Meal Planning in under 1 Hour

Let’s chat about meal planning today! I’ve been meaning to share this post for some time now, not to pretend it’s never been written about (because, yes it has a million times over) or to say I’m an expert. It’s more of how meal planning works for our family and what has made it successful for us throughout the years.

To make things easier, I’m going to break it down into three different categories and then talk about each one in more detail. Over the years, I’ve found my method to be successful and fit the needs of our family, while still being flexible. It should go without saying that the term ‘successful meal planning’ is all relative, because what works for me might not work for you.

1. Finding inspiration {sources}: This category encompasses all the different sources you might use when coming up with a meal plan. For me it means my brain, cookbooks, food blogs, Pinterest and magazines. Sometimes, I’ll come up with a meal that sounds good and not bother searching for a recipe. Other times, I find it easier and less mentally intense to just search for a recipe either in a cookbook or online. Either way, having several different sources is very important unless you like eating the same exact foods every day for every single meal. Since I only read a small handful of blogs, most of the time I depend on Google or Pinterest for recipe ideas. Depending on what type of meals and cuisine we are eating for the week, will depend on what cookbooks and websites I use to plan our meals. Also, life happens and some weeks I will repeat a previous weeks’ meal because a) it’s a favorite meal of ours or b) I want one less meal to have to plan for.

2. Having a system {organization}: I’m not by any means super Type-A when it comes to meal planning but I have found through the years that having a method for meal planning is crucial. We use Evernote and have found that to be best in terms of keeping a running grocery list. It’s easy to update and will sync easily across devices. I make a separate grocery list each week, adding the menu at the bottom or top. Having the menu in the same place as the list makes it easier to make sure I have all the necessary ingredients for each meal. It’s also important to keep in mind any days (i.e. a date night or if my husband has a work dinner) that I may not need to make a dinner, but do have to keep in mind lunches for the following day. If you notice in the photo below of a sample menu, I even add the appropriate links to the recipes so that if my husband is making dinner one night he can easily tap on the link to follow the recipe.

^^sample of an old menu with embedded links for ease of use

If the recipe is in a cookbook (or in my mind, not written out), I just make the proper note on the menu. Finally, this might seem trivial but since we eat a lot of vegetarian meals, I don’t want to have two nights in a row (because that equals 4 meals total, including lunches) of meals that have black beans. I would rather organize the weekly meals and space out the different types of beans we will be using. If we have steak or fish on the menu, I simply put that meal between a few vegetarian meals.

3. Making it work {implementation}: The implementation of meal planning and how the process actually goes for me each week happens something like this. Throughout the week, I think about or come across meal ideas that I’d like to try the following week. Depending on where I’m at and what I’m doing, I either save the recipe on my Pinterest board right away or make a note on a whiteboard we have hanging on the fridge. Another important task to implement meal planning successfully is keeping a running tally of any items that you run out of during the week. For example, this past week we ran out of quinoa. Knowing it’s staple in our pantry, I make sure and write it down either on the whiteboard or add it to my Evernote list right away. This helps immensely, because there’s a slim chance of actually forgetting to buy it next grocery trip. Finally, on Thursday evenings (usually after our son goes to bed) I spend no more than 1 hour total, browsing quickly through our pantry, compiling the remainder of the grocery list, and putting together the order of meals we’ll be eating the following week.

^^sample portion of an old grocery list

A few notes and tips:
*Meal planning is a weekly task, with a “new” week starting on Friday and going through the following Thursday. Why? Simply because I found that it’s easier to not be tempted to eat out on the weekends if we have a fully stocked refrigerator. The past few years, I’ve experimented with other days (like, starting the week on Sunday or Monday) and was seeing a pattern that we would inevitable run out of food on the weekends and would end up eating out for more meals than cooking at home.

*Always make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunches the following day. Our toddler shares food (minus a few things) with us and so far, it hasn’t impacted the quantities we have to make. If I know my husband is eating lunch out, I freeze or save the extra dinner portion for another time.

