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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: Daniel on January 22, 2014, 04:16:27 PM

Title: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Daniel on January 22, 2014, 04:16:27 PM
One of the least anticipated parts of the week for me is when my wife and I sit down every weekend and plan out our meals for the week before we do our grocery shopping. I honestly cannot figure out why I find this task so arduous, but I do and I'm trying to figure out how to make it easier. It just seems so difficult to plan out meals for every night of the week, mostly in the coming up with enough meals issue, but also getting excited about the meals we do come up with.

Does anyone have any advice for how to choose meals ahead of time? We do keep a list of every dinner we make, and it's helpful to go back over that, but that typically means we get stuck in a rut of eating the same things we ate the last few weeks.

How do you meal plan?
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: vespito on January 22, 2014, 05:02:43 PM
Meal planning is not my strong suit (and yet I'm replying to this thread...). We keep some pasta and millet in jars and buy veggies and sometimes meat every couple of days. For me the key is to keep prep/cooking time to under 45 minutes as we're early eaters. 

I usually just buy what I'm in the mood for that day, lightly saute it and throw it in with a grain or starch.   If I'm not in the mood to cook or think - roasted cauliflower and garlic with pasta in red sauce.

Also, slow cookers.  We rarely use ours but are trying to do so more.  Beans and a little sausage and other yummy stuff - a great meal and then you have a ton of food to freeze.

One thing that helped me the most was taking a knife skills class; I also took a couple cooking classes for fun but am now a lot more comfortable in the kitchen.  I hate recipes and now I can throw some stuff in a pan and it's at least edible.

One last thought (either a good idea or a pain in the butt - I'll let you decide):  Find a cookbook at the library you like and try to cook your way through it.  This way the plan is laid out for you.    I haven't done this yet, but am planning on doing so. We'll see how far I get...

Now I'm hungry. 
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: lizzzi on January 22, 2014, 05:13:46 PM
I kind of make Sunday the "big" meal--often a crockpot meal, just to simplify things--and then plan for the big pot roast or whatever we've had for Sunday dinner to be used for hot open faced sandwiches on Monday, (buy some cheap gravy mix, like at Aldi's), make some mashed potatoes, and have a quick frozen or canned vegetable with it. Tuesday, Weds., and Thurs. are what I call "ordinary" meal days. Easy, quick things like mac n cheese with fish sticks, a pizza made from scratch as quickly as I can (see" Pizza Dough I " in, a "heavy" egg dish like a fritatta, or soup and sandwich, with the soup being a homemade vegetable soup that you've spent two hours on the weekend making in a big pot. For Friday and Saturday, I usually think of casual weekend foods like burgers and fries, or tacos or some kind of Mexican dish like enchiladas--or a pizza if we have not already had it. If there is one cup of meat or chicken left from the big Sunday crockpot meal, I make a pot pie out of it. Also for Friday or Saturday, my husband, who is Italian, likes a pasta a oglia (oil, garlic, and anchovy on spaghetti), or linguini with white clam sauce made from canned clams.  If you make some meatballs on the weekend while you're doing your heavy cooking, you can use your homemade meatballs with a jar of marinara sauce for some spaghetti and meatballs. When I can't think of anything and am staring at that blank grocery list, I just try to think of what might be good, and start looking up recipes on budget or all My problems on the grocery list are more about what to have for breakfast and lunch, and truthfully, I've made that simpler by devising only one breakfast that I like, and one lunch. (Breakfast = oatmeal and lunch = sandwich with either veg and fruit or soup) Hope this helps--it seemed very difficult for awhile, as you said, but now that I've worked out a system, I'm not looking back. Makes life much easier.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: PajamaMama on January 22, 2014, 05:22:55 PM
I'm also not very good at meal planning. I'm working on it. I usually plan around what I need to use up in the fridge and freezer and also to keep costs down I also plan around what's on sale. I like using the website for recipes. You can search for recipes by ingredient so if I have say chicken and mushrooms to use up then I'll put that on the ingredient list when I search and it will give me recipes using those items. You can also subscribe to the website and they send you a new recipe every day. I have found some good recipes that way. Things I wouldn't necessarily think to make myself. I also keep a list of favorite meals and recipes I would like to try. Sometimes it's just hard to think about what to make. I think that is the hardest part.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: zinnie on January 22, 2014, 05:25:07 PM
One way we make it easy is we usually just do 2 dinner meals a week, and make enough for leftovers the rest of the nights. Breakfast and lunch we eat the same staples pretty much all the time so we don't need to plan as long as we keep those items stocked (usually things like hummus, veggies, whole grain crackers, eggs, bread, yogurt, granola, etc.). To me, breakfast/lunch is more about having something nutritious and keeping us full until dinner. We save dinners for the things to get excited about.

