A Detailed Look At Our Weekly Meal Plans

posted by Andrea | 10/17/2018

About a year after I started blogging (even before Nora was born), I shared our relatively simple, very straight-forward, weekly meal planning method.

This method of meal planning involved set themes for each night of the week (Mexican, Italian, Soup/Salad, Meat/Potatoes, Leftovers, etc.) and worked wonderfully for us for many, many years — honestly, the concept still works for us now!

This method offers loose structure to my weekly meal plans without being too rigid about specific meals. It offers variety without too many choices, and helps me wrap my brain around planning meals for our family every week (yes, even after 10+ years of doing it, I still don’t jump up and down about meal planning!)

However, 8 years and 4 children later, my meal planning methods have morphed and changed a bit — which is probably only normal considering how much my life has morphed and changed!

We still try to incorporate a good variety of foods into our weekly meal plan… but we no longer eat only certain foods on specific nights, we no longer have 1 night dedicated to “eating out”, and we almost never have leftovers for dinner as we usually eat them for lunch throughout the week.

That said, much of my meal-planning process still looks the same.

  • I still plan a meal for each night of the week
  • I still try to plan these meals around what we have in the pantry, freezer, garden, etc.
  • I still try to incorporate sale items and in-season produce from the store.
  • I still try to use simple recipes that can be made ahead, taste good as leftovers, and can be frozen if I choose to make a double batch.

Although I’ve shared many posts about meal planning over the years, it continues to be one of the most requested post topics… so I’m back again with a more detailed look at what exactly we eat and how I plan all our meals each week.

I’m even including breakfast and lunches in this post!

Here’s a sample meal plan for our family of 6.

BREAKFAST:

Since our family loves eating hot breakfasts, I have a rotating list of hot breakfast foods I make every day. I’m to the point now where I actually write down the breakfast plan for each day next to my dinner plan (which I’ve always written in my planner).

Our family eats breakfast together pretty much every day — minus Dave, who eats breakfast before everyone else on school mornings.

WEEKDAY BREAKFASTS: 

I rotate between the following 5 options on weekday mornings —  all served with a variety of fresh fruit.

  1. Pancakes or puff pancakes and scrambled or fried eggs
  2. French toast or french toast casserole and sausage.
  3. Oatmeal and muffins or toast
  4. Waffles and sausage or bacon
  5. Omelettes or quiche and toast

SATURDAY BREAKFAST: 

  • We almost always have a really big breakfast — hash-browns, eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles or pancakes, fruit or smoothies, etc.

SUNDAY BREAKFAST:

  • We almost always have cinnamon rolls, eggs, and fruit — sometimes store bought cinnamon rolls, sometimes homemade.

HELPFUL LINKS: 

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LUNCH:

Growing up, Dave and I both enjoyed huge lunches on Sunday afternoon — roasts, mashed potatoes, veggies, rolls, etc. We continued this tradition for a few years after we were married until we ultimately decided it didn’t work well for us.

We now treat our noon meal the same as every single day of the week, and it seems to have simplified our meal planning SO much!

Our lunches now consist of a variety of the following — all packed the night before on school nights!

  • Leftovers from dinner the night before (Dave and my preference)
  • BIG Salads (my next favorite)
  • Meat and cheese (the kids favorite — sliced summer sausage, pepperoni, and various cheeses)
  • Sandwiches (ham, turkey, salami, PB & J)
  • Wraps or quesadillas (some type of meat and cheese in a toasted tortilla)

We serve every lunch with at least one item in each of the groups below.

  • Fresh fruit
  • Raw veggies with ranch or hummus
  • Chips, pretzels, crackers or nuts

HELPFUL LINKS: 

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DINNER:

Dinner is still our biggest meal of the day, as well as the one I spend the most time preparing, planning, cooking, etc.

If we have guests over, it’s almost always for dinner; and although we almost never go out to eat these days, we do occasionally enjoy Culver’s or Arby’s for dinner — usually at home!

MONDAY – SATURDAY DINNERS: 

Although I don’t specifically assign a type of food to each night of the week, I do try to incorporate variety into our meals. Also, we don’t have breakfast for dinner very often anymore as we enjoy hot breakfasts every morning.

Over the past 10 months or so, I’ve been trying to incorporate MANY new recipes and styles of cooking into my weekly meal plans (I shared more about this in my Peek Into My Week post earlier this week).

