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Why I Really Should Do Meal Planning Again (Alternate Title: Why I Love My Neighbors)

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Need some more good reasons to start meal planning? (Or start again like me?)

You wouldn’t believe how forgetful I am at times. At least half of the times that I grocery shop, within minutes of being home I think of something that I should’ve had on the list. Does anyone else do this?

So what do I do when I’m missing that one ingredient again?

I call my neighbors! Megan, Sonia, Susan or Jeanne are the closest and they’ll either have what I need, or will be going to the store soon. If not them, I could list at least 10 other neighbors I could call and they wouldn’t think anything of it. We’re very blessed to live in a neighborhood with so many who have become close friends and who don’t mind helping each other out.

OR if I would just get back to my meal planning, I wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. Will you help?

I’m a detail girl, and this is specifically how I could use your help – I’d like to know how exactly do you do your meal planning…

  • Do you write your meal plans in your iPhone? Your day planner? On a sheet by the fridge?
  • Do you plan for one week? Two? Longer?
  • Do you make out your grocery list at the same time you meal plan?
  • Do you plan exactly what you’ll have for each breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do you generally stick to those plans?
  • Or do you do what I used to? I always kept stuff for breakfasts and lunches on hand, and for dinners, I just made one list with many different meals to choose from on any given night, and made sure I had what I needed for those.
  • Any suggestions to make this easier? (Specifically, how to cut down on the time it takes to menu plan?)

I can’t wait to hear from you, then I’m going to try to get back into this habit. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!

Try these meal plans if you’d like some help!

Or for those grain-free or on GAPS:




  1. I keep a note pad in my kitchen separated into sections like Meat, Dairy, Produce, Gro. Misc, Household. As I think of something I’ve run out of or need, I write it on the list. On Tuesdays when the sales ads come out, I plan my shopping list. I do a freezer/pantry inventory and I make my menu plan. I’ve only been planning one week at a time and only dinner, but I think I”m going to start planning lunches and breakfasts as well with a few snack ideas thrown in.

    You’d swear my children are toddlers, but they are 10 & 8. They are eating me out of the house, constantly hungry. I like having a plan for lunches & snacks so they don’t eat 14 sandwiches a day. All that bread is not good.

  2. I have a clip board which holds my menu planning calendars, grocery lists, freezer lists, etc. I have an excel spreadsheet seperated in to sections like the pp that has the names of items I buy on a regular basis printed on it. There is also space for irregular purchases in the same categories. I can just put checkmarks or quantities next to the regular items and write in the extras. I currently plan meals a few days/week at a time, though at one time I did it monthly. If I think of a menu I want, I just write it down on my weekly sheet. I have several on my clipboard so I can write down meals further out when I think of them, or mark of when we won’t be eating at home and the like.

    For breakfast, we usually eat the same thing every Sunday, Monday, etc unless we travel/have company. That saves me a lot of planning time. I am just trying to build the habit of planning lunch so we can eat bean dishes and other things that I want to presoak.

  3. You’re giving me good inspiration!

    For some crazy reason the comments were turned off for the first few hours this post was up, I hope people will check back and keep leaving comments!


  4. When I meal plan (like you,I need to get back on it) I generally plan week by week. Breakfast and lunch are free for alls (except weekend breakfasts which are special since my husband is home to enjoy them with us) so we keep things on hand for those. Dinners are planned, usually with left-overs in mind. Like baked chicken and various veggie sides will become Vietnamese chicken fried rice (we like the recipe from “More-With-Less” cookbook) which is a great use-it-up recipe. I Use Amy Knapp’s Family Organizer which has perforated side columns for “menu’ and “grocery” (which means, tear it out and take it to the store….if I remember lol). Although… once I get my blackberry this system is going digital 😉

  5. Ooooh, I’m all about digital, let me know your system when you get it going!

    I keep my grocery list on my palmer now, but I’m sure there are many more fun digital things that could be done!

  6. I actually bought a recipe program for my computer…Bigoven…easy to import any recipe…organized in recipe boxes with a calender where you just have to drag and drop your recipes. You can also add your recipes to the grocery list. It lets you uncheck what you have on hand. It is the best and easiest program to use. I couldn’t live without it.

  7. Kelly,

    I plan on paper in my planner and I use Franklin Covey’s menu planning pages – my mom got them for me for Christmas a couple of years ago and I like them a lot.

    I either plan once a week or once a month – If I’m planning once a month we use the same menu for four weeks (I do this most often during a stressful month).