We don't get sick of any dinner meals because we pretty much never make the same thing more than once, except the pizza crust I am trying to perfect. There are so many new things I want to try that it is almost never an issue.

I find things like chilis, stir-frys, tacos, pasta dishes, and pizzas to be what we usually stick to, since it is pretty easy to just grab what looks good at the store or is in season and use that in any item. I also find that I used to hate meal planning a lot more when I was using recipes; now that I have more practice throwing what is available together it is more fun since it is more about being creative and less about writing down lists of ingredients and measuring things out.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: knince on January 22, 2014, 05:37:58 PM

It's $5/mo if you get an annual subscription and well worth the time, effort, and shopping money saved. I don't have any financial interest in the company... I just think it's a great product. Hope it helps!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Fireman on January 22, 2014, 06:11:23 PM
We plan meals for the month, do our big grocery trip every two weeks, and try to limit the in between trips.  Between a couple cookbooks, pinterest, and the rest of the interwebs, there is no shortage of delicious recipes to try.  She even added a calendar to Google so we know what we're having each night.  That is probably the most important part because it takes the guess work out.  No more "what do you want...I don't know, what do you want" dialogues. 

We went to Costco and Wal-Mart today and spent around $200 for 12 dinners and plenty of breakfast and lunch supplies.  This includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, and meats with very little 'premade' stuff.  We've found it tastes better, is healthier, and is more fun to cook with each other than throw something in the microwave, get takeout, or go out.  Plus, the leftovers get gobbled up for the next day's lunch!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Thegoblinchief on January 22, 2014, 06:37:48 PM
I tend to stock staples all the time:

Basmati rice, carrots, potatoes, couple kinds of soup stock, all kinds of spices, crushed tomatoes, couple kinds of cheese, flour, tortillas

Then build around them based on what other protein and veggies are on sale or look particularly good.

This makes it easy to improvise and hit things like:

Curry rice with veggies (meat optional)
Mac and cheese from scratch
Rice and bean burritos
Spinach lasagna
Vegetable soup
Stir Fry
Grilled anything (neglected lately since it's super cold)

I can't really say I'm fond of many cookbooks anymore. I was way into America's Test Kitchen at one point but their Asian food is a disaster and other recipes, while often nice starting points, I've tweaked into (IMO) superior versions that also use cheaper ingredients.

Pretty much all of my cooking is improv based on what I have. The few recipes I use regularly aren't meals, they're other staples like red sauce, bread, etc.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: mollyjade on January 22, 2014, 06:50:44 PM
When I lived alone, I would go to the farmers' market, buy $10 of produce, and then go home and make a meal plan based on the produce I bought and the weekly sales flyers. It was by far the most creative and satisfying cooking I ever did.

Now that I have someone else's taste to consider, we have a list of meals we both like that we mainly stick to, and I allow myself one new recipe a week.

We do keep a list of every dinner we make, and it's helpful to go back over that, but that typically means we get stuck in a rut of eating the same things we ate the last few weeks.
This might be simpler than what you're looking for, but you could write all those meals on index cards. After you've had a specific meal once in the month, it goes in another pile until next month. Just a bit of a kick in the pants to keep you from repeating too soon.

Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Thegoblinchief on January 22, 2014, 07:00:57 PM
I can write this, since my wife won't read it: why do people have issues with repeating meals?
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Cinder on January 22, 2014, 07:05:06 PM
I can write this, since my wife won't read it: why do people have issues with repeating meals?

