As I research meal planning and try it for myself, I’m realizing that there are many ways to do this thing called meal planning. Of course, I knew this, and I’m sure you already did too. There are weekly/biweekly/monthly schedules. There is once a month cooking, freezer meals, and slow cooker meals. It can get overwhelming and give you the case of the “shoulds”. I “should” be doing this, I “should” be doing that.
Friends, let’s dump the “shoulds” and do what we can right now, in this season of life. Let’s figure out what will work for us and our family. This is a recap of the first step in the series Meal Planning for Beginners like me.
Meal Planning Series
This is the second of a series on meal planning, be sure to check out the other posts too!
Meal Planning for Beginners: Step One
Meal Planning for Beginners: Step Two, Simple Weekly Menu Plan (you are here!)
Meal Planning for Beginners: Step Three, Groceries and Shopping
Meal Planning for Beginners: Step Four, Essential Pantry Staples
Meal Planning for Beginners Recap
In Meal Planning for Beginners: Step One, I suggested listing out all the meals that you already eat on a regular basis. This way you have a starting point for deliberately rotating meals that you know your family enjoys and will eat.
My first draft was a list of simple meals that I had prepared in the last year. I got this information from my planner. I usually jotted our dinner meal down after I made it so that I could keep track of the last time we had tacos or spaghetti. My youngest son would happily eat noodles every single night, but I was trying to avoid the groan from my older two sons of “spaghetti, AGAIN!”
When I looked at the list I realized that the meals we were making could be grouped into “categories.” I rewrote the list and grouped them into the categories above:
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Meat Dishes
Here is my second draft:
The meals marked with an asterisk are meals we don’t have on a regular basis but ones I would like to start adding to the rotation.
Meal Plan Attempt: Take One
The first thing I did was to research meal planners. I spent way too much time looking at all the pretty meal plans. I finally chose one and printed off this simple weekly menu planner, put it in a clear plastic cover, and used a dry erase marker to write down a tentative meal plan for the week.
On days when I was in charge of dinner, I put down a specific meal. On days when I wasn’t in charge of dinner, I put down a category as a suggestion. Here is what the week looked like in the end:
- We did not order take out.
- I did not feel overwhelmed at the thought of dinner time.
- I could refer my husband and children to the menu plan on the refrigerator for meal suggestions Tuesday-Thursday.
- The meal planning based on category, not meal specific.
- The dry erase marker and the flexibility it provided. Originally I planned a frittata for Thursday dinner but my son wanted to try making pizza dough. Great! Later, I just erased frittata from Thursday, put in Pizza, and am keeping frittata in mind for a dinner meal in the upcoming week.
Recap of Steps
- Write down a list of meals that your family already makes and enjoys.
- Decide how many nights you want to plan meals for. If you’re not currently planning, plan for 2-3 days this week. Pick a number that is beyond what you are currently doing, but feels comfortable to you.
- Make a meal plan based off of the list you wrote down in Step 1. You can write down broad categories, like “pasta,” “Mexican, ” etc. or specific meals, whatever fits your personality and family needs.
- See what works, and adjust for the following week.
You Might Also Like:
Let me know what works and doesn’t work for you. I’m still figuring this out as well so I’d love to hear!
Since it’s just me, I rarely cook. So I don’t plan. I know it’ll be salad. 😉
That makes things very stress free then!
I have been trying to figure out a way to start planning meals for my fiance and it is frustrating when he asks whats for dinner or lunch and I get a blank look on my face. I am going to try this again but with some guidance I have already written a few list in the last year but either misplaced them and never put them into a system that will work. So here I am trying something different. they say if something doesn’t work for you the first time try something different.
I agree Vicky! Tweaking systems until they work for you is key I think. I’m going to try and make this a weekly habit because not doing it will inevitably cause me to have that blank stare as well!
Christina @ Juggling Real Food and Real Life says
Great tips Angela! I find meal planning to be such a help. It helps me know what to cook, it helps my husband to do the shopping, and it helps the kids to know “What’s for dinner?” which is their favorite question. It’s a great way to get rid of some of the day-to-day stress in my life.
Thanks Christina! I used to dread that question but meal planning definitely helps answer that quickly and painlessly!
Admiring the hard work you put into your blog and detailed information you offer.
It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the
same unwanted rehashed information. Wonderful read!
I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.
Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I appreciate every new reader! Glad you’ll be following along!
I’ve been meaning to try meal planning as my friend does it all the time & it works well for them. She does a 4 weekly plan & shops accordingly each week. I will give it a try as you have.
Great Lorraine! If you plan for a few dinners to start out then you’re making great progress!
when cooked，how to store them?
Hi Chen, How to store your meals? I don’t make all the meals at once for the week. I make the dinner meal daily so we just store leftovers. Does that answer your question?
Angela, great post, I’m a big planner and also plan my weekly meals in advance. It saves me a lot of time and stress! Thank you for sharing at Share it Link Party this week!
I’m just establishing the habit Katrin and it definitely helps keep 5pm calmer around our house!
I like the category list you made. That’s a great idea! I have a small family, so I could probably get away with meal planning 2 meals a week and living off leftovers the rest of the week. But Sunday is always Brinner night.
Hi Lisa! Is bringer breakfast for dinner? If so, we have that frequently in our home as well.
Stella Lee @Purfylle says
I’ve been working on paper on the fridge so I can take the shopping list to the supermarket with me but I think I’m going to switch to your dry erase system with the meal plan and shopping list next to each other – that’s clever.
Meal planning is not a strength of mine. 🙂 Pinning for later…for the day I finally decide to buckle down and get better with it!
This is great! I did one week a while ago and couldn’t believe how easier it made my life with working and kids etc. I’m about to go on mat leave again so doing it for a bit of sanity.
Also, its so interesting looking at the photos of what countries eat what. How little and how much some have but what I found interesting is the fresh food compared to the processed foods.
Hi Lee! Meal planning definitely introduces a bit of sanity at the 5:00 hour! It is really fascinating to view what other countries eat – the “richer” countries are, the more processed foods people seem to be eating.
This is a great way to look at meal planning. I also loved seeing the transition from your first list to your second list, there are so many more options that you realized. For me, I’m usually able to MacGyver something for dinner, my problem tends to be lunch because I’m not a huge cold lunch fan. That results in me spending far too much money during the week on take out lunch. That’s something I’m definitely going to work on for 2017. I’d also like to read all of the cook books I already own. Thanks so much for sharing!