Back to Basics: Meal Planning For Beginners

posted by Andrea | 02/2/2017
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meal planning for beginners

Over the past several years, I’ve shared so many posts about meal planning. Even still, “meal planning” continues to be one of the top questions I get from readers — how to start, what type of meals to plan, how I do it, ways to streamline and simplify it, etc. etc. etc.

Every time I get another question, I think to myself, “certainly, there is nothing else I can say about meal planning.” But then I always seem to come up with more!

I suppose I feel somewhat passionate about the simplifying “power” of meal planning — mainly because I know how little effort it takes once you find your groove, and also how HUGE the benefits are. Not only do I save loads of time, energy, and stress (especially right around 5:00 when the house is already crazy)… I also save a considerable amount of money by planning my meals around what I already have in the house (so we don’t waste food) and by what’s on sale at the grocery store.

That said, I fully understand how overwhelming (and not extremely fun) meal planning can seem — especially if you’ve never done it before, if you’re not a natural planner, if you don’t particularly love cooking or being in the kitchen, if you’ve tried before and failed, if you have allergies or other picky eaters, if your spouse isn’t appreciative of your efforts, if you are a perfectionist, etc.

If you fit into any of those categories, please know that meal planning most likely won’t be quite as enjoyable or quite as quick and easy. However, if meal planning is something you really want to do, I am still confident that with a little extra effort and persistence on your part, you can learn to create very basic meal plans that WILL simplify your life — or at the very least, your dinner hour!

Also, before I go any further, I want to mention that it’s totally fine if you’re not into meal planning. I know LOTS of people who really have no interest in meal planning — and therefore, don’t create weekly meal plans. These people still eat, they still live happy lives, and they still function as normal adults (well, most of them anyway!)

I certainly don’t think everyone MUST create weekly meal plans — and if you’re someone who doesn’t have a strong desire to meal plan, don’t feel pressured to start JUST because I do it (or because your friends or relatives do it).

If you have a good routine or system that works for you — or if you just like not having a meal planning system, that’s fine. This post is geared for the people who DO want to meal plan but just don’t know how to get started.

So… that’s where I come in (hopefully!)

Today, I have 3 of the most simple, most basic tips I could think of for anyone who desperately wants to start meal planning but just can’t find the right system or method for their family.

1. Don’t Over-Think it

I cannot tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from people who say things like “I’ve been thinking about trying meal planning for XX number of months, but just haven’t gotten around to doing it”

Seriously!

I realize many of these comments come from people with strong perfectionist tendencies and they don’t want to do anything unless they think it can be done perfectly (I know how paralyzing that can be for so many people). Yet, at the same time, I don’t remember ever THINKING about anything for multiple months without taking some sort of action-steps towards DOING it.

There is no magic potion or super-special tip I can give you to “stop thinking and start doing”… you must simply decide for yourself that it’s time and you ARE going to plan a week’s worth of meals.

I’m hoping the 2 additional tips I’m sharing below will offer you more encouragement and guidance, but for now, I’m going to steal Nike’s tagline… JUST DO IT!

Meal planning is not an exact science. There is no “one right way”… so essentially, you can’t mess up!

2. Don’t Over-Complicate it

So…you want to start meal planning, but you’re totally intimidated by the thought of it. After all, look at all those people out there planning several months worth of meals at a time, grocery shopping once a month, doing massive freezer-cooking days, and cleaning up piles upon piles of dirty dishes after their massive freezer-cooking days.

You can’t make the time for that!

Well guess what, neither can I — but I still meal plan!

Take a deep breath and try not to make things too complicated. Don’t worry about planning breakfast, lunches, or snacks (at least for now). Don’t worry about keeping a spreadsheet or organizing everything with fancy printable meal planning documents. Don’t worry about freezer cooking, shopping the sales, or even shopping your pantry. Just pick 4 – 7 meals that you and your family like to eat and write them down on a piece of scratch paper. 

There… you have your first meal plan!

Now, make a list of ingredients you’ll need for those recipes, check your pantry and freezer to see if you have any of them, and buy the rest from the grocery store.

Then next week, do the same exact thing over again — just maybe pick new recipes!

Meal planning is NOT complicated unless you overthink it (as I mentioned above) and put tons of pressure on yourself to do much more than you need to do.