My wife has the same issue. She doesn't even like to have the same meat multiple nights in a row, let alone the same meal.  That makes our bi-weekly meal planning more.. exciting?  I find we spend less time planning and spend less doing it that way compared to 'what do we want tonight?  I dunno, what do YOU want tonight?.. Lets just get takeout'

I, on the other hand, can make a crockpot full of something, and eat it for a week straight. 
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: horsepoor on January 22, 2014, 07:41:05 PM

I set up a recipe board on Pinterest, then I create a new board for the week, and pin things off of my main recipe board onto the meal plan board, along with a note, like what to have for a side dish, and what day of the week I plan to make each meal.  This works really well, because I have a visual representation of what we'll be eating for the week, and if I end up with a certain ingredient that I don't have a recipe for, it's no problem to search Pinterest and find something suitable.  If I get a co-op veggie basket for the week, I can plan around what's in it and make sure I use up the produce in a logical order throughout the week, depending upon how perishable it is.  It also helps me figure out how to sequence meals to use leftovers (chicken on Sunday night, chicken soup on Tuesday...).
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: NV Teacher on January 22, 2014, 08:08:07 PM
How about planning 4-6 weeks of menus with shopping lists and then rotating them? 
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: nvmama on January 22, 2014, 08:22:10 PM
I try to plan my meals a week in advance.  I use what we have in the house to plan my meals and for my weekly shopping I only pick up perishables such as milk, eggs, bread, and fruit.  I tend to stock pile other things when they hit a certain price point and  make sure things do not run too low at home.  My husband is one who doesn't like to repeat meals.  He also doesn't like having the same meat or starch 2 days in a row.  On a calender I write only the meat and starch I plan on using and make up the rest according to how I'm feeling that day.  I do use the crock pot once or twice a week, and that takes a bit more planning, but not much as long as I pulled out the meat to defrost the night before I'm good to go.  Another thing I find helpful is keeping a few easy to prepare meals on hand(frozen pizza) for the days when I'm just too exhausted after working a 24 hour shift to cook.  Even though it may not be the best option for the night, it is definitely better than me letting my husband talk me into ordering out, which cost so much more.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: cats on January 22, 2014, 09:18:19 PM
I've mentioned this before, but one thing we do that helps a LOT is making good use of our freezer.  Every few months we do a big batch cook day (we usually set aside a Saturday morning and are done by early afternoon) and fill up the freezer.  I keep a spreadsheet of ideas for things to cook and class each one by "cooking method" (crockpot, stovetop, oven, or no cooking), and each time we have a cook day we'll do one crockpot dish, 2-3 stovetop things, and 1-2 oven things.

Then, for meal planning, I usually plan to have 3-4 meals from the freezer, then I might cook something on the weekend and we'll eat that a couple of nights, and then one night we'll just polish off whatever leftovers there are (maybe add some scrambled eggs or something if need be).  I buy fresh vegetables every week depending on what's available at our local produce market.  As far as actually planning out each week, I usually do it during my downtime at work on Thursday or Friday, because we grocery shop Thursday or Friday evenings.

So as an example, a recent week for us was:

Sunday: Broccoli and "cheddar" soup (made fresh, but put half in the freezer), salad
Monday: Acorn squash stuffed with spiced chickpeas, vegetables, and peanuts (from the freezer), with a side of sauteed cabbage and kale.
Tuesday: Split pea soup (from the freezer, but not the batch cook day--I made this a few weeks ago and froze half), salad
Wednesday: Broccoli soup again, salad
Thursday: Butternut squash, white bean, and ricotta casserole (from the freezer), cauliflower "rice"
Friday: Chili (from the freezer) with cheddar and avocado, cauliflower "rice"  OR leftover night (if there are leftovers needing consumption)
Saturday: Tilapia, carmelized onions and sauteed zucchini, fried potatoes

