Simplifying Dinner: Part 2 – Meal Planning

Simplifying Dinner

If you missed Simplifying Dinner: Part 1: Budgeting, make sure to read it first!  These posts are all connected 🙂


This week I’m writing about Meal Planning.  For many, this is a dreaded part of prepping for dinner.  How do you come up with ideas?  How do you keep recipes organized?  I will share with you how I do it, but I’m not perfect.  I’d love to hear from you all what works for you.  We can all learn from each other!  I struggle with venturing out of my comfort zone and trying new recipes, or finding recipes that my family will actually try, let alone enjoy.  And it’s also hard to come up with creative, healthy meals that don’t cost an arm and leg!

Even still, I will share how I meal plan and you can pull from it whatever you like 🙂

Here’s how I start my meal planning:

  1. First, create a database of meals your family loves.  These are meals that are always crowd-pleasers.  You need these as staples in your repertoire.  I keep mine on index cards in my recipe box, but also saved on my computer.  A lot of times I will email myself a shopping list, and having the recipes on the computer makes it easy to copy and paste the ingredients into my list.  Or you can save the ingredients in your Grocery I.Q. App.
  2. Second, create a list of recipes that are good, but not necessarily favorites.  You know which ones I’m talking about, right?  The meals that satisfy, but aren’t knockouts 🙂
  3. Third, create a list of recipes you would like to try out.  You can plan in these periodically.  Maybe once a week?  That way you don’t overwhelm your family with a ton of meals they may or may not like.

After you create your meal database, you need to decide how far out you are going to meal plan.  One week? Two weeks? A month?

I like to plan a month in advance.  You can print out an empty calendar or use a dry-erase calendar and easily map out the meals.  That way you can spread out any meals you will be repeating so they aren’t too close together.  There are so many ways to organize the meals, but I’m a visual person, so seeing it on a calendar makes it a lot easier for me.

I also like to add the basic family schedule to the meal plan calendar.  That way I can easily see which nights we might not be home for dinner.  Or if my husband is gone, it will be a good night to have mushrooms or something else he doesn’t care for 🙂  Also, if there is a particularly busy day on the calendar, I can plan a crockpot or freezer meal to start in the morning that will be done by the time I return.  All of the best meal planning in the world won’t matter if you aren’t actually going to be home to cook it!

So this is what I do to plan.  Is it the way everyone needs to plan?  Absolutely not.  Everyone has a different style.  Maybe you love lists and would feel better about listing out all the meals.  Or maybe pictures?  Or a chalkboard?  I’ve thought about writing the names of each recipe, along with page numbers and name of the recipe book it is in onto popsicle sticks and putting them in a jar.  That way I can randomly design our month of meals.  But I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet 🙂

Next week’s post will cover Crockpot and Freezer Meals, with a little on how I find my recipes.  Stay tuned!


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  1. Sarah Bayless says:

    Uhhhh you plan way differently then I do. I plan one week in advance. I plan according to what is in my fridge that needs to be used up, verses what is coming in my CSA box/what will be available at the farmers market. I plan a different protein for each night (a chicken, beef, sea food, eggs etc.) and then supplement and round out with LOTS of produce. So I always have a roll over of some things that are in my fridge still, and some things that I will need to get that week. That is why I never really can plan out farther then a week. Then I sit and go through cookbooks or plan according to if I need to start it earlier because of schedule. I try and put a super pleaser meal for Sam and one for Eden in the mix too. I also plan by taking in to account how much LOs it will create so that I can make sure there is lunch always for Sam to take to work. If I make something that rarely has LOs (salad, steak etc.) I need to add in to my plans either a roll over LOs from a night before, or something I can put together for him. So it takes me about an hour or so on sunday to put this all together.

    • Thrifty Family Finds says:

      Totally different, although if I had a farm box I would definitely not be able to plan a month out. I usually loosely plan a month out, then tweak it as it gets closer based on what I have on hand, what’s on sale, and what sounds good 🙂 Chris won’t eat 90% off leftovers, so I usually just have enough left for C and I, which is fine. We have a general rotation of protein, too. Usually salmon once a week, cod or hake once a week, and then chicken once or twice, beef once or twice, it just depends on the recipes and what else I have on hand.