Monday, 15 November 2010

Meal Planning

Ah, Monday. My quiet day, my thoughtful day, my day of preparation for the week ahead.

I start the morning with a slow wander through Scripture, usually a chapter from Proverbs and a few chapters from whichever Book I am reading at the time (John, currently). I would love for this to be a daily habit, but my flesh is weak, my nature distracted, even though I know that the mornings that start off this way always lead to the calmest days. Today, though, whatever the rest of the week holds, this day at least will begin as it should.

Sometime around noon, I sit down with two pads of paper: my weekly tear-away calendar where I write down our appointments and meal plans, and my grocery list, already started and ready to round out with anything we need for the week's meals.

After reviewing our plans for the week and browsing the kitchen to see what we have on hand, I start allocating meals.

Where to begin

Busy nights call for easy meals - spaghetti, usually, using spaghetti sauce from my perpetual supply in our freezer (replenished whenever I happen to have spare ground beef and a few extra minutes), or a chicken pot pie if I have some frozen spare filling from the last time I made a batch.

Evenings where plans are uncertain are typically assigned fish, as I can defrost, prepare, bake, and have it on the table in less than hour. If it turns out we won't be eating at home that night, no harm done, the fish just stays in the freezer.

If it's only the timing of the meal that is up in the air, I often pull out my crock pot, knowing that I can have a delicious stew or chili waiting for us whenever we're ready to eat.

Wide open days are opportunities for either high-prep meals or new recipes that I want to try. Ribs, tacos with homemade shells, or a vegetarian stew over cous cous are popular picks for those days, along with a scan of my bookmarks to see what new recipes I've come across recently.

A typical day gets a typical recipe. Burgers (salmon or beef), stir fry, baked chicken, or apple pork chops along with a side dish are some typical dishes here.

Leftovers are also taken into account in the weekly meal plan. If I'm roasting a whole chicken, for example, I will turn the leftovers into chicken pot pie filling the following day. A chicken pot pie lasts us two meals, and I usually get enough filling for three pies. I make one pie and divide the remainder of the filling into freezer bags for another week.

Recipe organization

To keep from getting in a rut, I have all of my tried-and-true recipes organized in Microsoft OneNote. I keep the file open in front of me as I make my weekly meal plan. I ignored OneNote for the longest time, never imagining I would love it the way I do now. It is ridiculously easy to use, lets me keep everything in one place, and satisfies my obsessive need to organize things to the nth degree. Whenever I try a new recipe and find it good enough to make again, I add it to my OneNote recipe file.

My OneNote is set up with a "Recipes" notebook and a "Personal" notebook. Each notebook is further divided into sections (Recipes: beef, pork, chicken, desserts, etc), and each section is then divided into pages (Beef: beef stew, shepherd's pie, pot roast, etc). For example, here is my Recipe notebook opened to the Chicken section (with a bonus chicken pot pie recipe if you can read the small print!):

Meal planning benefits

Meal planning has made such a big difference in our grocery spending. I am able to buy everything I needed for the week, which means less impulse buys when running out for "just one thing". There is also less waste, as I am only buying things that I will be using for a particular meal. Grocery shopping is immeasurably easier now that I'm not eyeballing the groceries in the cart and mentally putting them together into meals, hoping they'll fit into whatever the upcoming days have in store for us.

Breakfast and lunch

I only plan for dinners each week. I keep a list of balanced breakfast and lunch ideas on our fridge to keep these meals simple. When we run out of a staple, like cheese, pitas, or tortillas, I just add it to the grocery list hanging on the fridge.

  • yogurt with berries

  • bagel and fruit or applesauce

  • oatmeal with berries

  • apple slices with cheese or peanut butter

  • cereal or granola

  • pancakes or waffles

  • bagel with avocado and cucumbers

  • pita with hummus

  • veggies with hummus

  • quesadilla with guacamole

  • soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

  • fruit salad

  • green smoothie

  • eggs

Just look at that deliciously bright quesadilla, waiting to be topped with cheese!

Often we'll have either a "stick lunch" or a "cube lunch" (the boy's terms), which is basically just a bunch of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and pitas sliced into sticks or cubes, with hummus for dipping.