I’ve been meal planning since Dave and I got married (going on 11 years now) and I’ve never planned for more than 1 week at a time. I’ve never planned breakfasts, lunches, or snacks. I’ve never done massive freezer cooking days, and I’ve certainly never gone grocery shopping for an entire month.

Oh yeah, and don’t feel like you need to pick fancy or gourmet recipes either. We regularly have spaghetti and salad, grilled cheese with tomato soup, pancakes and bacon, or tacos on our menu plan. I also usually incorporate at least a couple fast food meals each month (usually once to Culver’s, Arby’s and Little Caesars).

The point of meal planning is not to make elaborate meals, its that you have a plan, you have the ingredients in the house, and you know you won’t be stuck with nothing to eat at 5:00 when everyone is STARVING.

3. Don’t Over-Do it

If you’ve never meal-planned before, you might be tempted to try out 7 brand new recipes the very first week — and unless you have an army of hungry teens to eat all your food, you’ll probably end up with a boatload of leftovers after that first week (and you’ll probably feel totally exhausted from all your time in the kitchen).

Although Dave and I both love leftovers, my suggestion (especially for smaller families, empty nesters, young marrieds, singles, people with small children, etc.) is to plan 4 or 5 meals per week, eat leftovers, salads, sandwiches, frozen pizza, etc. 1 or 2 times per week, and then go out to eat once. This seems to be a really good balance — especially if you’re new to meal planning — and it almost assures you won’t end up with a fridge full of leftovers at the end of the week.

Even for larger families, I would encourage you to plan 5 or 6 meals to start… and then use 1 or 2 nights as “freebie” nights. Either go out to eat, make something super simple that doesn’t require much prep-work or cleanup, or polish off any leftovers.

I’ve gotten pretty efficient with my meal planning over the past several years, so I’m to the point where I only need to cook 2-3 meals per week (read more about that in this post) For me, just knowing that I don’t need to need to physically prepare and clean up a meal every single night of the week is enough to make sure I don’t get burnt out and to keep meal planning fun and worthwhile.

Even if you don’t have the money or desire to “go out” to eat, you can still have an easy night by just making sandwiches or letting everyone fend for themselves (considering they are old enough to make their own food).

Are you encouraged and motivated to give meal planning another try?

Just say you’ll try it for one week — no strings attached. Spend 10 minutes thinking of 4-6 meals your family likes… and then make a list of ingredients you need to buy to make those meals.

Then, for one week (you can do anything for a week!) be really diligent about looking at your meal plan, deciding what meal to make on what night, preparing any foods the night before or the morning of… and enjoying the fabulousness that comes when you don’t feel frazzled and stressed out at 5:00.

What do you have to lose?

As I was typing this post, I was racking my brain trying to come up with any potential negative side-effects that could come as a result of meal planning for one week… and the ONLY thing I could come up with was the fact that you could potentially feel somewhat discouraged if the first week doesn’t go exactly as planned.

While I hope that’s not the case, I’d also like you to consider the fact that meal planning is a skill that needs to be learned — and how many skills have you learned (let alone mastered) on your first attempt?

That’s what I thought 🙂

Give it a week… and hopefully you’ll see some positive results. If not, email me and I’ll motivate you to try it for another week!

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49 comments

  1. Shan

    02/06/2017

    Andrea, we took our grandkids last Saturday to the local park district’s jungle gym to run off steam. As one mother came in to pick up her child, he asked, “Where are we going next?” Mom: “We’re going home for lunch.” Son: “What are we having for lunch?” Mom: “I don’t know yet, but we’ll have something at home.” Son: “How about Dunkin Donuts?” Mom: “How about NOT Dunkin Donuts!” Son: “How about Baskin Robbins?” Mom: “How about NOT Baskin Robbins!” Son: “How about McDonalds?” Mom: “How about NOT McDonalds! How about some real food!”
    On our way home, our little boys asked, “Can we have Michael’s pizza for lunch?” I replied: “No, we had that last week, remember? Today we’re having macaroni and cheese. I just need to run in to Aldi to pick up some pepperoni from the store on the way home.” (They like their mac & cheese broiled with pepperoni on top.) End of story 🙂 Meal planning saved the day!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is such a great example of how meal planning instantly simplifies our lives (or really, ALL planning simplifies our lives).