We have a couple of other things in the freezer so between making a different "fresh" meal every couple of weekends, rotating through the freezer options, and doing easy meals like omelets or fish, we maintain a pretty good level of variety.  My boyfriend has a REALLY low tolerance for repetition, and since we started doing batch cook days he's been really happy with the variety in our meals, so it seems to work well for the folks who require different food each night (I can eat the same thing several days in a row, though I'll admit I enjoy more variety also....just can't be bothered doing it if it's just for myself).
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Exprezchef on January 22, 2014, 10:17:15 PM
This is a great topic for me since my wife hates to make a weekly menu and I love it. As a certified chef as my previous profession, it comes easy for me to plan a weeks worth of meals and I usually do the shopping a well. I usually start with a quick visual inventory of my pantry and freezer/refer to see what I have on hand. From there I just use the items I have on hand as a base for the weekly menu. While I am putting it together I have a separate sheet of paper for my shopping list so I can easily jot down the items I need to buy. For this week my dinner menu is as follows: Sunday- Vietnamese Beef Pho (Vietnamese style beef soup with fresh noodles) with egg rolls on the side; Monday- Korean Beef Bulgogi over brown rice with steamed broccoli on the side; Tuesday- Cheese and spinach Ravioli with fresh Marinara sauce and Pesto sauce; Wednesday- Grilled Chicken Tacos with Mexican rice and refried beans; Thursday- "breakfast for dinner" Pancakes, eggs and bacon (My kids love the twist); Friday- Build your own pizza and salad (I use the fresh dough from Fresh and Easy); Saturday- Grilled Greek style Chicken Gyros with French fries and Greek salad; Sunday- Crock Pot Beef stew with home-made egg noodles.  I regularly get up early so by the time my wife and kids get up in the morning, the menu planning/shopping is done. Breakfast is pretty light with some fruit, oatmeal, bagel or cereal. Lunch usually consists of leftovers from the night before as I always make to much. I usually pack my lunch for the next day with the leftovers from dinner and it is ready to go when I leave in the morning. In the past my wife would go to the store with no menu plan and regularly buy items we did not need and/or items that did not go together ie; pasta but no sauce for it.  Once you get a system in place, it comes more naturally and you only need a short time to put the menu together.  When I get stuck on items to add to the menu I go to this link.  Good luck!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: mandies on January 23, 2014, 06:12:12 AM
We're trying to be healthy and cost-efficient. Here's what I've come to do. I cook once every 5 days, and then have a flurry in one day. I cook mainly one-pot dishes, and ones that reheat well.

I have a set of things that I know the basic recipe for and can adapt by adding different cheese flavors, herbs and veggie combinations:

-- Pasta with bechamel/veloute sauce (Alfredo style)
-- Pasta with basic tomato sauce
-- Risotto (onions, tomatoes, white wine, etc.)
-- A casserole style quiche/tart with whole wheat crust
-- Quinoa/millet/couscous with sausage
-- A whole slew of broth-based soups
-- A bunch of blender soups
-- Vegetarian chili over corn muffins or roasted potatoes
-- Polenta with sauteed veggies

I keep around, in the freezer, an assortment of flavored cheeses, a bit of meat (we only eat 1 lb per week, by choice), frozen veggies, butter and frozen fruit.
In the pantry, purchased in bulk: plenty of flour, sugar, millet/quinoa, risotto, cornmeal, canned beans of all kinds, canned fruit, pasta, tomato paste, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, sundried tomatoes, etc.
I also buy sweet potatoes and potatoes in bulk and use them over time (they keep for a long time), and on the counter lots of apples, oranges, pears, tomatoes and onions.

Between the base recipes and variety of veggies and flavors with cheeses and sausages, we make 24 servings so we only repeat every other day. You have three meals before you repeat again, and that seems to be enough variety for us. On the weekend, we have one "junk food day" to break things up, and then repeat.

So, after ensuring a stocked pantry with the staples, I usually just have to make a produce run each week, buying whatever looks interesting. However, we're trying to keep our trips to the store at a minimum, so the stocked pantry and freezer is important to keeping out temptation for going out to dinner.

The best part about cooking is that you get better with time, and eventually, restaurant food doesn't taste as good because you can make it exactly how you like it at home.

Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: roadmanjim on January 23, 2014, 06:37:07 AM
May I offer a couple of resources that I have found to be immensly helpful:
1.  Michael Symon's 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners:

2.  Rachel Ray's stuff such as Rachael Ray 30-Minute Get Real Meals by Rachael Ray or her website:

Hope this helps.

- James
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: nottoolatetostart on January 23, 2014, 07:04:35 AM
I love reading this thread and what others have posted! Thanks all!

I keep a master OneNote file with everything I make and then what I actually make. I do different categories for things that we especially love to jot my memory later.

Also keep a very stocked pantry and freezer with different staples - rices, 2 types of pasta, flour, sugar, beans from scratch in the freezer, homemade chicken broth in the freezer, vegetables that have a long shelf life (carrots, onions, potatoes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, garlic), lettuce, different cheeses, etc. It does not cost us much per month to replace anything that run out since we tend to use a little of everything each month. I generally make everything from scratch to keep things new, so there are few prepared items in my pantry/freezer/fridge that box us into a corner. For example, if I had a bottle of teriyaki sauce then I would feel obligated (read: creativity hampered/dull/every dinner the same) to make a teriyaki dish....however, having the rice vinegar, sesame seed oil, some brown sugar, soy sauce....allows me to bounce around from a peanut sauce to teriyaki to a sesame dressing depending on my mood. Does that make sense? Same thing could be applied to salad dressings....having a couple vinegars (red wine, balsamic, apple cider) and a good Dijon mustard allows me to make an orange vinaigrette dressing, a warm cider vinaigrette reduction dressing, homemade BBQ sauce.....versus eating the same damn balsamic dressing every night from a bottle (which gets boring and is less healthy).

