10 of our overall food budget, and have been less tired to fix meals when I get home – b/c i already have a plan for what i am going to do and all the ingredients i need. I am for it!

  2. BTW; This is my 30th year of meal planning!!

    It gets easier and easier, until you can do it in your head on the weeks you don’t want to try anything new. At this point, I go for those ready made sauces and dry mixes. They add a lot of flavor and are very quick to put together.

    I use a computerized standard shopping list when I feel really adamant about stocking up the larder.

    The only way I was ever able to get any help with cooking was when I could tell them what was planned AND have all the ingredients on hand. 🙂

  3. I meal plan for the most part, but I also get scared that I will forget something, even though I bring a list, so often I buy more. It is so hard for me to get out of the house with two kids if I forget. I am sure it will get easier as the kids get older. Thanks for posting the ideas!

  4. Thanks for the article Laura, I did my meal planning for the first time last week. It helped to streamline our shopping, but the snacks are still the problem. But, we were able to stick to the plan until Thursday. (Which is awesome for us). Our food budget is still our splurge, we are better about eating the veg we buy, but the weakness right now is all the citrus. Strawberry season will be dangerous…so tempting….

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