    Thanks for sharing this concrete example!

    [Reply]

  2. Kelly

    02/05/2017

    I have been meal planning for the past 13 years. I have a spreadsheet that is broken into categories (Friday night easy meals, kids night for kid type food, breakfast etc.). Each category has roughly 8 options for different meals. I then print out a blank calendar page and simply write in the different meals, including sides, for each day. I can usually plan out about 2 months worth of meals with different dishes each day. We also use “theme” nights to help fit our busy schedule. Our child has a very busy Monday, so we typically have soup and salad or soup and sandwiches that night. When I cook a soup I know we like, I always double it to freeze. I also double casseroles or try to use one food in multiple ways to make different meals (chili on a cold night and then I’ll use leftover thawed chili from the freezer for a chili bake dish my family enjoys). My husband will take leftovers for his lunch through the week so we never waste any food. We also have days planned to try new recipes, date night or family days where we usually eat out. This system has worked very well for us through the years and created many stress free nights!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is awesome — thanks so much for sharing your super organized system!

    [Reply]

    Shan Reply:

    Wow, Kelly, very impressive!

    [Reply]

  3. Mary Lynn

    02/04/2017

    This is so helpful and I appreciate your tips! I’ve recently found your blog (I like to keep a short list of the ones I read and have added yours!) I’ve been reading through some of your archived posts and done a search for this, so please let me know if you’ve already done a post on it: 1) Do you have a list or rough idea of what “good” prices you like to pay when meat is on sale? I know prices can vary by region but I’d love to see what you find as a good deal. Also, do you have a “system” for keeping your list of items that are in the freezer? Do you keep an excel doc or pencil list and add/scratch off as you go?

    I’m so glad I’ve found your site – it has been helpful to me already in a short time! I just organized all my gift cards using your system – so simple but smart!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Mary Lynn! I actually just used a gift card last night, and when I pulled out my gift card wallet, the cashier was so impressed 🙂

    I really have no idea what good prices for meat are. I know I personally don’t pay more than $1.99 for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I try to get pork loins for around $1.75 per pound, and I always buy a couple spiral hams when they go on sale for $0.99 per pound — but that’s about it. I haven’t purchased ground beef from the store in a long time since we get a 1/4 of a cow so I couldn’t even tell you what a good price for that is (maybe $2 a pound??)

    Also, I do not have any system for keeping track of what is in my freezer. Towards the end of this post, I share a bit more about how I organize the inside shelves of my freezer, but for the most part, I can just glance inside and see what I have.

    Hope this helps!

    [Reply]

  4. Meghan

    02/03/2017

    This is a great post – it is exactly how I meal plan. One thing I would add is to plan out which nights you want to have leftovers, especially if you are pretty conservative with how long food is safe to eat. I used to cook Monday-Thursday but really wasn’t using the leftovers to their maximum potential (just for lunches on the weekend). I switched to cooking a big meal Sunday night with plans to use the leftovers for dinner Tuesday. Plus it’s much easier for me to cook a real meal on Sundays than during the week because my husband is around to occupy the 20 month old.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I always plan at least one night a week for leftovers — I believe I mentioned that under point #3 as well!

    [Reply]

  5. Trudy

    02/03/2017

    My goal for 2017 is to clean out my freezer……been working on cooking what is in there so that I can declutter it (lol)……I don’t necessarily plan-plan my meals at this time, but when I buy meat, it break it into portions. For example……If I catch a sale on chicken, I individually wrap each breast, or package thighs in four, that way I can grab what I need and thaw during the day while I’m at work. I do keep frozen veggies in the freezer and have staples (rice, quinoa, pasta) in the pantry. We love soup and I find that Dollar Tree has chicken broth for $1 a carton, I stock up on that to add to my rice or make soup. We are empty nesters and love one dish meals.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is an awesome goal — I usually try to clean out my freezer every spring, so I can enjoy it being emptier over the summer (when we eat lighter food and don’t do as much freezer cooking or baking. It feels so great to know it has plenty of room!