My meal plan is to have a general idea of what I'd like to make....I rarely make it on that day though. I probably change it 90% of the time due to our schedules, no longer interested, etc.  Instead, if I am in the mood to use something up, like goat cheese or pine nuts, I will just enter that into google. Nearly every time, there is a recipe that sounds tasty that comes up and more times than not, I already have 9 out of 10 ingredients on that recipe. Anything I don't have, I just improvise with something else or do without. If I am missing a key ingredient, then I move on to the next recipe.  The comments from the recipe reviewers are GOLD MINE since lots of times they also mention how they improvised the recipe. Don't be literal with the recipes you read.

I DO NOT go to the store for "just 1 item" as I usually end up buying more crap that I didn't need to begin with. Today, I am making split pea soup and have no onions...instead of going to store, I will either skip the onions altogether or throw in some pearl onions that I have in the freezer. I guess I don't have that kind of willpower to just buy 1 thing in the store. LOL. Knowing my DH's tastes, the star of the meal tonight will be the bacon, and he will never even miss the onion. As others mentioned, only going to the store once every 10-14 days really works for us.

Each week though, I generally make an Asian dish, Italian dish, and a Mexican/Southwestern dish. Those dishes also generate either a lunch for the next day or leftovers for the following night. Keeping in mind this principle alone....that's already 3-4 out of 7 meals for the week. I might do a big salad night, crockpot of soup or casserole, and then whatever I can throw together for the following night. That's it....7 measly meals for the week. I am lucky that DH does not mind eating leftovers and is ok if I repeat the same thing (which I rarely do) twice in two weeks. He is just happy that dinner is made for him!

Using the example cited above re: one Asian dish, one Italian dish, and a Mexican/Southwestern dish.....In the fall, I bought 10 roasted organic chickens from a local farm. It's my goal to make 2 roasted chickens per month - from the roasted chickens (as others have said), I might have roasted chicken with mashed potatoes one night, then next night might be a chicken teriyaki dish (Asian), shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches (American?), chicken enchiladas (Mexican/Southwestern), chicken noodle soup (crockpot), chicken taco salad (salad), and then finally homemade broth with the leftover carcass.

I don't think my system is perfect, but my goal has been to keep our grocery/toiletries/dining out budget to average $400 per month )(family of 3 and we eat almost entirely organic produce and free range/cage free meats/eggs) and have been successful the last 3 months by utilizing what I explained above. After realizing that I spent close to double that amount in 2012 and 2013 (mainly eating out, CSA membership which I've since cut, and some infant formula), I realized that the amount of time that I invest in planning my meals better would practically fund an IRA for one of us for the year, so it makes it well worth my time to spend a few minutes planning out our meal for the day so I have something to look forward to.

Finally, there is a gauntlet challenge on the "Throw Down the Gauntlet" section of this MMM forum. An ongoing challenge/thread of eating whatever is in your pantry and lots of people post (including me) and what they are making from their pantry. I use it as motivation to stay out of the grocery store and be creative with whatever I have.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: kt on January 23, 2014, 07:20:10 AM
i find aiming to cook one new meal a week a good way to keep things interesting without being overwhelming. if it's good, add it the repertoire, if not, it was only one night.

i also use these vague categories to select meals for the week:
roast                 - usually sunday, with leftovers for later meals or lunches
chicken              -  chicken/cheese/bacon, coq au vin
pasta                - bolognaise, meat balls, tuna, lasagne
mince                - cottage pie, mince & dumplings, chili con carne
meat & two veg   - pork/lamb chops, gammon,
new                   - usually a curry or vegetarian dish or an unusual meat
30 min              - carbonara, thai curry, schnitzel
vegetarian        - leek, squash & stilton pithivier, beetroot & spinach lasagne
slow cooker      - goulash, casserole
pie/pastry         - steak pie, sausage plait

i mentally store recipes into these types of categories (and * partic cheap ones)

it's good to know what's on in your week too, so 30 min recipes are good for busy nights obv as are slow cooker meals, partic if you all want to eat at different times.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: nora on January 23, 2014, 07:22:36 AM
We cook four serves and only cook every two nights for the two of us. So just reheat every second night. Then we only have to think up three or four meals a week from our recipe books. But they are fairly simple things that take around 30 minutes to put together. And we usually have steamed veg with our meals.

