This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I trust and love.
If you know me, you know I hate stopping for gas, making left turns onto busy streets, going to the dentist, and FOOD SHOPPING. The thought of having to make a list and then trekking into an overly crowded grocery store on my precious weekend time is enough to make me crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. This is where meal planning comes in.
Luckily, Shoprite created the Shop from Home service so I no longer have to contain my rage against the people who just randomly stop in the middle of the aisle with their carts. That IS the reason they created the service, right? 😉
So that solved half of my problem. But the “making a shopping list” part of the problem still existed. Staring at a blank piece of paper and then eventually writing down a condiment-heavy list was not working, especially now that I had to not only feed me AND my husband, but also a little human.
Then I discovered meal planning. I mean, I guess I always knew about it, but I was in denial that I should be doing it. Finally, I bit the bullet and accepted the fact that I needed to get my ish together in this department.
I’ve been meal planning for about 2 years now and I’d like to think I’ve gotten it down to a science.
If you’re constantly wondering what you’re going to make for dinner tonight on your way home from work and making more than 2 trips a week to the grocery store, then it’s time you board the meal planning train, my friend!
I know. It sucks. Sitting down to plan out your meals for the week sounds overwhelming. So, I’m going to share my tips with you to make this whole process as painless as possible!
How to Meal Plan Like a Boss
1. Figure out your family’s style of eating.
This took me quite a while because at the time, I knew nothing about cooking. After a year or so of experimenting with various recipes online, I realized that most of them weren’t working for us. The recipes often resulted in foods that were heavy, salty, and just too much.
I decided to start focusing on healthier dishes, but they weren’t a hit either. My husband is very picky and runs from food that sounds too healthy (think tofu, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta).
There had to be a middle of the road – food that is good for you and that also tastes good in the most popular sense. And that was my family’s style of eating.
Why is this so important to figure out? Because you need to know where to go to find recipes that you know your family will like.
To figure out your family’s needs and tastes, ask yourself questions such as: Are there any food allergies? Are you vegetarians or meat lovers? What foods does your family love? Hate? Do you want to make healthier meals? Or does the taste trump everything? Is there a specific diet you’re looking to follow? How much time do you have to cook? Do you enjoy being in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove (nope, nope, nope)?
2. Find your favorite recipe source.
Once you have a clear picture of how and what your family wants/likes to eat, and you have a realistic expectation of how much time you can dedicate to cooking each night, start asking your friends with a similar style where they find their recipes. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll eventually find a website or book by someone whose cooking style is right up your alley.
Before I found my go-to recipe source, I saw a picture of a delicious, colorful, light soup that a friend of mine posted on Instagram. I immediately texted her and asked what it was. I don’t remember the exact soup, but she told me it was from the Skinnytaste cookbook by Gina Homolka.
In addition to the cookbook (now she has a few!), she also created a website FULL of awesome recipes. After my friend told me about her, I looked through her recipes online and decided to give it a shot. I cooked one of her recipes and never looked back!
I now had a reliable source to base my meal planning around. Finding your recipe source is a big win; It will keep you from having to scour the internet for recipes and save you tons of time.
3. Keep a folder of the “Big Hit” recipes.
You know those meals when your husband asks you if there is any more left for him to eat? I LOVE when this happens! It means I’ve found a meal that he won’t mind eating on the regular.
When you strike gold like this, store the recipe. I like to print my “big hit” recipes and put them in a folder in my kitchen drawer. This way I can grab them and flip through them easily.
4. Pick a day and time to meal plan, and stick with it.
Pick a day when you can block off 15-30 minutes of your time to sit down and decide what you’re going to make for dinner for the week. For me, early Sunday mornings seem to work best. I sit down with a cup of coffee, make my meal plan, and then immediately do my food shopping online. I’m done within 45 minutes and then I can enjoy the rest of my weekend!
Maybe a week night would work better for you; Or during your lunch break on Fridays. The day and time that you pick doesn’t matter, as long as it’s easy for you to stick with.
5. Take note of what’s in your inventory.
Before you sit down to meal plan, poke through your refrigerator, freezer, and cabinets to see what foods you have on hand that need to be used. For instance, do you have chicken in your freezer? If so, you can pick a chicken dish to make that week. It’s one less ingredient you’ll have to buy.
6. Grab a pen and paper and get to planning!
Ok, you’re ready to meal plan. Now what?
Think about your week ahead; Do you have any special events when you won’t be home at night? Woohoo if you do! That’s one less meal you’ll have to cook. Mark that on your menu plan. Do you have any especially crazy days? If so, make note of this as well.
Next, designate the remaining nights to a recurring theme. I generally try to do Meatless Mondays, a recipe from my “big hits” folder on Tuesdays, leftovers on Wednesdays from Monday, a new recipe on Thursday nights, take out on Fridays, Saturday is either a crockpot meal or leftovers from Thursday, and Sunday is either a crockpot meal or leftovers from Saturday.
Once you have themes set up, start picking out your recipes from your “big hits” and other recipe sources. Make sure you pick quick and easy dinner for your super crazy days, or set that night up for leftovers!
7. Go with the flow!
There are absolutely weeks that don’t go as expected and I don’t have the energy or time to make the meal I planned for one of my week nights. I always make sure I have something easy to whip up for those occasions! My go to is pasta with marinara sauce or a Digiorno pizza.
There you have it! Meal planning in a nutshell. You can totally take this to another level by picking meals that have the same ingredients so that you spend less on food shopping. However, if you’re new to meal planning you may want to hold off on tackling that until you’ve gotten into the swing of it.
The first few times you sit down to meal plan, it may take you a bit a longer than you’d like. It will get easier and faster – I promise. You will thank yourself for the rest of week when you don’t have to wonder what you’re going to have for dinner or stop by the grocery store on your way home from work!
If you’d like to get some ideas for your meal plans, check out some of my own meal plans below!