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  6. Debbie

    02/02/2017

    The meal planning is a challenge for me. I’ve tried the freezer meals in the past and loved it but like you mentioned the clean up at the end is not fun. Our schedule is different in that my husband works early shift so he’s home by 3 pm and he has to eat his dinner by 5 pm. I don’t get home from work until 6:30 and eat my dinner at 7 pm. We need meals that’s ready to be eaten by my husband at 5 pm. What we’ve been doing is grocery shopping and preparing meals on the weekend. Sometimes there’s a meal plan, sometimes there isn’t. We grill chicken, buy rotisserie chicken, buy flat bread pizza, cut up veggies for salads on Saturday and Sunday. When Monday comes we have lunch to take to work and dinner when we get home all week. This means weekend is full of chores. 🙁

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah… I guess I personally don’t know anyone who works outside the home and also has their weekends free from chores (unless they pay others to do their chores for them during the week). Sounds like you have a good system down though — at least it’s working well for your current stage of life!

    [Reply]

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  10. srah

    02/07/2015

    Thank you for this post! I go in meal planning “waves”, where I’ll be really diligent about planning out the week for a couple weeks, but then I’ll become a little discouraged by either the unexpected leftovers and waste, or the leftovers will get scrupulously eaten in place of another planned meal, but then the ingredients for the skipped meal will go bad. Or hubby asks me to make him something else (he’s rather a food snob!). But when it does go well it is way less stressful for me. I’ve been using a binder to collect recipes that my family likes over the past couple years. Each meal gets its own tab (there are a couple dozen in there now) so when I plan I just peruse the tabs. I’m in the slow process of giving it a makeover, typing up each meal with its own shopping list, recipe/s, and even a picture included, which makes both my inner perfectionist and lazy-bum tendencies happy, ’cause sometimes you just don’t know what you want to eat until you see it. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — sounds like you have a good system working for you now! Thanks for sharing what’s working for you!

    [Reply]

  11. Candis

    02/07/2015

    Thank you, I needed the encouragement and not to overly complicate.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    You’re welcome Candis — sometimes simple really is better!

    [Reply]

  12. Aa.

    02/03/2015

    Freezer cooking (kind of the way you do, cooking 2 meals, one for tonight and one for freezer), having staples at home (pasta, rice, mexican veggies freezed mix, frozen pasta sauce, etc) and having a list of easy recipes that the familly loves are, in my opinion, great ways to start!

    When I begin a week I make a big pot of soup (for lunches-when we get to eat at home- that is rarely!) and for 1-2 dinner nights. I write a meal plan, but more like an idea, I do not follow it 100% and I am ok with that.

    I also love casseroles and stews (I think that eventhough they take a little bit longer to cook. you can eat 2-3 days on them!)

    And I also wash veggies and fruit sunday night or monday, after we buy them, so we can make really easy salads and fruit snacks. It takes a little bit of organizing, but mostly it takes a lot of ADAPTING things after your own life and schedule. You have to do what it works best for you and your family!

    [Reply]

  13. Carrie

    02/03/2015

    I have always done meal planning. I have owned a small business for the last 21 years, so time is limited. My kids are grown now and do their own meal planning. Here are a few more tips for readers:
    1. Get the family involved. Why do we think we need to do it all? As soon as my kids were old enough to use a knife and the stove (around 10 or 11), they were given one meal to cook per week. We let them choose the meal they wanted to cook and gave them full control. My kids have been prepping and assisting with cooking since the age of 4 or 5. My husband is also in charge of three meals per week. Having kids help with cooking is a great way to spend time together as well. Younger kids can retrieve ingredients from the pantry, wash veggies, use a potato masher, stir with a spoon, and many other simple tasks.
    2. Precut veggies. Now that my kids have moved out, I cut all fresh veggies the day I buy them. It saves a ton of time. Onions, green peppers, celery, garlic, etc. all keep well for a week or so. I wish I had done this years ago.
    3. Use a slow cooker. Throw everything in raw, add liquid, turn on, come home to a hot meal. Nothing is simpler.
    4. Cook two meals at once. I did this yesterday. I made chicken noodle soup while my spanish rice & beef were simmering. BTW: I like one pot meals. Less to clean up and easier to plan.

    I love your blog. Thanks for the great tips!