We never take leftovers for lunches as our leftovers are much more expensive in terms of time and ingredients than a simple sandwich made in the morning. We make a roast once a month or so to provide sandwich meat for the freezer which we get out a couple of times a week for sandwiches. We have the top shelf of the fridge for sandwich ingredients, including a big block of cheese, lettuce washed and ready to use in a tupperware container ( it keeps for ages like this ) capsicum, cucumber, the meat, pickles and chutneys and mustard and mayo.

And breakfasts are homemade muesli, other cereal, milk, yoghurt. On weekends eggs, sometimes bacon.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Elaine on January 23, 2014, 08:01:18 AM
I'm all over this question. I LOVE meal planning and cooking, and my grocery budget is between 80-150 a month (for two people in nyc). One thing is, meal planning just takes time. It just does. Here are my usual steps.

1. The first step is having a stocked pantry. I don't mean some crazy person end of the world stockpile- but 2-3 times a year we go to costco and buy canned goods (crushed tomatoes, tuna, etc.), dry goods (flour, lentils, rice, honey, olive oil, etc.). This will immediately make meal planning way easier. If you KNOW that you always use frozen peas, just buy a few bags so you have them! The key to stocking up on pantry stuff is to only buy stuff you actually use, not aspirational things that you think maybe someday you'll use. Set a budget.

2. I start each week by looking at deals at the stores I frequent. Most deals are for junk food, but I always look because you never know when something you use will go on sale. I make a list of any awesome sale items and start with those. Since I only use sales for things I would eat anyway, and that are actually a good value- if I see a sale worth writing down then I'm going to buy that item. So I start by brainstorming with the sale items. If you need help on this part use epicurious- you can search recipes by ingredient- so if lean pork is on sale, check out the recipes there. Remember that you can use a recipe as just a guideline- I like to look at several different ones and riff on them based on what I already have and our tastes. Let's say you get one meal out of one of your sale items. One down, 6 to go.

3. Within the course of a week you will probably have nights that you don't feel like cooking, so try to plan for that. Develop at least 2 go to fast meals. Is yours pasta and sauce? Burritos? Sandwiches? Whatever yours are, include the ingredients to make them on your shopping list every week (it's best if most ingredients for these meals are non-perishable). You will thank yourself. And just like that you have 3 meals done for the week.

4. So that means we have 4 meals left to plan. I always have a vegan meal thrown in somewhere- it keeps costs low and gives you a little calorie break. If you want an easy go to veggie meal, buy some potatoes and chickpeas, maybe broccoli, and use curry paste and tomato puree- and BAM you have vegetable curry that you can serve with rice. You can switch this up using different vegetables and different spices (try a thai curry, a chinese stir-fry, add cauliflower, use green beans if they're in season, go crazy)! This is a good idea because the best tool you can have to cut your grocery bill is the ability to improvise. This will help you get comfortable making things up off the cuff- which is how people like me are able to make a new menu every week at low prices. By keeping a few things consistent at first you're taking off some pressure from the planning while you get used to the process.

5. So now you have three meals left to plan. I usually go from here by looking at what produce is in season- and what protein I have to  pair with it. We only really eat seafood in terms of meat (which I usually get at costco, so I'm not buying it on a weekly basis unless it's something special like crab)- so usually for us it's fish or shellfish (or lentils, beans, etc.) as the star, and then as a side I just make one simple thing. So you really just need to choose three proteins, and then three vegetables- I serve everything I make with rice as well. For winter I use lots of squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, etc. Check online for what is in season during different times of the year where you live. A piece of protein and a side of one or two types of vegetables (simply sauteed or baked in oil or butter & herbs) is absolutely delicious. And you can always get more and more creative as you learn to go without following word for word recipes.

So here's your plan:
1. 1 Sale Meal.
2. 2 Quick Easy Meals
3. 1 Vegetable Curry/Stirfry
4. 3 Proteins/3 Vegetables

Hope this helps! You may want to check out budgetbytes- it's a great recipe blog that focuses on value.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Daniel on January 23, 2014, 09:25:30 AM
Thanks for all the replies! It's great to read what everyone else does. I think I will try and move more towards a less rigidly defined meal planning process in the future. We already keep staples on hand, though we are pretty limited in space, so maybe trying to figure out how to make more space would be helpful. I think it's also difficult because my wife is somewhat picky which is why we get stuck in a rut of meals.

