Four Rules of Meal Planning

I loved the feedback you offered me Friday about which topics you enjoy reading about. A popular request was meal planning. It just so happens I could talk all day about this topic. My inner organizational freak loves it and it sure comes in handy once the week begins and life happens.

It all begins throughout the prior week by bookmarking, pinning or taking pictures of recipes I want to try. Then when I sit down to write out the meals for the week, I have some ready to go.

However, rule number one is to BE REASONABLE. I’d love to cook new meals 5 days a week, but chances are I’ll be tired one day, or have  too much to do to want to play in the kitchen for an hour. Instead I look ahead at our schedule and plan new meals for days when I have a little more wiggle room. On the busier days I plan simple go-to meals or make-ahead meals.

Sunday– Lemoney Tomato Herb Scallops and Rosemary Bread
Monday– Black Bean Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries
Tuesday– Baked Chicken with Mustard Sauce, Baked Sweet Potatoes and Asparagus
Wednesday– Indian Spiced Lentils and Naan
Thursday– Homemade Meat and Veggie Sauce over Spaghetti
Friday– out

Once I list out dinners, I decided on lunches (usually bowls filled with grains, greens and beans). I plan David’s breakfasts, fruit for the week and a snack option (usually hummus).

The next rule I follow is BE SPECIFIC. I write a list of everything I need for each meal and snack, including quantity (example: 10 bananas) because it’s amazing how my mind goes black once I’m in the store.

weekly food prep- grocery cart

I stick to the list unless I catch a deal for a staple that I can’t pass up.

2013-03-31 12.56.22

My total bill for the week from the grocery, plus the scallops (enough for two dinners) from the farmers market was $110.57.

Once I get home, I go straight into prep mode. The secret of a smooth week of healthy meals is to BE PREPARED.

weekly food prep- dried lentils

Dried lentils are cheap and easy. I decided they’d be my protein source for lunch this week, plus they’ll be ready to go for Wednesday’s dinner.

weekly food prep- simple prep

I chose barley as my grain for the week (I try to mix it up weekly), so I put a pot of dried barley on to cook, too. I set timers and moved on to carrots.

weekly food prep- roasted carrots

I preheated the oven to 375 while I diced carrots, tossed them in olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. I stuck them into roast for 40 minutes or so.

Total active prep time- 15 minutes. That’s it!

weekly food prep- ready for fridge

When yesterday’s lunch time came, it took me less than 5 minutes to throw a healthy, balanced meal together.

weekly food prep- prepped lunch

Spinach, barley, lentils and roasted carrots microwaved for 60 seconds then topped in La Bonne Vie spreadable goat cheese and Newman’s Balsamic dressing.

My final “rule’” is to BE FLEXIBLE. A week or two ago when David was sick, he only wanted soup for dinner. I decided I was fine eating hummus and crackers for dinner, so I froze the meats and vegetables for later use. I also usually throw an easy meal (soup and grilled cheese or spaghetti this week) that is quick and easy. I can swap it with another dinner if the day gets hectic. It’s important to have an escape route for when life gets busy.

Otherwise, it offers me such peace of mind knowing that dinners for the week are lined up and ready to go.

weekly food prep- bean burgers

Last night’s black bean burger (I used Emily’s recipe, but subbed cashews for pumpkin seeds and subbed half the oats for breadcrumbs) with spinach, avocado and sriracha with sweet potato fries.

Do you have any tips to add or any questions?



  1. says

    Love these posts! Great tips. I would say that prep and flexiblity are both important. I definitely scour recipes on the internet before heading to the grocery store, write down the exact quantities of everything I need, and buy accordingly – with a couple of splurge items here and there! And then I use an hour or two on Sunday to prep snacks and anything else I may need during the week. It’s a little bit of work but well worth the effort!
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  2. Christina says

    One of my new favorite tips is to use the crock pot overnight! I work full-time and am usually out of the house from 7:30am – 5pm, so crock pot recipes that call for 6-8 hours on low just don’t work for me (even with my programmable crock pot, it’s still too long). So, I set the crock pot up around 10-11pm and let it cook overnight, then unplug it around 6am when I wake up. By the time I need to leave for work, it’s usually cool enough to divide into portion sized containers and pop in the fridge. I just need to warm it up when I get home and dinner is ready to go!

