It’s not so sexy, but this is what meal planning in our house looks like.
I try to stick to the process pretty consistently because I’ve found the key to eating well and reducing stress around mealtimes is to know what I’m making well in advance. When I don’t do it, the week always feels more stressful. Oh, and we are likely to eat out a lot more!
At the beginning of the week, I sit down and lay out at least lunches & dinners through Friday. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Put it down on paper!
I’m a pen to paper kind of girl, so I keep a notebook just for my meal plans. It lives in the kitchen for quick reference during the week. I used to just gather recipe links, but the process felt much less cohesive that way.
If you’re more of a digital type, putting the meals in your calendar might work. I tried that approach too, but I like being able to see the whole plan in one space, which the notebook works great for – plus I figure at some point I can just start repeating weeks and won’t have to put any thought into it beyond flipping pages.
2. Use your leftovers
As you may notice, cooking once and eating twice is a major part of my healthy-eating-without-spending-all-your-time-in-the-kitchen plan. Many dinners include plenty for lunchtime leftovers, and when I make soups and stews I always make enough to throw a few servings in the freezer for later use.
3. Make your grocery list as you go
Just thinking about what to cook in advance boosts your meal time efficiency, but you can really up the impact but organizing your grocery trip at the same time. I keep a separate list running as my plan comes together.
Instead of trying to calculate specific quantities across multiple recipes, I’ll just write: kale – chili & tuscan soup. Otherwise, I’m likely to forget if I need an ingredient for two meals and end up short for the second.
One more grocery list trick – keep one list, but make distinct sections for different markets. Within each market’s list, put things in the general order of the flow of the store. That way you won’t have to keep scanning your list for items in the area you’re in, or run back and forth across the store.
4. If you freeze, keep a list
I’m not keen on digging through my freezer to figure out what’s hiding out in there that I can include on my plan, so I keep a rough content list. At the risk of seeming like a total nerd, I will tell you it’s divided into categories: lamb, beef, prepped ingredients (i.e. farmer’s market goodies preserved from summer abundance!), and ready meals. If your freezer stays fairly full, you may also want to note a general location on your list.
4. Stay Flexible
Can’t claim that I stick to the plan always, but having a few ideas collected & ingredients gathered saves me from the daily annoyance of blankly staring in my fridge wondering what I can make for supper. Plus, now Z goes to school with lunch every day, and improvising at 8am is not my strength.
I’m kind of a #reciperebel, and often use recipes as inspiration, not following them to the letter. I do maintain an ever expanding collection of them over on Pinterest but if something on the photo above has caught your eye, here’s a few specific links that might be useful.
My favorite banana bread.
I’m using this recipe for the squash crust pizza, but subbing spaghetti squash for the zucchini!
Lamb Stew will be something like this.
Lubia Polo is one of my favorite Iranian dishes! We use lamb not beef, and I would reverse the quantities of green beans and meat listed in this recipe .
Kelp Noodle stir-fry has become one of my favorite busy weekday dishes because it’s so quick and easy and delicious! One day soon I’ll do a recipe for that and post it. In the meantime, just saute some onions, garlic, & chicken, throw in whatever veggies you like, simmer with tamari, and add the kelp noodles at the very end. Makes for good leftovers too!