    [Reply]

  14. Victoria

    02/02/2015

    I can’t go to the store without a list or plan, since I’m not that type of cook. So have always done some sort of plan. I found a monthly free PDF menu calendar, that I’ve filled in a few times and saved. I did a whole month in January (though ended up adjusting a bit at the end of the month of course) but since food tends to be seasonal, it’s nice to look at the previous plans I saved for inspiration. I agree with not trying to much new, one new recipe a week is perfect. Gets too stressful otherwise! People have told me can’t plan ahead they feel like for dinner that night…well then change some nights around, but at least you have the ideas & food on hand! I also when I’m stuck for ideas, my husband asks to look through my pins & pepperplate recipes and picks a few he’d like!

    [Reply]

  15. Judy

    02/02/2015

    I enjoyed reading meal planning. For years, and years, played with the idea. I just did it. Being doing it for about a month. Plan for 2 weeks at a time. I use my cookbooks to find easy and different meals. It has certainly helped with my spending. We may not excatly eat what is planned for that night so leftovers come into play. But I pretty much follow my menu, and it is a good learning tool.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good for you for finally “just doing it”! Hope it continues to go well for you!

    [Reply]

  16. Siobhan

    02/02/2015

    Great motivation in this post! I’ve been working on getting my kiddos to eat more veges and to vary the foods they eat. This post is definitely helpful to keep it going despite the resistance 🙂

    [Reply]

  17. Meg

    02/02/2015

    I used to be in the perfectionist camp until I accepted the fact that my meals are heavily dictated by what I’m “in the mood for.”

    Rather than try to stick to a strict plan I come up with a few ideas that sound appealing at the start of the week and make sure I have the ingredients in the house. I do a lot of “prep and freeze”, too, so if my original plan no longer sounds good I can pull out turkey meatballs and sauce that I made 2 weeks ago to throw on top of spaghetti or defrost pre-marinated pork chops to pop in the oven. I freeze and prep veggies, too, so all I have to do is defrost and roast them at dinner time. If salad is on the menu at all pre-chop those veggies at the start of the week, mostly because it increases the likelihood that I’ll actually make and eat a salad after work.

    The final leg of my planning system is a set of simple fallback options. I almost always have stuff on hand for PB&J, tomato soup and grilled cheese, breakfast for dinner, and a few other favorites. Sometimes it’s whole wheat crackers, cheese, and an orange. But at least it’s “real food”. I try to eat whole, unprocessed foods most of the time so even cobbling together a plate of snacks at home is better for my body and my wallet than ordering takeout!

    [Reply]

  18. Nicola

    02/02/2015

    I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this post today. I used to regularly meal plan but for one reason and another I stopped……it’s been a nightmare! Thanks for this post today, I’m off to meal plan now!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay — good luck getting started again!

    [Reply]

  19. Melissa

    02/02/2015

    Thank you for the reminder that I don’t have to be super creative or a chef to do this. I’ve got a calendar printed out that I really try to write meals on for each day that it’s important we have a plan. I’ve recently added gym classes to my schedule so I really have to make sure I have a dinner plan for those nights, but we still have trouble every week making sure we know what we’re doing. I hate when we end up in a ‘what do you want for dinner’ more than once in a week, I want to make meals. But I also have a really picky eater (she’s 7) and one that’s willing to try (she’s 12)…so I have trouble always finding something they both might eat. I’m going to have to give up pleasing everyone I think, and just make a plan and stick with it, so we can all eat and accomplish our day’s tasks without so much worry. Thanks for the kick ! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I’m not ‘creative’ when it comes to meal planning either. We have very simple meals that are easy to make with simple ingredients that are easy to find. That’s probably the only way I’m able to make meal planning work for our busy family!

    [Reply]

  20. Emily

    02/02/2015

    Great advice Andrea! I love weekly meal planning although it took me several years into our marriage to get it down (even though it’s so simple). I just didn’t enjoy cooking back then and now I love it! One tip I would add is talk with your husband about his expectations for meals in your home. I kept planning meals for Satuday evenings and we ended up never eating at home due to projects or errands we were trying to get done. I finally ask my husband about it and we determined that Saturdays would be our evening to eat out as a family. No more wasted food and time for me! ☺️

    [Reply]

  21. Gina

    02/02/2015

    When planning our menu I use your tip of theme nights. We dont have set nights, but I choose menus from your categories of mexican, casserole/stew, breakfast, meat & Italian. It makes planning easier and we arent eating the same thing every night 🙂 Thank you for that great idea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you’re welcome Gina 🙂
    The themes often help me too — although we don’t always stick to the theme on the exact days anymore. We just usually plan pasta one night, mexican one night, a meat/potatoes dish one night, a casserole one night, out to eat and/or leftovers one night, etc. etc.

    it’s been working well for us for several years now!

