Meal Planning 101

When you hear the words Meal Planning, do you get all nerdy and pull out colored markers, Pinterest ideas, and jump in with both feet? Alternatively, do you cringe, with the guilt of not planning, overspending, and never knowing what dinner will be? Are you like me? I fall somewhere in between. Some Saturday mornings I wake up with the excitement of Christmas, I meal plan every single meal, side item, and after school snack. Other months I hide under the covers, pretend I don’t need to meal plan, throw things together haphazardly from my pantry and freezer and find great joy when things come together to create a meal my family (of 12) loves.

One thing that many people forget in meal planning is to plan meals around the protein they already have! Don’t forget to check your pantry and freezer for ideas. Also, after I compile a complete shopping list, (here’s one of the most important steps to meal planning) I go through my cabinet and mark off or reduce the amount of anything I already have on hand. So, if a recipe calls for apple cider vinegar, I write it down on my list. When I go through my list compared to my pantry, and see that I still have ACV there, I know I can cross it off of the list. These tips will help save you time and money at the grocery store.

When I think about meal planning, the thing I have realized is that I need different styles of meal planning for different seasons of life, and no one meal planning option is the RIGHT option all the time. I am going to break down a few of my favorite meal plans ideas, and we would love to hear your ideas as well!


Method 1 – Meals for a Month

In this method, I sit down and map out the entire month of meals and snacks. I recommend use of either a calendar or a date list, pull up your Pinterest account or find your favorite cookbooks, and happily create a new meal plan for each day of the month. When I have done this in the past, I document each meal along with the side dishes and write down my shopping list as I go. This option takes, by far, the most time commitment each month, but also brings many new meals and ideas to my meal plan. It’s fun during those months that I have time to be creative.



Method 2 – Theme Days

In this method, we had a “theme” for each day of the week, and on weekends we usually just enjoy leftovers and/or plan for times of eating out or ordering pizza. We had a great plan for our family and this method makes it easy when planning because I could look up a very narrow field of choices for each day of the week, but still add variety and bring in new meal ideas.

Monday – Pasta or Rice recipe
Tuesday – Potato
Wednesday – Sandwiches/Salad/Wrap/Soup
Thursday – Breakfast
Friday – Homemade pizza, tacos, or quesadillas (a fun family dinner)
Saturday – Leftovers
Sunday – Chicken or Roast with veggies (Crockpot so its ready after church)

I would sit down every week, or every two weeks and create a mini plan. I would keep a lot of the base foods on hand as often as I could. We have gobs of pasta, rice, and eggs to make sure I can throw something together quickly and with ease when using this method. This is also fun when I bring in my girls to help. My twins are 10, and I have a girl who will soon be 15, and one who is 16. I can hand them a cookbook or my tablet or computer and say girls find a pasta dish or a breakfast idea. It’s fun to see what they come up with!


Method 3 – Weekly plan

This method is a favorite because it is literally the easiest plan once you get it implemented. In this plan you would create 6 full weeks of meals, and each week’s shopping list. Label each week and every month you would pick 4-5 of the weeks to get you through. You have a ready-made meal plan and shopping list for each one, and the variety comes in when you use each plan as well as adding that extra 6th week, so that you can vary things up. This is the best for mom’s who get overwhelmed by the idea of meal planning. You spend time on it once and it’s done (for awhile). You might find your family starts to get tired of the same meals every month. It’s an easy fix! If you can take time to come up with a new week, and shopping list, you have another choice to throw into your rotation. That’s also great as season’s change. Here in Arkansas summer food is anything that helps me stay away from the stove. I love crockpot meals, salads, and wraps, as opposed to winter where soup and chili are at the top of my list. The opportunity is there to grow this menu and make it your “go to” meal plan!


Method 4 – The planned no-plan             

I truly didn’t know what to call this method. I’ve done this method before when I’m going through anything super stressful or hormonal *gasp*. This is probably the most basic meal plan option. Let’s say that I need to plan meals and buy groceries for a two-week period. I would come up with 14 meals and a shopping list that provides for each. I keep those meals on my list until I make them, and then I cross them off. It’s super simple, gives me tons of flexibility to pick a meal based on my mood. The biggest challenge is that I don’t always remember to sit out the chicken to thaw, or throw something in, in the morning. I highly recommend that if you do this method, you try to think about your meal plan the night before, so that you don’t get stuck in the trap of having everything on hand and still eating out because nothing is prepped.

I know there are other meal plan options out there. Do you meal plan with your family? Do you meal plan on your own or with help from your spouse or children? What are some of your favorite meals?

If all else fails, don’t forget the magic of an electric pressure cooker or the ease of taco week! Happy meal planning and prayers from our family to yours.

Therfore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24