My goal has been to try at least one brand new recipe every week — it might just be a side dish, bread, or dessert, but many times it’s a new main dish. It takes some extra work to plan and prepare foods I’m not used to making, but Dave and I have really enjoyed the variety, and our kids have learned to like (or at least tolerate) many new foods!

  1. Traditional meat and potatoes meal (roast, pork loin, ham, tilapia) with roasted veggies, fruit, rolls or bread, etc.
  2. Some sort of pasta (often zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash) with steamed or roasted vegetables, garlic bread, salad, fruit, etc.
  3. Some sort of Mexican food (often quesadillas, taco salads, burritos) with guacamole, chips, salsa, salad, fruit, etc.
  4. Something grilled (brats, burgers, pork chops, salmon, chicken) with baked sweet potatoes, squash or rice, grilled veggies
  5. Some sort of casserole (tatertot, chicken broccoli rice, chicken and stuffing, chicken cordon blue, taco pie, etc.) with at least one vegetable and one fruit
  6. Some sort of soup, stew, salad, sandwich, and/or wrap combo meal with fresh bread, crackers, rolls, fruit, raw veggies

SUNDAY DINNER/SUPER:

  • One Sunday a month, our church has a “supper service” which we enjoy. On the other Sundays, we almost always have frozen or homemade pizza with salad, raw veggies and fruit.

HELPFUL LINKS: 

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That’s roughly what our weekly meals look like right now.

I have a couple more “follow-up” posts I plan to do in the next month or two — meal planning just includes SO much information, I feel like I can’t put it all in one post or it will be overwhelming (and meal planning does not need to be overwhelming).

I have had seasons of life where I did the absolute bare minimum for meal planning and food prep… and that’s OK. We ate a decent amount of processed foods, we ate lots of the same things over and over and over again, we ate very simple meals… but my family never went hungry and we never had an empty fridge or pantry.

Currently, I spend more time planning, prepping, and making food than ever before (I’ll elaborate on this in a future post!)

The point is, I always have a meal plan!

It doesn’t matter if that meal plan is mac and cheese, frozen pizza, grilled cheese, and cold cereal or if it’s goat cheese tarts, homemade calzones, grilled salmon, and spaghetti squash burrito bowls.

As long as I know what we’re eating for our meals, what I need to defrost from the freezer, what I need to buy from the store, or what I need to prep throughout the day — if I can achieve this, our days will run smoother, meal time will come and go without crazy amounts of indecision or anxiety, and we won’t be tempted to resort to fast food or takeout on a regular basis.

Where To Start?

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to meal planning, my suggestion would be to simply pack lunches, and plan tomorrow’s breakfast and dinner before you go to bed tonight.

  • Choose meals you can make with ingredients you already have in the house.
  • Choose meals you know how to make easily so it doesn’t feel like you’re spending all day in the kitchen.
  • Choose meals your family will eagerly eat
  • Add simple side dishes like fruit (canned, fresh, frozen) and a slice of bread or a can of corn

Commit to sticking with the meal plan for the day — and then do it again tomorrow night. Eventually, you should be able to work up to planning a full week at a time — but just stick to daily meal planning if the full week seems overwhelming.

If you’ve never planned your meals before, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how nice it feels not to wonder “what’s for dinner” when everyone is hungry, crabby, and tired after a long day.

You might never learn to LOVE meal planning (I still don’t) but you will hopefully love the results of having your meals planned out ahead of time, which will motivate you to stick with it!

What are your biggest meal planning hurdles?

What do you love (or hate) most about  meal planning?

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23 comments

  1. Kim

    11/05/2018

    Now that you shop at Aldi sometimes, you should try their cinnamon rolls. I just bought them, they were REALLY good and cheap. Good for a quick breakfast once in a while.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know — thanks for the suggestion Kim!

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  2. Diana

    10/18/2018

    I love hearing how other people menu plan! Right now I just plan dinners based on what’s on sale at the grocery store. Lunches are sandwiches, leftovers, or tuna salad (although I did recently make some dairy free/egg free pancake mix so maybe we can have some variety there without too much work!)

    I think most people who often eat at home have some kind of plan–and that “plan” can look so different. I have to do the week at a time and shop for it. Other people I know are able to shop every few days and be creative with whatever she has at the time to make something delicious, so the plans are more short-term. You have to find what works for you, and if it’s your first time trying to plan, you have to realize that it has a pretty steep learning curve! And if you have to go out to eat sometimes because your plan didn’t quite work out, it doesn’t mean you failed. It just means you learned something you can apply to the next plan. (I wish someone had told me that when I first started!)