*If you do need a quick lunch, have enough ‘extras’ in the pantry (i.e. tortillas for quick quesadillas, beans for quick salad toppings, etc.) so that if you end up not having enough dinner portions leftover for lunch the next day, you don’t have to necessarily eat lunches out at a restaurant. (I’ll write a separate post on our pantry and fridge essentials, since that’s a very important component of meal planning.)

*Keep in mind any special times during the week (consult each others’ work calendars, for example) that you may need to eat dinner out or make smaller portions. Take into account lunches the following day, too.

*Breakfast isn’t something I write down on the menu, because we mostly eat the same foods every morning. My husband likes 2 eggs over easy and his coffee. I like oatmeal with peanut butter.

*For snacks, (this could be a separate post itself!) buy a few extra veggies like carrots, hummus, Greek yogurt, fruits, dried fruits, and nuts. Prep these ahead of time. Put together a trail mix and chop up the veggies to dip in hummus. This is a smart way to have healthy snacks available at a moments notice.

That’s how meal planning works for our family. I know meal planning looks different for every one and there are certainly many ways to go about it, with no one way being the right and only way. I just know that at the end of the day, I want to make sure our family is eating foods that are wholesome, healthy and nourishing.

I’m curious. Do you meal plan? How often do you go grocery shopping? Any picky eaters in your family?

11 thoughts on “Meal Planning in under 1 Hour

  1. madisonmhofmeyer says:

    I’m totally with you on the grocery shopping on Friday (or sometimes first thing on Saturday morning for us) because of the same reasons! We don’t eat out if I have a fridge full of food to experiment with and make meals. I also usually can count on one or two meals a week that I take home leftovers from work, which helps keep our budget in check. I really wish that I was a better meal planner. Sometimes I feel like we get into a rut with our cooking (my cooking I guess!) because I have the basic comfort level with just throwing a meal together. I’m making it a goal this fall to cook from a recipe twice a week to try some new things!

    • Urban Wife says:

      That’s neat to hear shopping on Friday or Saturday works for someone else! That’s really cool you also incorporate work leftovers into your meals – super smart. I think cooking new recipes often (I aim for at least 1 weekly) really helps me continue having joy in the kitchen. Good luck with your new goal this fall! 🙂

  2. sugarplumblog says:

    This is very helpful for families out there. I know I need to plan out a grocery list every week or so, so I’m not constantly running back and forth to the store. I hate that! And I’m wasting gas. I’m gone a lot so Eric and I just eat separate meals all of the time. 😦

    • Urban Wife says:

      Yes, I could say my method is geared more towards families. I certainly wasn’t this organized with my meal planning when I was single, if I even did it! Great point about running to the store extra times! I too, didn’t like doing that, and it was another thing that pushed me to start meal planning when I did. That’s great you at least have a grocery list – it’s very helpful to even just have that.

    • Urban Wife says:

      I agree, there have definitely been seasons of life (i.e. after having a baby) where meal planning isn’t so great for me either. Just give yourself grace, don’t feel guilty and try again…there’s nothing wrong with that. 😉

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This is some really great info. Thanks for sharing it!

    Meal planning has been a total disaster for me. My husband is a VERY picky eater and refuses to eat leftovers. He also doesn’t cook, so it’s all up to me and honestly, it has taken a lot of the joy out of cooking.

    • Urban Wife says:

      You’re welcome! I’m afraid I don’t have many tips for picky eaters. Does your husband usually end up making his own meals then? That’s not fun when meal planning & cooking becomes a dreaded chore. I hope you find something that works for you and I’m curious to hear how it turns out.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Nope, if he doesn’t like something or thinks he won’t like it he’ll make himself a frozen pizza or pb&j. It’s been 5 years, I think it’s a lost cause. No idea what he was eating before I came along. Unfortunately, he’s discovering he can’t eat the way he did when he was 20 and all of that bad behavior is starting to catch up with him.

      • Urban Wife says:

        You’re right, metabolisms definitely change over time. I certainly can’t (and shouldn’t!) eat the way I did when I was 20. I guess as long as both are happy with your eating preferences, there’s not much else to be done. 🙂

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