How to Meal Plan

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Tips for Meal Planning // One Lovely Life

A few of you have mentioned you’re in a cooking rut or you’re trying to figure out your meal planning strategy. I thought I’d share a few things that help us as we plan our meals.

Tips for Meal Planning // One Lovely Life

1. Start at home base.

I keep a list of meals that I know nearly all of us will eat and/or are inexpensive to make. A few things on our home base list…

In our pre-gluten/dairy-free life, our list also included things like…

Your home base list might include your famous chili, baked potatoes, Friday night pizza, a slow-cooker roasted chicken, or “clean-out-the-fridge” soup. You can also include meals you can pull from the freezer. Soups and stews work really well for these. I tend to make a dish (or double it) and then freeze some for leftovers on a rough night. Some of our faves are…Butter Chicken, Pumpkin Taco Soup, Chicken Lime Soup, and Slow Cooker Beef Stew.

Having a home base list means you can build in some variety without breaking the bank or overwhelming anyone at your house resistant to trying new foods (like my toddlers). I make 2-3 new meals per week and fill in the rest of the meals with things from my “home base” list.

Tips for Meal Planning // One Lovely Life

2. Simplify.

We’ve found that from a planning standpoint and a budget standpoint, it’s worked really well for us to make dinner our fun (or “variety”) meal. We try 2-3 new recipes per week for dinner, and keep our breakfast and lunch pretty much the same. This has a few advantages:

You don’t have to spend 1,000 hours planning every last detail of every meal or all day in the kitchen. The breakfasts and lunches are fairly automatic. You follow a basic outline, and rotate through a few options, meaning you just need to check in with which ingredients/staples you’re low on and add them to your list. This might mean you make a batch of granola that will last a week, or stock up on oatmeal or maple syrup. The next week, we might need to pick up some eggs, or make a batch of roasted veggies. You can take care of those things in a single swoop and bam. Breakfast and lunch are planned.

I find this is especially important for people working on completing a Whole30, elimination diet, or making a transition to cooking meals from scratch (often after an allergy diagnosis, etc.). You feel like ALL YOUR TIME is being sucked up by planning and cooking every component of every meal. When you adopt a pattern like this, you really cut down on your kitchen time, and the mental energy you have to devote to meal planning.

Tips for Meal Planning // One Lovely Life

3. Embrace leftovers.

I don’t mean eating leftovers All Day Every Day. But I cook a new dinner 4-5 days per week and we have 1-3 nights of leftovers or easy dinners for the rest. Before we had little ones, we ate more leftovers (or froze half of the meal for another night down the road). We rarely eat out as a family, so nearly all our dining dollars go toward meals cooked at home, and I want to make them count! On nights we go on dates out, our kids happily eat something easy like yogurt, toast, fruit, sandwiches, or hot dogs. I don’t stress about it.

Tips for Meal Planning // One Lovely Life

4. Write it down.

I try really hard to plan our weekly meals on Sunday or Monday. I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays (our grocery store has double-ad day where you get last week’s deals and this week’s deals!). I usually throw in a Costco run for the other things we need, and we may pick something up here or there if we forget it. Having a list written down means that I don’t get to 5:00 and suddenly feel like “OH, NO! What are we having for dinner!? The fridge is empty!”

I do this with an open notebook, my Pinterest boards or cookbooks at the ready, and a show on most of the time. I write down the meals I’m planning on making and what their ingredients are. I then use that to make a grocery list. I keep a menu on the fridge for reference and planning, and it keeps things running smoothly. Pick a day and time you can commit to and try it out for a few weeks.

I love this list pad by Knock Knock. It’s magnetic, so it hangs out on our refrigerator in my line of sight. (I found it at World Market, but you can also find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and !ndigo).

A note on budgeting…

I rarely use coupons. I don’t price-match. My BEST money-saving tips are to buy whole foods and shop with a list. I rarely buy anything pre-cut or prepared because it’s cheaper to do it myself. I buy meat or pantry staples in bigger amounts when they’re on sale. This works for us, though I have lots of friends who do their best budget work with coupons and price-matching. Figure out what works best for you!

I do most of my shopping at Sprouts. They have excellent produce prices, Double Ad Wednesday (you get last week and this week’s discounts), and carry the best variety of gluten/dairy-free products (like coconut yogurt and gluten free pretzels). I tried price-matching at Walmart for a while, but found that I was price matching nearly 100% of my list to Sprouts’s prices, so it just made more sense to shop at Sprouts. It has. And I love Sprouts so much more.

What are your best meal-planning tips?

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  1. One more thought for the ‘Simplify’ category, I have recently read a couple of articles on studies that indicate that those who ‘repeat’ meals – have the same things regularly, especially for breakfast and lunch, tend to not over-eat, and to maintain a healthy weight. Those that are constantly trying to find something ‘new’ to eat for all three meals, tend to go the other direction – they gain weight and struggle with portion control. It makes sense to me!

  2. We do a lot of the same things. Monday meal plan, tuesday shopping day, etc.
    I do price match, but not religiously. We have few store options close by so walmart it is most of the time. My biggest money saver is the fact that when I do my weekly meal plan. I only go to the store once a week. That keeps me from stopping in every other day to grab the “one thing” and walk out with 10. I also organize my grocery list by my route in the store. This keeps me from wandering down isles I don’t need something from and being tempted to buy it anyway. ALso helps with the children, because I don’t do any back tracking and can get out of the store fairly quickly.

    1. Totally agree with you about planning the list by your route in the store. Ever since I started doing that, things have gone SO much smoother when I have little ones with me!

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