    I make out my menu – breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (though breakfasts and lunches tend to always be the same from week to week). Then I go through and make out my shopping list (it’s printed on the back of the menu plan and nicely divided by category).

    After I make out the shopping list I take a piece of notepaper and write the days of the week, then write out my “to-do’s” for each day – soaking, thawing, marinating, etc.

    I put the menu plan/grocery list in my planner in front of the week it’s for. I post my to-do list on the fridge.

    I do have a magnetic pad on the fridge where I write staples/spices/etc that run out and I check that when I make out my list. I use the “misc” column on the printed shopping list to write what I need to get from the co-op.

    Generally we stick to the plan but I like to have stuff on hand for “quick” meals in case I can’t make what I’d planned for whatever reason. I’m also trying to double and triple a recipe or two every week so our freezer will be stocked just in case we need a meal from there.

    No tips on cutting down the time… I just take the 30 minutes or so I need every Friday evening while the hubby and I play a game together on the computer :)

  8. Janice, that sounds cool…wheels are turning…

    Holly, you just keep healing, and give us the word when you need more meals! And no more accidents or injuries, girl!

    Kristen, thanks for the details on how you pull off your meal planning – I think there are a lot of people like me who LOVE hearing the details and are helped by that.

  9. I have to agree with Holly — we live in an awesome neighborhood!!

    I do all my meal planning on paper. I started a couple years ago with a master list of maindishes we like. It is broken down into categories-
    poultry, pork, beef, ground beef, mexican, pasta, soups/ sandwiches.
    Everyone in the family had input so their favorite dishes were included.
    Just two weeks ago I did a major planning/ shopping adventure.
    I now have a list of 40 maindishes (some repeats) that are premade or that I have the ingredients for on my refrigerator. And 10 more meals that I could shop for.
    I have the luxury of having a standup freezer and an extra refrigerator.
    I keep an inventroy of my freezers.
    On Friday I plan for the weekend and up coming weeks meals. I included weekend/ weekday breakfast , weekend lunches, and all dinners.
    Once I have made a dish I have highlighted it. I plan to use this list as a master copy.
    I always cook and plan for extras so that I can make at least two meals at a time. Usually the second meal goes into the freezer to be used another week. (My family doesnot like leftovers).
    I also do a day of prep work. Saturday or Monday I get started for the week. Right now I have beans cooking to use for making a mexican dish and freezing the extra. I have the potatoes I need for the week parboiling. The skins are on. I will wrap them in a white cloth and store in an airtight container in the refrig. Then they are ready for hash browns or fried potatoes or whatever else this week. Parboiling them cuts the cooking time dramatically.
    Also I have to bake today for lunch boxes. While the brownies are baking, I will make a batch of rice to cook in the oven at the same time and then it will be ready to use later this week.
    It takes some planning and thinking ahead. But it has cut down on the amount of time we eat out — as a family we only ate out 4 times in 2008! We use to eat out atleast once a week!

  10. I plan for one full week but will include three meals and two snacks every day. I have a template that I have used for a very long time and I go through all my recipes and pick out ones for each meal/day. Then make a list for the week and put it all on my Mac. I have about 11 full weeks and I would probably wouldn’t have to plan a menu again however I love finding and cooking new recipes all the time so the menus change frequently. I love never spending any time wondering what I am going to make for dinner or looking to see if I have all the ingredients for something.

  11. I love the suggestions about keeping master lists/templates to go back and then just pick from, so meal-planning may take more time in the beginning, but later will be a piece of cake………….I’ll get there again one of these days!

  12. I have always meal planned on note book paper for each week. I would plan out a few meals (dinners only, b&l are what ever is on hand) that were easy go-to and a few that were new recipes I wanted to try out. Once I have my dinner menu list was made then I make my grocery list. I never had a set day for that set meal, just knew I had the ideas and the items on hand for that week. The last few months I have been bad about meal planning because I feel like I have “writers block” everytime I sit down to do it. Just drawing a blank of recipes. Then I cam across this great site and I love her idea: M0ndays – pasta
    Tuesdays – soup, salad, and/or sandwiches
    Wednesdays – stir fry
    Thursdays – crock pot
    Fridays – pizza
    Saturdays – something new
    Sundays – something easy
    This just made it easier to narrow down what I want to make and serve!

  13. It’s just me and my cat, so I don’t do much planning. Plus I live pretty close to the grocery store and I actually like to shop. Plus, I work as a personal chef, so when I am shopping for me clients I can pick something up. I think ahead a few days. Or get inspired when I am at the farmers’ market. I admire busy moms who are so organized. I am impressed reading peoples strategies.

