A Complete Guide to Meal Planning

Every Sunday, Andrew and I put together a meal plan for the week, taking into consideration our workout schedule and other after-work commitments. Having a meal plan is great for two reasons:

1. It helps us save a ton of money at the grocery store because we know exactly what we need

Before we started meal planning, Andrew and I spent twice as much on groceries as we do now. We would basically buy ingredients that we thought we might want to work with that week, erring on the side of abundance. This method was awful. There was no consistency to our grocery budget, which drove me crazy. Some weeks we’d have way more food than we needed and would end up throwing out produce that had gone bad (makes me cringe), while other weeks we’d have an empty fridge by Wednesday and end up going out to eat (which add$ up).

2. It helps us plan ahead + make better choices throughout the week

In our pre-meal-planning days, most weeknights would fall into a predictable pattern: we’d arrive home from work, hungry and incapable of making a rational decision, let alone plan out a dynamic and delicious meal. So we’d pull out the chips and salsa and snack all the way through Jeopardy. 8pm would roll around: we’d be full of chips and no closer to a healthy meal. By 9pm we’d be hungry again, but with no interest in taking the time to cook any of the food in the fridge.

I am now fully on board the Meal Planning Train, with no plans of returning to the old (non)method. By stream-lining our weeknight dinners Andrew and I have one less thing to worry about during the crucial after-work hours we get to spend together each night. For those of you who are new to the idea of meal planning, I’ve broken down the process step-by-step.

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STEP 1: Find inspiration all week…

Throughout the week, when I see recipes that look good to me on Pinterest, Blogs, Twitter, etc., I’ll email them to myself, where they accumulate in a folder I created, called “Weeknight Dinners” (I also have a folder for “Baking”). I’m drawn toward vegetable-heavy meals, but they have to look delicious. Sometimes, just a beautiful picture is enough to inspire me.

STEP 2: Draft the meal plan Sunday morning…

Sunday mornings, Andrew and I will quickly think through the upcoming week and pencil in any pre-existing plans (ex. gym on Tuesday night, softball on Thursday). On nights with commitments that don’t include dinner plans, I’ll schedule something easy like leftovers. Then to fill in the remaining nights, I’ll scan through my “Weeknight Dinners” folder, and if I’m not feeling anything there, I’ll flip through one of our cookbooks, or check Food52.

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I usually leave some blanks in the meal plan. I knew we’d having “fish” on Sunday and “soup” on Monday, but the specific kinds were TBD until I saw what looked good/was on sale at the market. As soon as a meal is assigned to a night, I add its ingredients to the shopping list. I make our list on the reverse side of the meal plan mainly so I don’t forget anything.

STEP 3: Do your grocery shopping…

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Last week’s farmers’ market haul

I like to cross as many items off the list as possible at the farmers’ market and fill in the gaps at Trader Joe’s. (We usually buy our non-produce items like plastic wrap or paper towels on Amazon.) Once the shopping is done the meal plan is pinned up on the fridge for the rest of the week.

STEP 5: Prep what you can on Sunday night…

I could write a whole post on this alone, but prepping food Sunday night is one of the biggest indicators of success when it comes to meal planning. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you enjoy cooking), healthy foods like fruits and vegetables take more time to prepare than processed, packaged, convenience foods. On a weeknight, time is a valuable resource. So on Sundays, I like to wash my greens, chop the veggies, and hard-boil some eggs. I’ll often make a big batch of quinoa, as well.

STEP 6: And then do your best to execute throughout the week…

Overall, we tend to stick to our meal plans pretty closely, but occasional deviations from the meal plan are inevitable. Social events pop up during the week that take precedence, or Thursday night’s proposed meal just doesn’t sound as good on Thursday as it did on Sunday. You don’t need to follow a meal plan 100% to benefit from having one!

Looking at this past week, Andrew and I actually did really well in terms of adhering to our meal plan:

Sunday: Baked Salmon + Corn

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Monday: Butternut Squash + White Bean Soup & Kale Caesar Salad

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Tuesday: Leftover Soup + Mini Tuna Melts

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Wednesday: Brown Rice w/ Roasted Zucchini, Pepper, & Onions + a Fried Egg

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Thursday: Leftovers

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Friday: Wing it! All sources indicate that we will in fact be “winging it”.

We made slight variations here and there (ex. the BBQ threw a tantrum so we baked Sunday’s salmon in the oven, instead), but all of our grocery purchases went to use, so I consider this a successful week.

I hope this was helpful!

Amy

Question: Do you use a weekly meal plan? I am a converted meal plan devotee. I can’t be trusted to make a healthy meal decision in the heat of the moment or at the end of the day when I’m hungry. Typically in those situations, all that comes to mind is PIZZA. 

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