Thursday, December 4, 2014

Meal Planning 101

I subscribe to an awesome board of creative women who help to inspire one another to be more organized and decorated and to be the best moms they can be!  

I've seen some of the AWESOME decorations everyone has done on their christmas tree. They've helped provide ideas on how to accessorize mantles, entries, foyers, bathrooms... you name it.  The women are a WEALTH of resources.  Decorating isn't always my thing so I tend to just read and be inspired.  However, today someone posted requesting information on meal planning.  

Hey... I CAN HELP!  

I don't know why I haven't ever shared it on here, but I have a pretty good system and even led a class about it at the Grapevine, Colleyville, Southlake Mom's League.  

I believe information is power so the more we share, the more powerful we all become.

Thus, here is my information download for you all!

Meal Planning - 101

I would think that people would be more prone to want to feed their families whole, nutritious food.  While it’s not always possible, it’s obviously the best choice.  Meal planning helps you alleviate fast food, processed food and allows you to have more time to plan what you want, rather than eat what you have to.

Why I menu plan.  
  • Because I’m busy
  • Because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail
  • As a mom, I feel a responsibility to feed my family fresh, wholesome REAL food… focusing on removing the processed garbage from our diets
  • With a plan in place, we eat out less… which means I know what is IN the food we are eating
  • We ALWAYS have on hand what we need for the recipes.
  • We waste so much less food because we don’t buy more than we need
  • Less dinners delivered out of a window in a sack, less waste means more money in your wallet!
  • You will eat a VARIETY OF MEALS
  • Your FAMILY HAS A SAY in what you are going to eat that week -kids are more likely to eat what you have cooked for them, since they may have requested it
    • TIP:  Let them pick the meal that corresponds with THEIR birthday DAY of each month
  • Work around ALLERGIES (like wheat, soy, etc)
  • LESS STRESS – no pointless staring at the fridge and cupboards "What the heck am I going to make?"

Menu planning may seem like a daunting task but you do it just the same way you’d eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

TYPES of menu planning
There are plans out there that suggest a 2 week rotation or even planning a full month’s worth of meals at a time. I don’t have time for that because of practices and other commitments.  For me, a week at a time WORKS for me NOW. If you look at some of the freezer cooking menus, they actually give you a FULL MONTH's worth of meals to plan but, like I said, I can't plan a month at a time. It just won't work. Having a month's worth of meals in the freezer, however, DOES help for those nights when everything in your plan goes awry.

TOOLS for weekly meal planning
Plus, to be quite honest, when your kids get busy, you HAVE to have a plan.  

So what do you need?

  1. You need your calendar
  2. You need a designated time to do this each week.  
  3. You need recipes.  
  4. You need something to meal plan WITH.

You need YOUR FAMILY calendar -- you need your calendar so that you can see what you need to plan around.  Birthdays, open house, sports practices, dance, ladies’ night out, etc.  

Time -- you need a solid chunk of time that is quiet so you may focus.  IT should be the SAME DAY each week.  Why?  This makes it a habit.  Once it becomes habit and you get your routine down, it can be done in as little as 8 minutes (that’s the truth).  Plus, if you routinely plan your meals around the sales fliers, and those come in the mail on Wednesday -- you know to plan on Wednesday and shop soon thereafter.  

Recipes -- start with a list of your family favorites, not beef wellington

Something to plan WITH -- this can be a blank weekly calendar, a small weekly day timer, software, a piece of notebook paper… SOMETHING. Pinterest is FILLED with hundreds of printable menu planner sheets.

My routine has evolved over the last 12 years.  I started doing this when my son was 2. When he was 5, we brought another kiddo and more chaos into the house.  When he was 10, we brought yet another little person into the world… so I have three boys, all in very different stages of life from the age of 14 to 3.  Meal planning changes and evolves into what we need it to as a family.  As it stands, I’m planning around three baseball teams, cub scouts where I’m a parent of one plus the Committee Chair, boy scouts as a parent, and as a Committee Member, active in my son’s school’s PTO, webmaster, GCS Mom’s League plus I am battling a chronic autoimmune disease which many times leaves me exhausted and drained.  But even at the most basic level -- it’s a blessing and a benefit to your family and you to have a plan.

There is no wrong/right way to do it.  I’ll explain what works for me.

Tuesday- pull out calendar to see what we have going… and I adapt my menu based on our family’s needs…. easier meals for busier days.  Meals that require more prep are on days with less scheduled.

I happen to use a software program that I’ll discuss in a minute… pull recipes into breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert sections of my calendar (or you could easily hand write them)

This software populates a grocery list (seriously, it makes me giddy for the grocery list to just create itself!).  I “shop” my pantry and cross anything off the list I already have.  Shop and then I’m good to go for the week.  

Sounds easy, right?  Sure…. but THIS is when it can really get BORING!  No one wants the same meals every week.  So it’s our jobs to make it creative and nutritious.  Find new ways to make sides or to incorporate variety into our diets.

Planning ideas:

Designing particular nights as certain types of cuisine.   This sounds great, but my kids won't eat French food regularly. Not everyone is a fan of Asian cuisine, etc. So, in theory, unless you have some kids with no picky palates, this won't necessarily be the best place to start.

Sunday - Italian
Monday - Asian
Tuesday - Mexican
Wednesday - American
Thursday - French
Friday - Italian
Saturday - Leftovers    

Another variation is below. This is what I do.

