Crash Course in Meal Planning

meal planning

We’ve all been there…It’s 3pm and you realize you don’t have anything thawed for dinner and the idea of stopping at the store on the way home with your tired children in the car makes you break out into a cold sweat. Or maybe your refrigerator is filled with wonderful delicious fresh foods, but you have absolutely no energy or time to prepare any of it. Either way, you end up picking up a pizza or eating out.

I struggle with this on a weekly basis, but when I take the extra time to plan my meals I find things are so much easier. I’m less stressed during the dreaded witching hour, I save money, and eat healthier.  I’ve put together this three step process for making meal planning easier.

Step 1: Take Inventory

In my previous life before kids, I managed restaurants. I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to save time and money when placing an order I had to first see what was on the shelves and then calculate how much we needed to get us through to the next week. Most of us don’t have huge walk-in refrigerators or shelves and shelves of liquor in our pantry…well, maybe some of us doBut the concept and the process are the same. There is something about writing down what I have that helps me to be so much more efficient when creating my list and doing my shopping.

I take out a sheet of paper and divide it into 4 sections:

HouseholdMeal planning

The first time you do this it might take a while and you might get attacked with an urge to re-organize your pantry and purge what you don’t use. This is a good thing! Your local Food Bank will gladly take ANYTHING you won’t use and they will make sure someone in need will get it. Fresh, frozen, or that weird bottle of marinade you bought two months ago and never used…don’t let it go to waste.

Once you make this a habit and do it every week before you make your list, it should only take you 10-15 minutes, provided your three-year-old doesn’t decide to have a meltdown and you need to run damage control.

» Bonus Tip:  You know when you run out of something mid-week, but it’s not something you use every day so you forget that you need it until you open the cupboard or the refrigerator and realize that you forgot to pick it up at the store. I do this All. Of. The. Time.  I love the Out of Milk app for tracking my inventory throughout the week.  You can share your list with your partner so that it’s easier to do your shopping.  No more, “I thought you were going to get that…?”  It’s available for both iOS and android

Step 2: Plan Recipies

Now that we know what we have let’s think about what we want to make. Before you get lost in the wonderful world of Pinterest. Let’s focus our search.

For the most part, we will focus on dinner, but here is my 2 cents on breakfast lunch and snacks that help me stay on track with clean eating.

» Make it fast, Make it easy, or Make it ahead of time.

I have oatmeal for breakfast and a Shakeology for lunch almost every day. I change up what I put in my oatmeal and my flavor of Shakeology for variety.  My snacks I prep at the beginning of the week. I’ll make hard boiled eggs or date energy bites so it’s super easy for me to grab and go.

Dinner is where you will spend the bulk of your time planning.

1) Look at your calendar and see what your schedule is like. Make note of nights you will need quick and easy recipes or crock pot meals and nights that you will have more time for prep. Don’t skip this step or you might end up planning a more complicated meal on the night your kids have swim lessons and then have to pick up a pizza on the way home because everyone is HANGRY!

2) Consider theme nights like Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday to help you narrow your choices. I like to eat vegan twice a week. You would be surprised how many delicious and filling meals there are out there and it helps me to stay on track with my heath and fitness goals.

3) Look at your inventory and plan your meals around those items first. Then fill in the rest of the nights. So say, for instance, your bought these pasta shells a few months ago and never opened the box. You can search for a healthy recipe that uses those… yes there are healthy recipes for pasta shells.

Meal planning4) DON’T forget the kids! If you have a picky eater on your hands like I do, look for recipes that can be easily broken down without too much effort. If I make Chicken Tortilla Soup, I’ll take some of the chicken and make a chicken quesadilla for the kids. On nights you make something they won’t eat be sure to have something planned for them as well. These Crescent Sandwiches are a favorite in our house.
5) Once you plan your recipes for the week write them down somewhere you can see them. I hung a dry erase board in our kitchen. This way I know what I need to thaw/prep for that day.

» I have read this post on meal planning from 365ish Days of Pinterest so many times and I know if I set up the system it would totally work for me, but I just have never followed through…so here I am putting my goal out there to make this work.  Tune in to see if I make it happen.

Step 3: The List

Now that we have cleaned out our pantry, taken inventory, and planned our meals, its’ time to make a list. One that we will stick to and one that will keep us from having to run back to the store every 2-3 days. The fewer trips you make to the market the less money you spend because let’s be honest when was the last time you went to the store and only got ONE thing? Having a list will also keep you on task in the grocery store because eventually, it’s just you and that tempting tub of ice cream and if you have a list you are less likely to give in.

So how do we create a list that is easy to read and efficient?  I have been using this All Out Of list for years and love it.  I’ve seen then in a ton of different places, bookstores, Amazon, Staples.meal planning

1) Organization: Organize your list is by grouping items the way the are in the store. So, you have fresh produce, bakery, meat, frozen, etc all listed in different categories.

2) Staples: I asked my Facebook buddies what was the number one thing they forgot at the grocery store and they all came back with staple items like toilet paper, tampons, pepper, plastic baggies, and bananas.  These items are so common that we don’t think we need to write them down, but the grocery store is designed to make you distracted so write these items down first and be as detailed as possible.

3) Recipes: Add the items you need for the recipes you planned in Step Two. Don’t forget to check for spices, oils, and vinegars.

4) Household: Check your shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergents, etc. Do you need batteries, light bulbs, plastic baggies?

I hope you enjoyed this post.  I had a ton of fun writing it.

Last week I turned these three steps into a 3 Day Crash Course for my internet friends and I got a huge response, so apparently this topic is on everyone’s mind.  If you want more information on how you can join one of my FREE 3 Day Crash Course groups shoot me an email at, or find me on  Facebook.  As always, subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss a thing!

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