So you want to Meal Plan, but you just don’t know where to start?

Good friends of ours recently asked for some meal planning advice. I sent off this email to her, and then realized that hey, someone else might want to read this as well, so I’m sharing it here. Hope it helps you out!

Okay! You want to meal plan? Then lets get this party started! I’ve got a four prong approach for you guys to try and it starts like this;

1) Fall Back Meals- Pick about 5-10 meals that everyone likes, are simple to make, and take no fresh fresh food like cilantro or lettuce. So only root veggies that keep well, frozen produce, dairy products that keep for weeks and weeks, things you can keep in your pantry and freezer. These are things for us like a quick potato soup, quesadillas, baked potatoes with canned baked beans, sour cream and cheddar (and whatever other toppings are around), Pasta carbonara, split pea soup, baked sausages with rice and applesauce, salmon cakes made with canned salmon or chick pea curry with rice. I kinda have a few vegetarian (no meat to thaw!), a few quick to throw in the crockpot in the morning, and a few last minute quick to make meals.


They may not be dinners that you’d always ideally make (i.e. not overflowing fresh produce…), but they’ll save your hide when you need a last minute meal to throw together. Quite often they’re meals for me that cost more than a usual meal (pasta carbonara with bacon and cream), but its’ still cheaper than take out. Thats how I see it in my head. Once you’ve got your list, make a master grocery list of ingredients needed to make all those meals. If you have everything on this list, you can make any meal on your list. The vast majority of our fall back meals are all made from staples we like to keep on hand anyhow, so it’s not like I have to buy them special, I just have to make sure I’ve always got them in stock. I keep my “Fall Back Meals” list taped inside a kitchen cabinet, along with the master grocery list for it. It might make more sense for you to have it on your phones so you can reference it at work and grocery store if need be.

2) Make a Meal Plan Skelaton. I talked about that on a blog post right here. But here’s the short version as well; On a blank piece of paper write the 7 days of the week. You’re going to assign a “theme” to each day. Things to consider when assigning a theme to a day…is this a day we’re always super busy? Is this a day I could spend a little bit more time? So themes can be by protein (chicken night, beef night, bean night, etc). Themes can be by cooking style (soup, crockpot, bbq, stir fry) and themes can be by ethnicity too. Pizza night, pasta night, indian night, breakfast for dinner, taco tuesday,  are all fun. Also, because you both work full time, I think you should pick a night or two a week where you do just chuck a Costco lasagna in the freezer or grab a pot pie from the grocery store. Instead of it being like “oh man, we failed and bought a pot pie”, plan for it! Know that on Thursdays, your Husband is going to pick up something at the store and thats your dinner plan for the night. There is no shame in that! A blog I follow where they both work full time, they always plan Friday night as their ‘night off’ on their meal plan. I like to do something thats good for lots of leftovers on monday so Marius has good choices for lunches as well. (They chose Kids Pick as their Sunday night theme, I love it!)
3) Double whatever you can. Are you making rice? Why not plan to make 2x as much as you need to make fried rice the next night, or to have with whatever you’re making the next night. Mark beside the item on the menu plan so you know to do so and to buy ingredients accordingly. Can you make twice as much pasta sauce and freeze half? Can you make twice as many burgers and freeze half? The possibilites are endless. You don’t need to worry about freezing a whole meal, just having components up your sleeve in the freezer will often be enough to just spark an idea. Oh, I’ve got meatballs in the freezer?…why don’t I make a cabbage meatball soup, or sweet and sour meatballs, or pour the bag of meatballs in the crockpot, pour bbq sauce overtop, turn on low and at dinner we’ve got that part covered! Doubling whatever I can is my best friend.
4) Last but not least…you’re going to meal plan! Yay! Figure out what day of the week works best for you to meal plan and either grocery shop later in the day, or meal plan and grocery shop the next day. Pick a day that you know you can pretty much keep to, thats not a super busy day. Just because you’re planning ahead doesn’t mean you should pick a bunch of fancy things or new recipes either. It just means you’re writing down what you’re making. I like to write out my meal plan on a piece of paper and have it somewhere really obvious. You could tape it to your fridge, you could have it in your phone or on google calendar. The world is your oyster. I start by writing out the 7 days of the week as well as the date by each day. I grab my calendar and look to see what is going on. Ain’t nobody wanna plan a big dinner when you’re actually working late that day. Take out your meal plan skeleton and all you have to do is fill it in. Monday is crockpot day? Perfect, lets have pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions. Tuesday is stir fry night? Hmmm…I’m feeling like chicken teriyaki stir fry. Wednesday is our night off? I think that Costco lasagna sounds perfect. Thursday is pasta night? Lets have marinara and I’ll make double and freeze a pan of noodles and sauce. So while it takes some work up front to make a meal plan skeleton, it makes your planning every week go way faster because you have ideas. You don’t have have to come up a bunch of new ideas every week, you yourself have made the plan and it’ll spark ideas and recipes that you like. I call it brainless meal planning. Now when you’re done making this meal plan, you’re going to make a grocery list. Everything you need for the weeks meal plans, lunch supplies, plus do you have everything on your master grocery list for fall back meals? Then it’s off to the grocery store you go…


{She told me that sat down on Sunday morning, turned on a cartoon for the kids, had a coffee date in the kitchen, and planned out their meals for the week. I love it!}

Something to consider when when you choose to meal plan, is maybe planning on the weekend and allowing yourself a couple hours after grocery shopping to make ahead some things. Chop veggies, make a jar of salad dressing, bake some potatoes. Whatever would help your week to get done ahead of time, see what you could do. You’ll love yourself later for it!

xoxo and good luck!

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