Also, to answer the question of why I don't like eating the same meals week in an week out. My breakfast and lunches are almost always very similar, so the only place I find variety is in dinner, and as the saying goes "Variety is the spice of life".

I do really appreciate all the suggestions though!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: greaper007 on January 23, 2014, 09:35:29 AM
Who does the cooking?    I'm the sole cook in our house so I do all the meal planning and shopping.    My wife hates planning, and she has to work everyday do I just take care of it.    I love it, first I take a look at the ads, the pantry and fridge and pull out my Joy of Cooking.     I can't organize toys or papers so she does that every Saturday.    Maybe it's time to delegate.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: SunshineGirl on January 23, 2014, 10:27:55 AM

It's $5/mo if you get an annual subscription and well worth the time, effort, and shopping money saved. I don't have any financial interest in the company... I just think it's a great product. Hope it helps!

Knince, how strictly do you follow the plan? Like, out of seven nights, how many do you cook what's suggested?

I recently paid for a six month "pro" subscription to, and I've found it helpful enough so far. I've got teens being insistent on low-carb these days, which makes cooking less fun, in my opinion!

I found that for me, planning for a week at a time didn't work because life got in the way - meals had to be prepared faster than I expected, or leftovers had to be eaten, etc., and food would go bad. So I'm trying to plan for about three days at a time. Like, I just went to Costco yesterday and got barbacoa meat, basil lemongrass chicken, and shredded beef, so those will be our next meals, with whatever sides I can scrounge up from my fridge/pantry. 
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: jfer_rose on January 23, 2014, 02:43:14 PM
A while back, another user here recommended Ziplist to help with meal planning. I've been using it ever since. It's free and it is really handy. (

It works like this: you put the Ziplist tool on your web browser (similar to the Pinterest "Pin It" tool). You find a recipe online and you click the Ziplist tool, which recognizes the ingredients. I pre-populated my Ziplist with a ton of recipes. Then you can look through the recipes and assign one to a meal. It's really simple to add the ingredients to a shopping list that you can print or access from a mobile device.

OK, so maybe the paragraph above is confusing.  Here's what their website says:
Search & save recipes from 1000′s of popular food websites and with one click save the recipe to your universal recipe box, and add the ingredients directly to your grocery list. Quickly sort favorite recipes by source, ingredients or cook time. Add recipes to your meal planner queue or plan them for a specific day to stay organized.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Mickijune on January 23, 2014, 03:21:57 PM
I second ziplist. I use it to keep all my recipes in one place. I posted about it before.

You can "clip" recipes from websites or add your own. You can add meals to the calendar, then create a list and add the meal to the list. I usually plan two weeks of meals, then create a list for those two weeks and add all the meals to that list.

The only hiccup is I have to sort through the list and consolidate the items. I can have 3 separate entries for "juice of half a lime" so I write it down on paper as 2 limes total. I also found that you should never delete a list before deleting the meals on the list, or the meals stick on calendar but somehow don't show up.

And if you move recipes around the lists they are attached to don't update. That kind sucks. I usually end up deleting the meal from the plan then adding it again so I can add it to the correct list.

I love looking for new recipes and ziplist lets me for the most part easily plan/shop for meals!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: horsepoor on January 23, 2014, 09:00:59 PM
I found that for me, planning for a week at a time didn't work because life got in the way - meals had to be prepared faster than I expected, or leftovers had to be eaten, etc., and food would go bad.

