A Look At Our Simple Meal Planning System


Since I post so many recipes, I also field a lot of questions about our meal plan, and I’ll be honest, I’m always a little shy about answering them, because i’m NOT a meal planning genius – or even mediocre with meal planning.

Images shows a table photographed from above, with some food, and text that reads "How to make meal planning simple"

I’ve read the articles on why and how, and truthfully, it just doesn’t work for our family. I’ve shared my $20 grocery shopping plan, and $20 weekly meal plan, and we have used those in the past, but I’ve also (hopefully) made it really clear that we do not adhere to those meal plans on a regular basis. Partly because there is a huge variety of food you can buy cheaply beyond what’s on those lists when you shop strategically, and partly because we don’t necessarily need to keep our grocery budget that low, as well as the fact that what we grow largely influences how we eat, and yesterday we just got a big pig back from the butcher – goodbye chicken, hello pork!

So, how do we meal plan?

The answer is: we eat very simply. Very, very simply. I think some of the confusion about the way we eat stems from the things I post to my Instagram account. I LOVE to cook and bake, but those things are the highlights from our weekly meals, and often, the desserts are things I’ve made to take to our church potluck. So I’m trying to remember to post some of the ordinary things as well. Fried eggs and spinach from breakfast, or baked chicken with rice and steamed broccoli from lunch.

We rotate recipes. There are a number of foods we love well enough to eat them over and over again. Pizza happens pretty much every week, and if it were up to the kids, they’d eat nothing but spaghetti or quesadillas for lunch every single day.

Image shows a template for meal planning

Which brings us to the meat of how we meal plan, and a very simple way that you can become a meal planning ninja too!

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Create a list with three columns labeled breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can add a fourth column for snacks if you want too.
  2. Think back over the last several days, or weeks to the meals your family has eaten that you think they liked well enough to eat on a regular basis, and write them down in the appropriate column.
  3. Now think of all the meals that maybe you haven’t had recently, but that you know your family enjoys.
  4. It can be helpful to look through recipe books for inspiration, or think in terms of “what pork dishes (or beef, or chicken, or vegetarian, etc.) dishes does my family really like?”

Your goal is to come up with about thirty dishes for your dinner category, at least seven for breakfast, and somewhere between seven and 30 for lunch (just write down as many as you can!).

I know it sounds like a lot, but you can do it!

If you don’t come up with enough ideas in one sitting, don’t worry. Just keep your paper and pen handy, and write them down throughout the day as you think of them.

Clearly, this isn’t a plan to come up with new and creative dishes to try every day or even every week – no, this is a list that you can come back to over and over again and never have to stress about whether or not your family will like it, or if it will turn out the way in looked when you found it on Pinterest.

In short, this meal planning method is designed to make life easier.

Here’s the thing: Your family doesn’t need – or probably even want – you to put the largest variety of food that you possibly can find on the table every week. Odds are, they have their favorites that they would be happy to eat over and over again.

Image shows a blue table covered in food, with text that reads "How to Make Meal Planning Simple"

So, on to the second step then:

Grab your list of family meals, and start writing them down on a blank calendar.

If you know you want to make tacos on “Taco Tuesday”, go ahead and fill up your Tuesdays with “Tacos”, but other than that, don’t worry too much about what days you put the meals on. I’ve found that a better method of meal planning is to just list them all out, and cross them off as we eat them.

If you do decide that you want to have a more structured, less flexible meal plan, I recommend making your meal plan in your computer’s calendar, or Google Calendar where you can edit and tweak it multiple times before printing it out.

It’s up to you. The key to making meal planning work, is making it work for you. Don’t try to do it by someone else’s rules.

But here’s something really important about having a rotating meal plan where you know roughly what ingredients you’re going to be needing in your pantry week in and week out: It gives you the power to confidently take advantage of the sales you know you’ll use, leave behind the ones you might not use, and say goodbye to paying full price to almost everything.

And now you know why we don’t really stick to the ingredients listed in the $20 shopping plan; we don’t have to!

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