    Also, this is unrelated to menu planning but it is food related. You mentioned your kids liking Yoplait strawberry yogurt the best and you’ve also mentioned taking baby steps to slightly healthier choices in some areas. My kids are the same way and I’ve started buying 1 Yoplait and 1 Dannon Whole Milk Plain and mixing them (I started with maybe 1/3 plain and 2/3 strawberry; now closer to half) and it seems to keep the texture the same and still enough flavor without quite as much sugar. Do NOT do that if you don’t want to or if you think your kids would revolt–I know you don’t feel pressured from other people anyway!–but I just wanted to make the suggestion in case it was something you’d been thinking about! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Diana!
    Also, we’ve totally been using that yogurt “trick’ for well over a year now. We’re at a solid half/half mixture between whole milk plain GREEK yogurt (which is thicker and they seem to like). They’ve even done just the plain yogurt with chopped up fruit and granola in it already — just the boys, not nora!

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    Diana Reply:

    Oh how funny!! I knew I was on to something good! 🙂 Which brand do you buy of whole milk, plain, Greek yogurt? A lot of the ones I can find are low or non-fat and they are chalky.

    My oldest likes yogurt with fruit (with a little honey or maple syrup)–we call it a yogurt bowl–but haven’t got my middle on board yet.

    I’m currently eating dairy free but as soon as I get dairy back I can’t wait to try all these new yogurt tricks.

    Also, just read your “practice makes it easier” post and it goes with this one so well! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    we almost always buy the Meijer brand. However, if I’m out of yogurt and somewhere that doesn’t have whole milk yogurt, I’ll buy the lowfat. I don’t think they taste any different 🙂

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  3. Nicky

    10/18/2018

    There are seasons of my life (like that phrase!) when it has been too much even to think about planning (4 kids, 2 jobs, and tiny 6′ by 6′ kitchen with no storage or freezer space) so I need to shop for just what is needed each week to be able to house it all. I am very grateful to the meal plan and shopping list service I subscribed to which meant I could order online from a set list and know the thinking was done for me. It was $5 per month and worth every penny. I learnt lots of new dishes too and knew if my older children or partner got home first they could just grab it and start dinner from the instructions. All I had to do was print it out and mark up which meal fit which night best.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    definitely seasons of life! We had a couple years after Nora was born where I felt like we lived on frozen food, sandwiches, and slow cooker meals. Not the end of the world, but I’m glad we’re past that phase!

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  4. Jennifer

    10/18/2018

    So here is my major hurdle – picky eaters! And not just one – all three of my kids (ages 10, 14, and 20 – although he’s away at school for the most of the year these days) and my hubby are all picky to some degree. There are exactly two vegetables that every member of the family will eat (and corn technically is not even a veggie) and not a single fruit that everyone will eat. I swore I would never make 5 different meals, so I don’t, but we end up with a very limited recipe cycle – which usually is very carb heavy. Your meals sound heavenly to me, but would be ridiculous to try to serve at my house. One doesn’t like meat, one doesn’t like vegetables or fruits, one doesn’t like casseroles, and one doesn’t like mushrooms, onions, and peppers. Add our insane evening schedule to the mix (including my part time 2nd shift work schedule) and dinner often turns into pizza, chicken tenders, or cereal. You’d think after 20 years of this, I would have solved the problem, but I feel like I just get more tired. Sorry to unload that all on you. I did want to tell you that I love living vicariously through you and your comfortably neat house, and lovely garden, and yummy meals – and sometimes I am even able to use some of your handy tidbits in my own home 🙂 So thank you for sharing such great stuff in every blog post! I definitely appreciate them.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — that’s a lot of picky eaters!
    I have no great suggestions for you as Dave and I have never been in a family of picky eaters and we’re fairly adventurous in our willingness to try all sorts of different foods.
    I guess we just started implementing the “at least 2 bites” rule from the time our kids could eat anything, and they are just used to it by now. They have learned to like SOOOO many foods this way.

