How Do You Meal Plan?

I’ve been asked more times than I can remember or count where I got my love of cooking and entertaining. My answer is always the same: my mom. What’s also the same is this song popping into my head when I say it. Feel free to take a 3 minute break to enjoy the jam and get down with your bad self. I’ll wait … All done? Great, we’ll move on.

Seriously though, my mom was, and is, a total inspiration, but also quite intimidating, as she worked full time, had three kids, only one of which was perfect, and still managed to get dinner on the table around 6:00 p.m. every single night. This isn’t even taking into account the fact that the house was always clean, the laundry was always done, and she managed to look pulled together even though she seemed to work 26 ½ hours a day. How did she do it? Lord knows if I know, I am not my mom, but I know one thing that helped her stay on top of at least one chore: Meal Planning. So, in response to questions I’ve received lately, most recently this afternoon, I’ve decided to post on how exactly I complete my meal planning each week.

Now, instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to first send you over to Annie’s-Eats to review her post on Menu Planning Tips & Tricks. I mean, I could sit down and rewrite everything she put down, and try to give it my own spin, but why? I’m busy making dinner, taking care of Carter, asking Jim how his day was, baking a cake to take to a friends’ house tomorrow night, and writing this blog.

In addition to what Annie has so eloquently written out, I would add in the following:

  • Do some research and make some notes.

    It takes time to get started, but review some blogs and books and make a note of recipes and such that you want to try. That way, you’re not starting from scratch each week. I actually use a combination of Google Reader and a word doc to do this. Here are a few blogs I would recommend browsing through to start you off:


  • Not every meal needs to be a feast.

    Did I make a pork roast with horseradish smashed potatoes, steamed green beans, and homemade rolls earlier this week? Sure did, but tonight we’re having a salad. When you go into each week thinking every dinner has to be a full three courses complete with dessert ala June Cleaver, you’re going to be left with one of two feelings: utter and total exhaustion or complete failure. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy either, so I choose balance.

  • Get a slow cooker.

    If you have one, use it! They’re fantastic, especially in the winter months. Throw everything in in the morning, set it to cook throughout the day, and come home to a yummy, and fully cooked, meal.

  • Use your freezer.

    When you make something that you know will freeze and reheat well, make extra. Pasta sauces, lasagna, soups, stews, casseroles, mashed potatoes, black beans, etc. can be portioned and frozen, for a quick weeknight meal. Also, I always make sure I have boneless, skinless chicken breasts on hand for a quick fix. I buy these, as I like that I can see them, but they’re individually packaged, so I can take out just what we need.

  • Convenience products aren’t the devil, just choose wisely.

    Read labels and look out for bad stuff you don’t want, i.e. extra sugars, HFCS, chemicals, a lot of preservatives, etc. I love the Bertolli ravioli and other pastas for a quick meal with homemade, or their, sauces. Homemade dressing is great, but who always has time for that? We love the light line of Marzetti’s dressings found in the produce department. I also am a regular buyer of precut produce, most notably salad in a bag and cut fruit. Yes, yes, I know I can do this myself more economically, but sometimes, it’s an appreciated convenience to save that step. Also, in regard to the fruit, we don’t always need an entire cantaloupe, so a pint container of pre-cut is a perfect option.

  • Think of the entire week, not just one meal.

    If I serve fresh bread for one meal, I know we won’t eat the entire loaf, so I’ll plan garlic bread or sandwiches for later in the week. The same can go for meat. Maybe you’re having a roast or chicken one night that can work as sandwiches or on salads later in the week.

  • Build in “buffer” days.

    There is no point in planning and shopping for 7 days of meals when you know in your heart something might come up, such as an insane craving for something great from your favorite restaurant or a date night with your spouse or significant other. I usually plan for 5 days, knowing we’ll probably eat out one night, and the other night will either be left overs, rummaging through the fridge or freezer for something new, take-out, or a quick trip to the grocery store. Buffer days will keep you from feeling guilt over not sticking with your plan, and a successful plan will help you to keep at it until it’s simply second nature.

  • Don’t do it all at once.

    Most of the women I know work full time, so it becomes critical to use your time wisely. I would recommend using your Sundays. If you can make or prep things ahead, it’s going to make the weeknights come together more quickly.

  • Finally, don’t forget about lunches.

    You can mix together chicken salad, cook chicken, etc. on Sunday that can be used for sandwiches or salads throughout the week. Quinoa and pasta salads also work well for this.

I hope this helps. If anyone out there has any of their own tips and tricks to share, please feel free to comment, I’d love to hear them.

Take Care,



3 thoughts on “How Do You Meal Plan?

  1. Nicole says:

    Awesome tips! I do much of the same. I get the same question a lot and my thought is, “How can you NOT meal plan!?” I know exactly what I need to buy and what we’re going to make and I can plan healthy meals around a busy schedule, without burning out on the same old things.

    • jaimeleben says:

      “How can you NOT meal plan!?” I’ve thought the same thing. Even with the plan, I often end up with odds and ends. I can’t imagine going to the store each week without a list and a plan.

  2. Carla says:

    I generally plan for six days however I don’t have specific meals plan for specific days. I like a little spontaneity and only commit to what I will cook for dinner the night before, just in case I need to defrost something out of the freezer. However, I’m always thinking about meals and eating (unlike my husband who sometimes forgets to eat!).

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