  14. First thing I do is look at what is on the agenda for the week to come, then plan my meals and shopping list at the same time. I do all of this on my computer, end the shopping list to my phone and my hubbies phone( he does many of the weekly errands and this keep him aware of things we need, and able to snag unadvertised deals on what we need if possible) . For many years I did Once a Month cooking, but we found that it was easier to work with the fresh veggies on a week to week basis. Currently Sundays start with a roast chicken, and then a batch of bone broth is made with the bones ( as well as any other ones saved from the weekly meals). The bone broth is used to make rice, soups, sauces and so forth – it’s something we all look forward to and insures that there is something healthy to build on throughout the week .

  15. I love plan to eat . com! I just do alot better with fixing healthy foods and getting things prepared ahead of time if I use it. I generally only do one week at a time but you can do as far ahead as you like. I always plan for easy, quick meals also just in case I am running late or too tired to do too much.

  16. Ever since I started shopping almost exclusively through the farmers market, farms, or CSAs for my food (vegetables, eggs, meat, and dairy), long term meal planning is almost impossible. It’s just too hard to predict what’s going to be available in three or four weeks (especially with this drought going on!).
    So, what I’ve been doing is rummaging around in my freezer and pulling out what kind of meat I feel like fixing, and then planning the next three or four days based on what I can make with that and whatever veggies I’ve got on hand. When I go out to the farmers market, I just buy whatever looks good and is reasonably priced. Our market is “growers-only”, so I don’t have to worry that it was shipped in from Honduras or someplace. Then I keep a running list of the other types of things I still buy at the grocery store (spices, household goods, etc). It takes a lot of creativity sometimes, but it’s the only system I’ve found that works!

  17. I meal plan on Saturday morning. I make a list of everything I am going to make for the week then all the ingredients. Next I go through the pantry and fridge to see what I have already then cross that off the list. We go to farmers market first to get fruits and veggies then the grocery store to get the remainder.

  18. I try to follow the seasons/farm market availability. My children have food allergies and attend school- so often I’ll use the school lunch menu as a guideline if possible. We skip the breakfast for lunch and garbage, but if they’re having spaghetti, we’ll have spaghetti squash and sauce- if they’re having chicken nuggets, we’ll have chicken curry etc., Chili, burgers, so I have left overs that are similar for lunches the next day. I also try to have something going in the crock pot for Monday morning so I can easily fill a thermos, toss in a green salad and have a quick lunch ready to go on our most crazy day.

  19. First, I make a list of categories: chicken, fish, pasta, vegetarian, beef, soups, “fun” dinners……then below each category I put about 4-6 options for a meal having to do with that category. I plug them into my calendar and we just rotate them. As we get sick of a certain meal, I find a new meal or two to plug in its spot. This way, I can make a month’s meal calendar, plan my shopping, and not worry at 5pm what we are going to have for dinner. It also helps me plan my grocery/food shopping as I ONLY get what I need!!!

  20. I made a list of the meals that I end up making when I don’t plan meals (my default go-to meals), and then I stack them in an order that makes sense on my calendar, adding new ones and taking tired ones out for awhile as I go.

  21. I usually start out with my weekly visit to my neighborhood farmer’s market. Whatever veg is in season determines what dinners we’ll have for the week. For example, if peepers are abound, then stuffed peppers is on the menu, so ground beef/lamb get added to the meat list, and so on with the different veggies. My farmer’s market has a certified organic Berkshire Pork and pastured beef farmer, so some of my meats get bought at the same time as the veggies. Breakfast is usually eggs, and those come from my farmer’s market. Lunches can be left-over diner from last night, or a smoothie or a sandwich. Or just salad with yogurt and home-made hummus. I always keep dry beans and chick-peas in my pantry, and make sure to refill the spices too. This forces me to eat seasonally and quite fresh. Usually things cycle through my fridge within a couple of weeks (except for frozen broths etc. of course. After my farmer’s market visit, i make a list (on paper with a pencil) to complete the meal plans, and take that list to the really awesome one-of-a-kind market i have in town.
    Good Luck.

  22. i keep my goal simple so i can actually achieve it – i meal plan for 5 nights a week knowing that one or two nights might be leftovers or breakfast for dinner or we might not be home. i also try to make a few freezer meals for those last minute suppers that i don’t have time to prep for. i should be good at this since i host a freezer meal workshop once a month at my house – but i am often too busy helping others to make my own!! 😉

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