    Also, keep in mind that I ENJOY cooking and coming up with new foods to make for my family. Also, I’m home all day, so I have plenty of time to make a big meals with lots of side dishes. That way, if someone doesn’t like the main dish, they can fill up on various sides (after taking at least 2 big bites of the main dish). My kids all like most fruits, bread, at least a few vegetables, potatoes, etc. so there are plenty of sides for them to eat.
    Not to be discouraging, but I feel like it will probably be fairly tricky to convince older children to start all-of-a-sudden trying new foods. Keep your fingers crossed they meet a significant other who encourages them to try more foods — I have a feeling that will be more motivating for them 🙂

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  5. Emilie Blanchette

    10/17/2018

    The first few weeks I started meal planning, to avoid that moment when we would “not feel like eating what’s planned” and derail from the planning, I used to plan only selections from our favorite meals, lol… Tacos, thai salad, etc. 😀

    As we got in the habit of eating what was on the menu (our minds now knew that if we went off track, it meant more effort to run to the store and buy other stuff), I balanced the menu more and more with nutritious meals and even some more “boring” nights… although the kids now enjoy salad night even more than we do (as long as it’s a salad bar type of offering)!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is such a great (common sense) idea! Thanks for sharing what works for you!

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  6. Nicole

    10/17/2018

    I agree with you. I don’t always enjoy meal planning (actually sometimes i do ‍♀️) but I always try to keep it simple. And I always am glad i did the planning even if i don’t stick to the meals! No more running to the grocery store at 530 with all the kids bc we don’t have the ingredients for dinner! Also another tip is find a meal plan printable that you love & works for your life. I found one online at http://www.humoroushomemaking.com and it’s simple and works for me right now. I keep it on the fridge so everyone can see what’s for dinner each night!

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  7. Lindsay

    10/17/2018

    Hi Andrea, I love your use of fresh fruits and veggies, but I wonder how you stay ahead of all of the prep work. Do you prep fruits and veggies once for the entire week? Do they stay fresh? Do you have to pick up fruits/veggies throughout the week? I wish I could do this more!! Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi LIndsay,
    Yes, I do spend a fair amount of time “prepping” food for all our meals — but it’s something I don’t mind doing (most of the time).
    I usually do everything after dinner, when I’m packing lunches, loading the dishwasher, and cleaning up the kitchen (Dave takes the kids upstairs our outside to play).
    I have a huge storage container that I use for our raw veggies and just refill as necessary every other night or so. I also have 2 other storage container that fit 1 pound of strawberries and 1 pineapple worth of chunks perfectly — so I try to keep those filled as well.
    I don’t cut or wash grapes, apples, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, or bananas until right before we eat them.
    I also slice cheese and salami every 2-3 days, or as needed. It only takes me 10-15 extra minutes to do all of this while I’m in the kitchen after dinner, and then it’s done for 2-3 days again. I have my little “routine” down, so it doesn’t feel like work anymore! 🙂
    Thanks for the printable meal planning link — I’m excited to check it out!

    [Reply]

  8. Ashley

    10/17/2018

    Hey Andrea! Not sure exactly what sparked it, but reading this post made me want to recommend the Wellness Mama Cookbook. I’m not big on cookbooks but this one comes out at least once a week! There’s a ton of variety in the cuisines offered, no crazy long ingredient lists, and we’ve LOVED everything I’ve made from there. Just a thought for your recipe exploration Thanks for sharing your life with us!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Ashley,
    I did a podcast with Wellness Mama — she is Gluten free (and has a fairly rigid diet if I’m remembering correctly). Does her cookbook have all gluten-free recipes too? Not sure that would fly with my family! 🙂
    Thanks for the recommendations!!

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    Beth Reply:

    Just a teacher note 🙂 You want the word “rigid” not “ridged.” I always hesitate to point these things out but you seem like someone who is a life long learner and enjoys learning something new. Absolutely love your blog and it’s the only one I read daily.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    ah yes — I’m going to have to fire my proofreader if he keeps letting so many errors through 🙂
    Thanks!

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  9. Debra Martin

    10/17/2018

    This is so helpful, thank you for taking the time to write this. I could write this comment to you almost every day…thank you for your post. I ‘resource’ your blog often…and we are in very different stages of our life.
    I live an hour north of Seattle, I was surprised when I read that Dave grew up in Yakima. We have cousins that live there. That’s a pretty area, too. Off to look at your recipe section…for dinners!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Debra!
    Ye, Yakima is pretty — dry, but pretty! Good luck with dinner plans!

    [Reply]

  10. Kari

    10/17/2018

    I’m right there with you on not exactly enjoying meal planning, but loving the results of it! After not really meal planning much all summer, I made a meal plan for the month of October and it’s been wonderful. No more wondering at 5:00 what we’ll have and if I have all the ingredients.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I suppose that’s how lots of people feel about exercise too — they don’t love doing it, but they love the results!

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