    [Reply]

    Rhonda Reply:

    I agree – that “theme” tip helped me immensely. It’s definitely a good place to start.

    [Reply]

  22. Pamela

    02/02/2015

    Thank you so much for the motivation, Andrea! I don’t love to cook, and I have perfectionist tendencies, so meal planning can be a real chore for me. You’ve inspired me to keep at it though! Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good luck! Just keep making simple recipes and hopefully that will make things feel less overwhelming for you.

    [Reply]

  23. julie

    02/02/2015

    After the birth of my 2nd daughter when our first had only just turned 1, my husband and i became meal planning rockstars. It was a matter of survival! We did a big grocery shopping trip every 2 weeks and took turns, so we each only had to shop once a month. There were a few items we might pick up in the meantime, but only if we really had to (like milk or fresh vegetables). Having a large freezer helped tremendously.

    However, now that the girls are older (ages 5 & 6), they often don’t like what i’ve made, especially when i’m trying something new — or one will love it and the other will hate it. Needless to say, i had gotten very frustrated. My solution now is to print out a blank menu for the week, which includes the lunches they take to school. Then i put it on a clipboard and hand it to my older daughter (she loves to makes lists, totally a first-born, ha! ha!). We work together to plan out our week so no one has a reason to complain. So far it’s made my life MUCH easier.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow, that’s awesome! I don’t think Dave would go for grocery shopping (but he helps with tons of other things so I can’t complain) but shopping once a month would be fabulous 🙂

    Glad you found a system that’s working well for your family!

    [Reply]

    Carrie Reply:

    Getting the kids involved is a great idea! When my girls were young and picky they loved being able to choose a meal of their own. We had them assisting in cooking from about the age of 4 or 5. It’s amazing what veggies they’ll try if they help cook them and/or make a tasty sauce for them. This works well for my grandkids too.

    [Reply]

  24. Sherry

    02/02/2015

    I love to cook and experiment with new recipes. When I first started meal planning I would plan out all these new and complicated meals. That soon got overwhelming. With practice I’ve learned to have a few simple meals on the menu with just one or two a week that are a little more involved. I always have at least one meal planned that does not require any fresh ingredients. Something like canned soup and sandwiches or pasta and jarred sauce. That way if something comes up and our plans change that meal is the one that is dropped and none of the ingredients will go bad or are wasted. Then it just gets added on to next weeks plan.

    Great post Andrea! I use many of your recipes regularly and they always turn out great!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Sherry — and yes, making new and “involved” recipes every night would get old really fast! If I’m trying a brand new recipe one night, then I’ll make sure to have a few super easy recipes or freezer meals planned for the next couple nights.

    [Reply]

  25. Jen

    02/02/2015

    I LOVE this! I have meal planned very loosely for almost our entire 26 years of marriage but, recently, with a new job and busy teenagers, it’s fallen by the wayside. I spent much of yesterday copying recipes and getting my act together (I am, by nature, an extremely organized person and the stack of printed out recipes on my desk was making me crazy!).

    I literally made a list of EVERY SINGLE meal we eat “regularly”-or at least ones we like and have enjoyed in the past. In about 10 minutes, I had a list of 57 meals! Then, I made sure I had the recipe for EVERY meal in an easy-to-find place. I don’t want to have to fire up the ipad or dig through bookmarked recipes to find it. Plus, I find something endearing about having recipes written in my own hand (and hope my children might enjoy them some day!), so I hand wrote a few that needed it. Now, all my meal “options” are easily visible and I know where to find the recipes. I am starting with using up what’s in the freezer so meals with those ingredients are on the docket for this week (and maybe next! :-/). After that, on Sundays, I will look at my list, pick five meals (maybe based on the grocery store sales although I don’t tend to shop every week), get what I need at the store and, lo and behold, I have a PLAN!!

