Simple Meal Planning – How I get it done.

Brace yourself for lots of words. I try to keep my posts short and sweet but this topic takes some explaining.  Meal planning is one of those things that can be tedious to do but pays off in the long run.  I know there are many ways that work for people but I have had a few friends ask me how I do it,  so I thought I’d share how I roll!

I’m not huge into super complicated processes for meal planning. I can’t decide if it’s because I’m efficient or just lazy. Maybe a little of both.  Ha!   This process has worked for years for me.  With investing a little time every couple weeks, you’ll always have ingredients for several meals on hand at any given time. There is a catch for the way I do it but it’s not too hard to do. Follow my easy steps and get rid of that “Ugh, what should I make for dinner tonight?” feeling. Theeeee worst.

The very first thing you have to do is make a spreadsheet either in Excel or on your Google Drive where you will add every single recipe you make. This will be your database of recipes.  This step is necessary and very important.  I like Google Drive for a million reasons but one of the reasons is that I can access it from anywhere at anytime. If I’m in a pinch and need a meal idea on the spot, I can open it up on my phone app and be instantly inspired while standing in the aisle at the grocery store. Creating the meal database didn’t take me near as long as I thought it would. We did this one night as a family so the kids chimed in with what they liked and it came together quickly. It probably took me 30 minutes to set up. Keep it simple. Categorize your spreadsheet however you prefer but I did the following categories:

Meal Name

Lord Business told me I should make a “Ranking” category but I really I don’t make any meals unless they are A or B ranking.  Who is going to repeat a C rated meal? Not me. After you make your categories, just get to work racking your brain. This step is crucial because it will streamline your meal planning from here on out. The more the better. See image below for a glimpse of mine.  For example you’ll add in recipes like this:

Meal Name: Spaghetti & Meatballs
Type: Entree
Meat: Ground Beef
Speed: 30 minutes
Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe


Meal Name: Chicken Noodle Soup
Type: Soup
Meat: Chicken
Speed: 30 minutes

Under “Source” you put wherever you get that recipe from. Do you get it from an online website?  You don’t have to put the actual URL but can just put the title. Do you get it from a favorite recipe book? Put the title there. I like to use abbreviations like Pioneer Woman is PW or Our Best Bites is OBB.  If it’s a recipe from my own brain, I just put “Laurel.” Once that’s all done, you are ready to roll.

What works for me is to open up that list two times a month. Every two weeks I will pull 8-10 meals from my list and write the meals down on one piece of paper and then on another piece of paper I make the shopping list for what I need for those meals. I do 8-10 meals because we got out to eat or we’ll have leftovers or to be brutally honest, some nights are cereal or sandwich nights. Is my Cherrios and milk recipe Instagram worthy? Ha!  Anyway, for example on one piece of paper I’ll have my meals for that two week time period:

BBQ Pork Sliders
Hawaiian Haystacks
Chicken Tacos
Chicken Noodle Soup
Turkey Chili
Cajun Chicken Pasta
Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Homemade Pizzas

And on another piece of paper I’ll have my ingredients list. For example I’d have:

Pork Roast
BBQ Sauce
Slider rolls
Chow Mein Noodles
Green onions
Chicken Broth
Ground Turkey (2)
Black & Kidney Beans
Tomato Sauce
Bell Peppers
Cream Cheese

Of course my ingredients list would be much longer (or shorter) for whatever you have on hand already. I also add tons of staples that I use in the house at any given time like orange juice, bread, eggs, bagels, chips, cereal and other snacks. Every two weeks I do a ‘big shop’ where I go to Costco to load up on granola bars, meats, eggs, and anything I can get from my list. Then I head to stores like Fred Meyer or Safeway to get the smaller things from my list. I do this two times a month and it takes me based on where I live (10 min from Costco etc.) about 3 hours from start to finish. Finish as in groceries are put away and I’m done and exhausted, but relieved.  I also buy food that I commonly make as sides to meals. For our family that’s broccoli, green beans, fruit, cottage cheese, salad mixes etc.

The piece of paper with the list of meals on it is crucial so it’s best to either transfer those meals onto a calendar or stick on your fridge or somewhere where you won’t lose it.  I’ve lost my list a few times and I have a hard time remembering what I wrote down. A lot of times my oldest son will come home from school and look at the list and say, “Oh hmmm, let’s have X for dinner tonight.” I don’t like holding myself hostage to the idea of having a certain meal on a certain day because sometimes I don’t feel like putting forth the effort for that particular meal or we just don’t feel like eating it.

Some things to think about when you are meal planning. 1. Do you have a busy couple of weeks? If so, add in a bunch of slow cooker or Instant Pot meals. Keep it simple for yourself  2. Is the weather hot/cold? When it’s hot, look for salads or lighter meals. When it’s cold, add in more soups, comfort food etc. 3. Are you working towards a health goal? Maybe cut out pasta/rice in that two week time period and add in more low carb/healthy options.  I personally meal plan based on how busy my weeks are for our family so I usually have my calendar open simultaneously while planning. So if I’m slammed on a few early afternoons, I’ll add in extra simple meals to be prepared. Enter Instant Pot…:D

The actual meal planning part where you sit down to write it all down shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes every couple weeks. If you have a little more time to plan, you can browse on the Internet and add in new meals to try.  Then you can add them to your list if you love them!  The “BIG SHOP” is what takes much more time and effort but if you do right, you only have to do it every couple of weeks. Sure, you may have to make quick pit stops to get more bread or some fresh veggies and fruit but you can’t ever avoid that for too long anyway.

I hope you have been inspired to start meal planning if you don’t already. I’m not huge into freezer meals (they usually taste funny to me) but I know there are lots of other short cuts you can take. I know some people make double the amount and eat the left overs the next night.  I personally am a little picky and only eat leftovers of certain meals so I don’t usually make much  more than we’ll eat in one night. Like I said, this works for me beautifully and I love being able to make several meals at any given time. Thanks for making it this far!


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