What does a typical breakfast or lunch look like for you?

An alternative method

One method of meal planning that I don't currently use but could make things less overwhelming if you're just starting to meal plan is to assign a particular "type" of food to each day. For example, Monday is chicken, Tuesday is beef, Wednesday is fish, Thursday is vegetarian, and so on. Or Monday is Mexican, Tuesday is Asian, Wednesday is pasta, and so on. Then each week it's just a matter of assigning something from each day's category and making sure all of the ingredients are either on hand or on the grocery list.

On the menu

As I sat down to make my meal plan this week, I started with a scan of the fridge (any leftovers or wilting food to take into account?) and a review of our week. Monday is typically grocery shopping day, so I keep those meals pretty basic. My father-in-law is visiting on Wednesday, so I needed something that met his dietary requirements and would make enough for all of us. Thursday will be a busy day with a playdate plus the baby we take care of part time, so I wanted something low-prep. On Saturday we will be going on our first date in about a year (!!!), so I needed something easy for the babysitter. With those plans in mind, this is our dinner menu for the week:

  • Monday: tacos

  • Tuesday: spaghetti (using leftover ground beef from tacos)

  • Wednesday: maple salmon with rice and carrots

  • Thursday: chicken pot pie

  • Friday: leftover chicken pot pie

  • Saturday: pizza

  • Sunday: citrus glazed chicken with rice and broccoli

For more meal plans, check out Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Happy meal planning!


  1. I have been trying to successfully meal plan for about three months or so. Usually lack of discipline and laziness interferes. I do have one question though, do you make your own hummus or buy it? If you make it would you care to share the recipe, please?

    And that is awesome about OneNote! I had no idea you could use it like that.

  2. I usually buy my hummus, but the hummus in the picture is homemade. I'm still working on the recipe, but for that one I puréed garbanzo beans with 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1/8 cup lemon juice, 1 clove garlic, and some salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper. It didn't quite have the right consistency though. Next time I would add more liquid, maybe even just a bit of water to thin it out a bit.

  3. I have been mealing planning for the last 11 weeks. We're pretty bland people(or Mike is haha) I try to make sure we don't eat the same thing a lot. I make my list for breakfast,lunch,and supper. Thanks for your tips!!

  4. making a variation of your chicken pot pie.... almost forgot the chicken (like putting the crust on). It looks amazing, thanks for the recipe! I'm so bad about planning ahead I almost always wait till the last min and throw something together. It's always pretty healthy, but I've gotten out of the habit of soaking grains and what not... no bueno.

  5. I find supper and grocery shopping so much easier with a meal plan too! I also only map out supper for the week. I look at my meal plan as a list of meals I know I have ingredients for, and I use it more like a menu of possibilities. I was keeping my tried-and-true recipes in Mastercook but now I end up just printing them after I blog them and stick them in a binder in sheet protectors. Works great for me! I have a hook on the wall next to my stove that holds a clip. I put my recipe there, in the sheet protector, to use while cooking. If something splatters on it, it wipes clean. Interesting to see how others do their meal plans :-)

  6. your meal planning/grocery list making process sounds pretty similar to mine. I do the meal planning a month ahead of time and make adjustments each week as necessary and then do a grocery list each Monday morning.

  7. The chicken pot pie was to die for. no left overs cause we had a house full of teenagers.

    One of the reasons that I don't menu plan is because I rarely use a recipe. I'm also a freak and get stressed out when things are over organized (I'm and INFP infancies on the P). So even though we have to drive 50 miles to the nearest store I almost always shop by eye. Honesty it doesn't always work out great, but usually we have some super creative and tasty meals.

  8. I've never seen/heard of OneNote.That is awesome though.

    Also when I make hummus I use tahini and about 1/4 cup lemon juice. I also leave a little of the chick pea juice in it, to make it the right consistency.

    I use to meal plan all the time, but in the last month or so I've found it more difficult as I can't stand to cook/prepare food.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your syle of doing things. I'm also an INFP and seeing you organize the same way I think is incredible helpful.