That is a definite problem that I've been learning to work around.  It's fairly predictable that the plan will go off the rails later in the week, so I try to plan the meals so that the less perishable stuff is planned later in the week.  Fish and salad on Monday night, unstuffed cabbage with ground beef from the freezer on Thursday or Friday, because if my plan goes awry, or I end up with more leftovers than expected, the cabbage will keep in the fridge, and the meat can stay in the freezer so there's no waste.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Zette on January 26, 2014, 06:42:06 AM
Here's a few meal plan websites/books others might be interested in -- these are services or books where they give you a shopping list and recipes for 5 meals each week: -- There's also a series of SavingDinner books you might find at the library.  I used this several years ago for about 6 months.  For me the flavors were a bit repetitive and the recipes too "middle-American", and not enough veggies. -- I tried one of the sample menus, and was mostly positive about them.  The prep took me more like 1.5 hours, but it did make the evening meals the rest of the week easy to pull together.  Not sure if I will subscribe or try something else -- I didn't like the meals offered on the other two sample menus. -- This one also has a book, The Fresh 20.  I'm going to try their sample menus next.  Amazon reviewers do note that there is a LOT of prep with these recipes, often about 40 minutes each. 
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: cozyfoodie on January 29, 2014, 01:17:54 AM
I love all the different approaches to meal planning that have been posted on this thread! I cook for my family of four (including two teen athletes) almost every night, so I have a handful of tricks to add. First, I mostly think in terms of proteins/main courses when I make my menu plan for the week. In other words, I plan on one each of the following: seafood, red meat, poultry, beans, and tofu, then one pasta (which may or may not be vegetarian), and the last, either another poultry or beans. Over time, build up a stockpile of your favorite recipes to rotate through. For example, I wrote an ebook with my 25 favorite chicken breast recipes (see (, which I keep pre-cooked and sliced up, ready to use in the freezer. I choose starches based on the protein choice. Veggies tend to be straight-forward preparations (salads, sautéed, or roasted) and based on what's in season or looks good at the market. Second, recipe choices are driven by factors like how busy I'll be on a particular day of the week, and what the weather will be like. I save new recipes to try when I’m relaxed because new recipes often take longer to prep than the tried-and-true ones. Third, I keep recipe indexes and a dinner journal (private blog). That way, they’re easily searchable! I jot down notes on how well we liked it, how I changed the recipe, etc. Fourth, I'm also on-board with the folks who like to use their freezers as an extended pantry. I'll usually have some extra bread, cooked grains, chicken stock, beans, hummus, a main dish or two, frozen veggies and fruits, bacon, sausages, beef, and grilled, sliced chicken breast. I also keep nonperishable staples in the pantry. On those days that go off-script, it's great to have some fallbacks that I can pull together from what’s in the pantry and the freezer. Finally, keep on trying! You will figure out what works for you and your wife, and it’ll get easier, and hopefully, more enjoyable.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: markbrynn on January 29, 2014, 03:20:59 AM
For people who live in big cities or places with smaller houses/apartments (like me in the Netherlands), I recommend a slightly different model.

Do your shopping every couple of days on the way back from work. I ride my bike about 2 km (just over a mile) to/from work and there's a couple of grocery stores in between. Whilst we keep certain staples (rice, potatoes, etc.) in slightly larger amounts in the cupboard, we have no pantry and a small freezer (and not very big refrigerator either). So we just have a list of dishes that we like to cook and buy the fresh stuff (meat, veges, etc.) every other day. It helps that we don't work long hours, don't have lots of kids activities in the evenings and that we both like to cook.

As for the actual food, I find it helps to like a variety of cuisines (this is only partly a choice). If you enjoy stir fry, curries (Thai, Indian or other), pastas, fish, TexMex, Middle Eastern, burgers, meat and potatoes, etc., etc., then it's hard to get bored. My wife and I each have our specialties and take turns. This also helps to avoid ordering out as it's not too often that both of us really don't want to cook. On days when we're less inspired we fall back on one of 4-5 recipes that we really enjoy eating and find very easy to cook (usually stir fry, salmon in the frying pan, tacos or spaghetti bolognaise).

To summarise, we don't meal plan for a week. We meal plan 2 days at a time and decide who will stop by the store and who will cook. It usually takes about 3 minutes.
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Mumintheburbs on January 29, 2014, 03:36:45 AM
I think the first step is to write up all the meals you make into a big list. Only things you already know how to cook, then you can refer to your list when you plan each week.
My other tips are like others have suggested, have a theme that you use. One night a week I always have a roast dinner with all the trimmings ( I switch the meat each week) and then use the leftovers for a DIY wraps and salad meal the next night .
Also it really helps me to write my plan directly onto my calendar. Then I don't accidentally plan something labour intensive when i'm meant to be ferrying kids to activities. It also helps me to stick to the plan if I know in the morning what I'm eating that night.
Good luck!
Title: Re: Help with Weekly Meal Planning
Post by: Rural on January 29, 2014, 06:28:36 AM
My husband hates meal planning and isn't very picky (I know what he hates and don't buy it), so I do the meal planning. We both hate the shopping, but my schedule is more flexible, so I do the bulk of it, too. He does a bunch of stuff I hate.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you really hate it, well, if she doesn't mind it, swap out tasks. To my mind, that's one of the side benefits of marriage.