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Easy Meal Planning

Wow it’s Sunday already!  Have you had a good weekend?  I’ve done a lot of fun things this weekend.  I’ll have to write up a post for tomorrow afternoon about it all.

So do you think of Sunday as the end of the week or the beginning?  For me I think of Sunday as a little bit of both.  It’s the end of the weekend for sure but it also marks the beginning of the week.  I like to take Sunday to prepare for the week ahead.  Get the laundry finished up, do a bit of cleaning and straightening and also plan our meals for the week.

I started doing intentional meal planning last summer.  Every week, usually on Sunday, I sit down and plan our meals for the entire week.  I used to jot it down on a piece of scratch paper but recently I made up a new Weekly Meal Planning Sheet.  Now I can just print off this sheet and use it to plan meals each week.  On the left side I write in the meals for each day, and on the right side I make my grocery list.

I’ve loaded the PDF onto this website so you can use the planning sheet too!  Just click on the link and it will open the PDF.  I’ve put a link on the Meal Plans tab too.

When planning meals I first print off the meal plan sheet.  Then I look at our calendars to determine how many dinners I need to plan for the week.  Benzo and I each keep a Google calendar that we share with each other.  I can easily look at the calendar to see what nights we’ll both be home.  I can also see if we have any plans to meet up with friends or family for dinner.  Or if we have anything planned early or late in the evening that might cause us to need a quicker meal than usual.  I write these things on the planning sheet.  For example, this week on Monday night we are meeting some friends from out of town for dinner.  I know I don’t have to plan a meal for Monday night.

After I know how many and about what type of meals we’ll need for the week, I start looking through the refrigerator and the pantry to see what we have on hand that needs to be used up.  That usually gives me an idea or two for a meal and I’ll plan these for early in the week in order to use up items before they go bad.  I start adding any additional ingredients we need to the grocery list.  I also check to see what staples we are out of that need to be replenished like milk, bread, flour, etc., and add them to the list.

I might also flip through magazines or cookbooks to figure out some meals.  I do tend to keep an eye out during the week for recipes.  If anything catches my eye I try to keep a note of it for the following week’s meal plan.

I’ll also look online for recipes.  I have an account on All Recipes.com where I have my own “recipe box”.  Whenever I’m on that site, if a recipe catches my eye, I’ll save it to my recipe box.  Then later I can go back through it to see if I’ve saved recipes that I haven’t tried yet.  Whole Foods’ website has a similar system too.

Once the dinners are planned, I’ll also pencil in some breakfast and lunch ideas.  I don’t plan these meals for each day, but I like to have a few options on hand.  I eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast and lunch is almost always leftovers.  So those two meals are easy.

Snacks and desserts are something else to consider.  I will add items to the grocery list for snacks and think of one or two desserts that I want to make that week.  Desserts are especially on my radar for this upcoming week.  It seemed like last week Benzo and I were jonesing for something sweet and we had nothing in the house!  I ended up eating chocolate chips straight from the bag.

Here’s my completed sheet for this week:

It’s kind of hard to read, so here’s what I’m planning for this week:

Sunday:  Lentil Tacos & brown rice
Monday:  Dinner out with friends
Tuesday: Roasted veggies & couscous
Wednesday: Pasta and red sauce (leftover from last week), green beans from the freezer
Thursday:  Black bean burgers and corn from the freezer
Friday: Pinto beans (a repeat attempt at the debacle from last week) with cornbread and spinach
Saturday:  Veggie quesadillas (?)
Breakfasts:  Oatmeal, zucchini bread, breakfast quinoa
Lunches:  Leftovers, curried chickpea salad on pitas
Desserts:  Oatmeal cookies (I wrote that out to the side on the grocery list)

I try to make my meal plans flexible.  Sometimes I’ll just write down 5 or 6 meals for the week and then each day I’ll pick one from the list.  Saturday’s veggie quesadillas have a question mark because we may or may not be out and about on Saturday so we may or may not be home for dinner.  If we are home, we can make the veggie quesadillas.  If not then we’ll eat whatever we end up eating!