    • says

      I am fine with planning and buying but I don’t do prep! It often trips me up when I go looking for snacks and there’s nothing healthy that’s ready right now. Must do more prepping!

  3. Melissa says

    I would love to know how you clean your veggies amd fruits! I see that you don’t use plastic bags to store them in the cart while shopping. Great for the environment, but the well used carts make me nervous! Thanks!

    • says

      Oh gosh, I don’t have a fancy method! I scrub under running water and towel dry. I’ve thought about buying fruit/veggie wash but haven’t committed yet. I’ve never had a problem with it so fingers crossed it stays that way :)

    • says

      Yes and no. It is our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for most of the week. We typically eat out or pick up Papa Murphy’s pizza on Friday and Saturday nights, plus one other meal out- usually a Saturday brunch or lunch. Sometimes my bill is higher when I have to stock up on staples (chicken broth, flour, oats, etc). I’m toying with the idea of sharing our meal plan every week and if we do, I’ll share the amount spent, too :)

  4. says

    Yes, I love reading about meal planning. Before having a kid, I thought, “how hard is it to make a quick pot of spaghetti?’, but now, now i KNOW! I found the thing that actually helped get me started was creating a fun meal planner…

    Now, I’m stuck trying to figure out how to store things–how long can certain foods be left in the fridge or frozen? I never thought about carrots, great idea!
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  5. says

    For the first time in my life, I did a mini-meal plan this week! You would be so proud (especially because I normally do not cook and hit up Subway or eat canned soup for dinner). I actually went through some of your old posts to get a feel for it. I say “mini-meal” plan though because I decided to start slow and only plan for two meals this week. One of which (veggie soup) produced a LOT of leftovers, so I have a few other lunches and dinners out that one meal. I actually had a ton of fun making my list and grocery shopping with a meal in mind. Anyway, sorry for the book, just wanted to let you know that you were my inspiration and I’ll happily bookmark this page for when I decide to attempt it again :)
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  6. Sarah says

    Tip: Get a calendar that fits your meal planning schedule.

    My weekly planner goes from Monday to Sunday. I usually do my meal planning and shopping on Sunday. So I sit down and write down a list of dinners that sound good (and confirm with the husband). I can usually stretch my creativity/energy to get 4 really good meals planned.

    So then I write it in my planner, starting on Sunday… flip the page… Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Crap. Ran out of meal ideas. I feel like a failure. I only made it to Wednesday!

    I need to get a new calendar that starts on SUNDAY. Then I’ll feel more accomplished :)

  7. Abby says

    I love your tip about being specific and sticking to your list. So often, I get sucked in by the fresh, yummy looking produce and I buy way too much of it without having specific recipes in mind. Then I rarely use it all up before some of it goes bad and needs to be tossed out. I need to start telling myself that even if it’s good for you, on sale and looks delicious, I can’t buy it unless I have something specific in mind to make with it. =)

  8. says

    Great tips and I’m with you on actually loving to plan! 😀 Hehe. A while back on my blog, I shared mine and my husband’s meal planning strategy, which is actually to plan out and shop for (minus the fresh produce items) our meals in 6-week increments. I get into more specifics in my posts, but we’ve found that while it takes a little more planning upfront, it’s a huge time-saver in the end – both on the planning and shopping fronts. It makes weekly shopping a breeze and that’s 5 whole weeks we don’t even have to think about meal planning. In case anyone’s interested, here’s the link: 😀
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  9. says

    These are great tips. Thanks!

    I usually meal plan and try my best to stick to my list when I go shopping. The thing I need to improve on is prepping for the whole week.

    I recently tried a few dishes in the crock pot and love it!

    • says

      I let them mostly cool and store them in a mason jar with a lid. They always do fine keeping until I eat my way through them, which is usually by Friday :)

  10. Beth says

    Ben and I have a hard time meal planning, so we end up eating some of the same things over and over again. While cruising on Groupon, there was a deal for emeals and I decided to try it. It has been awesome! It’s an awesome deal for me because now I can just print the recipes and list and go shopping without having to “think” about the week ahead. We went with the clean eating option because we wanted fresh foods. I was inspired by reading your posts, but knew I couldn’t do it on my own!

    • says

      I have heard awesome things about emeals! I’ve thought about trying it, but I get a thrill out of meal planning (I know… weird) so I haven’t looked into it much yet. I LOVE that it works so well for you though. Maybe I’ll get to try it out one day :)

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