Sunday - leftover  / Freezer Meal
Monday - Meatless
Tuesday - Taco tuesday / Soup
Wednesday - Beef / Sandwiches
Thursday - chicken
Friday - crock pot / Breakfast for dinner
Saturday - Pizza  -- dont forget lunches on these days too as well as breakfast and dinner

****I always include a leftovers day on a weekend -- we all need a break!!!

You can tweak your plan for summer or winter, too.  For instance, in the summer, we grill out a LOT.  I typically will also grill a lot of meat on Sunday and then I use it all week. Take advantage of the in season produce in your menu, too, to keep costs down.  

****Bountiful Baskets is a fruit and veggie co-op that offers fresh, usually locally grown produce for $15 a week.  Their pickups are on Saturday and Sundays so that would be something you’d plan around.  

So you have your themes… now you need your recipes.

Where to get your recipes?
  • ALWAYS start with your family's favorites -- ALWAYS!
  • Pinterest (I'm on Pinterest, I'm a Pinterest whore. I'll admit it. Follow me for lots of yummy recipes. If you see "PTE" on any of my recipes, you'll know that I've added them to my Plan To Eat software (discussed below) so if you 'friend' me on PTE, you have access to these recipes too!
  • cookbooks
  • friends
  • facebook
  • magazines
  • packages

Pick ONE day a week or every 2 weeks to try a new recipe. Don’t collect anymore until you start using what you already have.  Don’t be a digital hoarder!  Once you’ve tried it, if everyone likes it put it in a new binder that is now titled “family favorites” and you have started YOUR family’s cookbook.  If you don’t like it or something was too strong, too much, too this or too that … note that ON the recipe and put it back in your rotation to try again.  If the second time it still isn’t up to par -- pitch it.  There are too many good recipes out there to waste your time trying to tweak one.


Organize -- whether it’s digitally (Evernote) or scan them in, software, handwritten cards, typed out, file folders….

CULL THE CRAP -- I had accumulated a TON of recipes torn from magazines... and I NEVER USED THEM! Why? Because I would have to invest the time to read them, sort them, file them. I tossed the WHOLE pile of recipes I’d torn from magazines because frankly, it wasn't worth the time investment. I don't even think about anything I may have missed because PINTEREST! It's my friend!

Pinterest -- (have I mentioned that?) You can organize boards --eating clean, crock pot, bread, breakfast/brunch, appetizers, stews/soups/chili, seafood and fish, etc.  YOUR WAY and use these as your filing cabinet!


staples on hand
  • Meal in a box --- (NOT the Justin Timberlake kind) boxes in the pantry in case your plan fell through… meals that can be made in 15 minutes.
    • spaghetti (sauce, noodles, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, frozen meatballs) - BAM instant meal
    • quesadillas (flour tortillas, canned chicken or precooked and frozen or frozen meat or even meatless), beans, Mexicorn, cheese, green chilis) - BAM instant meal
    • tacos (precooked frozen meat, crunchy shells, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa) -- BAM instant meal
    • fajitas -- everything frozen -- BAM instant meal!

(I feel like Emeril when I say "BAM"!)


  • Breakfast - ALWAYS double up batches of waffles, pancakes and french toast.  They freeze well
  • Bacon -- make too much?  Crumble it up and save it in the freezer for fresh bacon bits
  • Double your entrees and you’ll ALWAYS have a home cooked meal ready in the freezer.
  • Typically I will pick ONE set of days every month where I will create a list of “freezer meals” I want and I will list and shop one day.  The second day I will prep.  THIS is another way I have a back up plan.  


There are a LOT of places that offer meal plan services. While some of these are great and it's definitely better than fast food, I will say that rarely -- if EVER -- have we "liked" everything on the menu for the week. So, then you have to negotiate the shopping list to take off what you don't want, etc. However, it's a GREAT place to start and shows you how to throw it all together.

First and foremost, THIS is my go-to source:

  • Plan To Eat
You import all your recipes into it and can use it to meal plan.  There is a calendar feature where you can "queue" your recipes and then drag them into the calendar. You choose breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack -- whatever -- and it populates a categorized grocery list for you. THIS IS A LIFESAFE FOR ME! I use it every week! There is a link in the right hand menu on my blog. If you "friend" me on this software, you can have access to all my recipes. I think I have close to 800 in it now. If you follow any of my food boards on Pinterest and see a "PTE" in the description, you'll know that THIS particular pin has been uploaded to my Plan To Eat recipe book.

  • 5 dinners in 1 hour
Classic, Clean Eating, Gluten Free
3 months $20, 6 months $40, 12 months $72 with archive access
This service has you do meal prep so that it helps save time in the kitchen. I've had some good meals from here.

  • Mesa de Vida
Gluten Free or Healthy Family
$90 per year
While a little pricey for the service, her meals are GOURMET and DELICIOUS.  Gluten free!

Classic, Clean, Paleo, Slow Cooker, Low Fat, etc. etc. etc. have Lunch,
Breakfast and Dessert options add ons.
3 months $30, 6 months $48, 12 months $58 (add ons are $4 lunch menu,
breakfast and dessert are each $3)

  • Saving Dinner
$120 a year but you have the ability to completely personalize your own
menu from their database of recipes and includes classic, Paleo, etc.

  • No More To Go
$7 per month, $18 for 3 months, $34 for 6 months, $64 for 12 months

I certainly hope this has given you some ideas on how to start!


Crystal said...

Great post - spoonacular is a free online meal planner - we'd so appreciate it if you'd add us! Feedback welcome too of course :)

Paula Kaye said...

A very comprehensive post for meal planning. I have been doing it for maybe a year now and I can't believe how much easier it makes my life. Or how much money I am saving.