Meal Planning 101

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Lauren picking out produceWhether you’ve been cooking dinner for years and years or just starting to get into the swing of things, Meal Planning can help you stay organized and save money. Lots of people have their own methods and ways they create their family menu for the week, and today I’m sharing mine! This is what has worked for me and I thought it could be helpful for you, too. I find that half the battle is figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. If this strategy doesn’t work for you, then tweak as needed to make it work for you.

Here are the steps I use to Meal Plan:
  1. Take inventory of what you already have! Go through your fridge, pantry and cupboards and write down everything you have. I find it is easier to think of meal ideas when everything is written down on paper. When I’m looking in my fridge and then inmy cupboards, its easy to think “I have nothing to make! I need to go shopping.” BUT, if you write it all down together it gets easier. Don’t forget to check on other non-food items you might need like soap, dishwashing liquid, sponges, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, fabric softener, diapers, wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.. I have an extra budget allotted for these other items.
  2. Then, you know what I do? I look at my calendar. I know that seems a little counterintuitive, but I shouldn’t plan to make a few elaborate meals if the week is going to be busy and neither should you. So instead of stressing myself out, I create a broad, general, ‘kind of recipe needed’ meal plan based on my calendar that will work with my busy or non-busy schedule. A busier week meal plan might include crockpot or pressure cooker meals, eating out, fast 20-minute meals or prepping a freezer meal that you can just throw into the oven. A non-busy week might include some longer (1 hour+) recipes. Based on your week, figure out what time you’d be able to commit to cooking dinner.
  3. THEN, back to that list, figure out what dinners you can make with what you already have. Don’t waste food you guys. That’s money down the drain. Or in my case, down the trash chute. You bought that food so you might as well find a delicious way to use it. You might have to get creative, but that’s sort of the point. 🙂
  4. THEN, based on the ingredients you have left on your inventory list, figure out what dinners you can make by purchasing a handful of ingredients. If you have spaghetti pasta and ground beef, then maybe you just need to pick up a few veggies and marinara sauce to create a yummy spaghetti dinner.
  5. After you’ve ‘used’ the vast majority of the inventory list for other recipes, then you can start looking in other places for inspiration. I like looking on Pinterest, Facebook, on other food blogs, asking other friends, in magazines, cookbooks, etc.. for those other dinner ideas. Write your ingredient lists accordingly.
  6. Of course be sure to include breakfast and lunch items on your list as well as those non-food items.
  7. Then go shopping and do it all again next week!

Meal planning isn’t hard per say, but it definitely takes some getting used to — especially if you’re new to it. So, give my method a try and see if it makes your life in the kitchen a bit calmer. Every week should get a little easier and you’ll be able to adjust and/or customize the meal planning process for your family.

Is this how you plan your meals? How do you stay organized in the kitchen?

Have a great week, friends!!

Lauren Baking

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13 Responses
  1. Maria

    Lauren, I love the ideas you gave. Meal planning doesn’t have to be too complicated. I hope to keep a running inventory to make it so much easier!

  2. Lacee Harris

    How have I not read this yet?! I remember you talkkng about it but totally forgot to read it! You have great tips. I love love love the calendar tip. I think it’ll help me a TON! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Marilyn Brennan

    Do you have a master list of staples for pantry and fridge, etc? Is it in alphabetical order? Grouped in areas such as freezer# etc? I like your plans but HSBC such a time being organized…..

  4. This Week at the Brennan's | Lauren's Latest

    […] so I could get some posts up! That’s the day I posted this pressure cooker baked ziti and this post all about menu planning. It’s amazing what quiet time will do for my concentration levels! […]

  5. Busy Mom In Alabama

    I actually have a schedule for ALL.THE.MEALS. I made a master grocery list and *starred* the items I need for the meals. We like tortilla pizzas for lunch, so tortillas stay on the list. As well as pizza sauce, pepperoni and cheese. I always haven it!
    My dinners are more themed bc I like variety. But a list of regular staples makes my shopping easier! I just mark it off if I already have it. We are able to eat our favorites each week for breakfast and lunch and I can have some variety in the evenings.
    I even made one night our Family Favorites night. These are meals that take more time, but I want them to remember when they get older. My mother’s and grandmother’s recipes! Thank you for all the tips – I love the calendar tip! So true!

  6. Laura C

    This is exactly what I do too! Also on the night my girls have dance from 4:45-7:30 , its always leftovers or crockpot. And Friday is pizza so thats two nights I don’t even have to think about.

  7. Rachel E

    Thanks for all of these great ideas! I do they calendar thing too – it has helped me stick to my plan SO much more than when I just shopped for what I was hungry for. I love the idea of writing down an inventory! Sounds like a great way to eliminate finding a forgotten veggie or random can of something in the future. I plan on trying it this week!