    I think the stress of having to be “creative” (because I am SO NOT creative!) and come up with new ideas each week stood in my way. I am hoping the list of tried and true meals I know we like will prevent that brain freeze. After 47 years, I feel like I have finally given myself permission to be okay with not being a creative or risky cook! My family likes what they like and THAT’S OKAY! Heck, my teenage boys just want FOOD! And, honestly, they LOVE asking me at breakfast what’s for dinner and knowing mom has a plan! I feel like it’s, in a strange way, very reassuring for them.

    Like you said, meal planning isn’t for everyone! But, in this house, t sure is nice to have dinner figured out by 10 a.m. every day-at the latest! 🙂 Happy Monday!

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    Jaime Reply:

    I made a master list of recipes too! It’s in a sleeve protector and stuck to the side of the fridge where I can easily grab it. It’s also easy to pull it out and add a new recipe we find and like.

    I’m also so very not creative at this stuff. When we started soon after getting married, we also simplified it more with a theme for each day (Italian Tuesdays, Chicken Wednesdays, etc.) and just filled in the blanks with what from our sheet sounded good and we had ingredients for. Since then we’ve branched out more. I think meal planning can be as easy or as difficult as you make it!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I have often thought about making a huge master list of all our recipes — or even making 2 months worth of meal plans at a time, and then just rotating back through them every two months all year long. The only thing that has stopped me from doing that is because we tend to gravitate towards different types of foods in the summer versus in the winter. Maybe I’ll make a 2-month cold weather plan and a 2-month warm weather plan and then I’ll be set for meal planning forever!!

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    Liane Reply:

    I have a pretty similar system. I built my menus around the proteins that are the most costly part of the weekly shopping trip.

    I admit I did not invent this but I have changed it around so much since the original concept predates computers. We bought our first computer in 1988 so it older than that. I have replaced the paper list with the Grocery IQ app free for iOS users, and they have a website as well.

    I started out with a list of all my family favorite meals in each category – beef, chicken, pork, lamb and specialty. These are the main ingredient categories. Then I added a spring summer side dish and a fall winter side dish. I made ten cards for each category for each season type.
    As I created the menus I put every single ingredient on a master list. That is now on my iPads and phone and syncs with the website.
    I still shop ads for meat, dairy and veggies and just pick 6 menus based on the best deals. We always have a leftovers night. I don’t adhere to a rigid schedule- we have a family dinner every other Wed. night and I’d hate to serve my daughter and family chicken every time the visit. So roughly I will alternate beef, chicken, fish, and repeat. Leftovers go to lunch the next day usually as a salad.

    I do stick my menu cards up on a cabinet door interior and I always double check them each morning to make sure I defrost the right protein or have the right veggies. I sorta punt on the veggies though since I may put broccoli on the list and it is old and floppy so I will get a nutritional equiv. like swapping sweet potatoes for carrots, or yellow squash for zucchini.

    The only other thing I do that makes life simple is I always cook fresh local. Meaning no asparagus until it’s growing here, and no avocados till they are from Calif. I don’t ever buy imported produce so it makes shopping very simple!

    I spend 1 day a month stocking up my meat in the freezer. The other stuff I buy weekly. I’ve done this nearly 40 years and it works!

    My method is based on a book I bought way back when called Sidetracked Sisters Catch Up In The Kitchen by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. It’s on Amazon I think.

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    Annette Silveira Reply:

    I remember The Sidetracked Sisters! I think I read them back when I was trying to figure out a cleaning schedule.

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    Liane Reply:

    Gosh this was an old comment! I re read it and one thing has changed – makes planning even easier! I used Grocery IQ for years but had to replace my iPhone and got a Plus model. The problem with Grocery IQ was the scale of the fonts on the screen. They ballooned making the right half of an item chopped off. It became useless. So I looked for something new and I found the app to beat all. It’s called AnyList, it works across all my devices, has no ads no coupons no brand names, because it does not populate the fields, you do. And you can do menus plus add recipes from any place on the Internet. It’s free if you don’t want the advanced features. like naming lists after stores and creating custom aisles. If you upgrade it’s only $7.99 a year. A year! I spend that much a week on Starbucks!!!

    Andrea glad you resurrected this old post – gave me an opportunity to tell you all about AnyList. I’m not getting anything for this “promotion “. I just think the app is awesome.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes, every couple of weeks I’ve been trying to resurrect an old post to keep things circulating a bit more 🙂
    Also, I’ll have to check out AnyList now!

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