It might be overkill, but I also keep a Google calendar of dinners.  I record what we plan to eat for the upcoming week and what we actually ate for dinner most days.  I change the plan if we actually end up eating something different.  I like the Google calendar because I can refer to it on any computer.  I also like it because I can look back at what we’ve eaten the past month and the month before.  That often gives me an idea of a meal I can plan for the upcoming week (“We haven’t had lentil tacos since January 15th!  Let’s have them tonight”).

Once my meal plan and grocery list are complete, I’m ready to shop!  I fold the sheet in half:

And there’s my grocery list.  In case you are curious, here’s what’s on it:

Sweet potatoes
Onion, white & yellow
Parsnips
Butternut squash
Applesauce
Lime juice
Raw sugar
Soy milk
Soy nuts
Pinto beans – dry
Black beans – canned
Spinach – frozen
Yellow mustard
Tortillas
Tortilla chips
Crackers
String cheese

On the other side of the folded sheet is the meal plan.  I’ll hang that up on the fridge when I get home.

I think taking the time to plan meals ahead of time has a lot of benefits.  As the end of the day approaches, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to make for dinner.  That keeps me from hitting a drive through or picking up carry out on the way home.  It also keeps Benzo and I from going out to eat because we stood in the kitchen for 15 minutes going “what should we make for dinner?”, “I don’t know what do you want to make?”, “I dunno what do you want to make….” before finally giving up and going out.  Basically meal planning keeps us from eating out so much which saves us money.

I also like it because I only grocery shop once a week.  I rarely ever go during the week.  That also saves me time.  I buy everything we need for the week on Sunday.  I don’t shop again until the following Sunday.

Finally meal planning keeps me from haphazard grocery shopping where I end up buying items we already have on hand and buying items we don’t need.  When I sit down to plan the meals for the week, I can look in the pantry and make a list of only the items we need.  I don’t have to try to remember what we have and don’t have while I’m in the store.  That also saves me money.

Meal planning can be done in so many different ways.  Use whatever method works best for you.  If you want to use my Weekly Meal Planning Sheet, great!  If you already have your own method, that’s perfect!  If you’ve never tried meal planning before, give it a shot!

Well it’s getting late and I really do need to head out to the grocery store now.  If you have any other tips for meal planning or have seen any other benefits of meal planning that I didn’t mention, feel free to share them in the comments below.  Enjoy the rest of the dwindling weekend!

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4 thoughts on “Easy Meal Planning

  1. printed out your sheet. I like how you can fold it in half for shopping than flip it over to view meals once home. Great idea….look forward to more hints.

  2. Wow, we really do have a bunch in common! I have a few bookmark folders for recipes. One is called “recipes” for putting links to recipes that I tried, liked, and would like to make again. One is called “recipes to try” for bookmarking recipes that I found and would like to try at some point, and the last is called “recipe websites unsorted” for all the different sites/blogs…including yours…that regularly post new and interesting recipes. I look through those every few days and and if I find something I want to try, I find the permanent link to the recipe, and bookmark it to my “recipes to try folder.”

    I also make a meal plan every week and do my shopping either on Saturday or Sunday. The only difference is that I have two weekly meal plans (same meal every night of the week, two weeks worth of plans, and I alternate the meal plans each week) that we rotate through, and then I have a pre-made grocery list in the same Excel file that has every ingredient that we will need for those meals, plus any extras that we use on a regular basis. Depending on the week (either week 1 or week 2) I pull up that grocery list, delete any items that I don’t need to buy for the week, add whatever pantry items have been used up the previous week, and then print. I really love it, it takes so much of the stress off! I also have my “recipe” night on Saturdays where I try a new recipe so that it’s not completely boring, and so that we can try new things each week. Without my planned list, I’m sure we’d eat out several times a week. Knowing in advance what I’m going to make, and knowing that I have all the ingredients on hand makes it so much easier to cook at home.

  3. Thanks for sharing your menu planning tool! I’ve been meaning to get back into the menu planning mindset. I used to be a OAM shopper, but I’ve slacked in a major way. I’ll give your weekly planner a shot in my quest to work back up to shopping monthly. 🙂

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