Welcome to Part 1 of my Chaos Management Series: Meal Planning!
I recommend that you try out my free printable to help you with your meal planning. I know writing everything out really helped me.
There are two main parts to my meal planning method. First is making your first meal plan. This one takes a few extra steps, but the good news is that you only have to do it once. The second part is for every week after, which is only going to keep getting easier.
1. When are you going to go grocery shopping?
I only have time to go grocery shopping once a week on Saturday mornings. The day you choose will be the first day of your meal plan. If you are also a Saturday shopper, you can use my default template. Otherwise, use the second page and write that day in the left column and then fill out the rest of the week.
2. What do you want to do with leftovers?
Now there are three approaches to leftovers. First, you don’t make any. If you don’t like eating leftovers, then you can focus on recipes with just enough servings for each meal you need. It’s okay to not like leftovers. Meal planning is about making food you like and will eat. My husband isn’t big on leftovers, which means more for me.
The second method is to turn your leftovers into part of another meal. I like to eat leftover taco meat on my salads or turn them into quesadillas. This makes my weekday lunches a breeze.
The third method is to collect all your leftovers and eat them as a dinner one night of the week. This method is also popular, but I have never done this myself. Overall, if you like leftovers I encourage you to cook larger portions and enjoy them throughout the week.
3. How often are you going to eat out?
Do you always go out on a certain night? I count take out as eating out because it requires the same level of preparation. If you go out every Friday night, just write it down in the corresponding box.
Normally, I don’t eat out more than once a week. Usually, it’s during the weekends when we are either rushing around or craving something that we can’t make ourselves (like fresh naan from our favorite Indian restaurant).
Eating out is also very challenging with a soy allergy. There is only a short list of restaurants that we have even tried because it’s nerve wracking to go to new places. New recipes by comparison are a lot less stressful.
4. Choose Your Themes
Next you need to choose your themes. You will probably need 5-7 depending on how often you eat out and if you are going to have a leftover night. You might even need more for lunches or breakfasts, but I recommend keeping those simple.
My Themes are:
|Saturday||Miscellaneous or New|
You can change them up between weeks if you want to, but that’s too complicated for my routine loving brain. I have switched which theme on what night to better accommodate our schedules. I might swap a theme eventually, if I get bored, but I’m nowhere near that point yet. If you decide that you dislike a theme or you want to try something new, you can always change it later.
I don’t recommend doing what I did, which was agonize and over think which themes to choose for weeks. These choices are just to help you make a routine while keeping some variety. It’s not to put pressure on you to come up with the most stupendous options for mind blowing weeknight dinners. Themes help you narrow down your recipe choices so you can plan more quickly without getting stuck in a rut. Your themes can be as broad or as specific as you want.
Here are some other ideas. This is not an exhaustive list but meant to provide inspiration.
|Alliterative:||Meatless Monday, Finger Food Friday|
|Regional:||Chinese, Ethiopian, French,|
|By protein:||Chicken, ground beef, pork, tofu|
|By starch:||Noodles, potato bar, rice, quinoa|
|By cooking style:||Grill, sous vide, air fryer, instant pot|
5. Do You Want to Meal Prep?
You don’t have to meal prep. If you are just starting your cooking journey, it can be a lot to bite off all at once. Also, you might not have time for it right now.
We do a minimal amount on Sundays to make our week easier. There are plenty of people out there who make a whole week’s worth of food in an afternoon. It all depends on your schedule and your tastes.
If you choose to meal prep, you should probably choose what day you have time for it. Either the day you go shopping or the day after is what I recommend.
6. Pick your first week’s recipes
For your first week I recommend you think about the absolutely simplest and most familiar recipes. Then you can increase difficulty in later weeks. This plan can also act as your default meal plan for extra stressful times. As you continue, your confidence and cooking skills will grow. Then you’ll be ready to tackle more difficult food.
Shown below is my default week. Please note that I have updated it from the first meal plan I ever made as our schedules change and recipes improve.
It’s okay to have box mac and cheese and takeout pizza on there. You can ease into cooking over time.
Make sure to take your schedule into consideration. Currently my husband works late on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so I like to have things that are both fast to make and fast to eat. There will always be special events (birthdays, holidays, etc.) and if there is one on your first week you can totally tackle it.
1. Start Collecting Recipes
You now know your themes. In the beginning, aim to find 2-3 fast easy recipes for each theme night. Remember, you don’t have to swap all the recipes from week to week. Feel free to keep a few favorite extra easy recipes as staples that you make several times a month. A few of the new ones you try will be a bust, but you will find your favorites.
We have had to find most of our weeknight recipes ourselves because our parents’ tastes, dietary restrictions and cooking schedules are very different than ours.
2. Look at Your Calendar
Literally, you need to look at it. I always think I know what’s happening on my schedule, but I don’t. My phone does. My husband and I have a shared family calendar, which is extremely useful. I never remember when any of the things he puts on there are happening. I would probably forget my own appointments if I didn’t set reminders.
Are there any holidays or special events? Monday holiday’s sneak up on me every year and I currently get them off. For holidays, sometimes I like to have special food. Birthdays and anniversaries deserve a little something special too in my opinion.
Will you be rushed on certain days? Some days you just need to pop a frozen pizza in the oven or stop for takeout. That’s okay. What’s important is that you are taking the time right now to make sure you’ll be able to still eat around your busy schedule.
3. Start Filling In Your Week
I recommend looking through your fridge to see if there is anything that needs eating up. We occasionally buy a pack of four chicken sausages. We will eat two one week and the other two the following on Wednesday.
Don’t forget snacks and dessert. I look forward to having something sweet after dinner and I don’t even want to think about how hangry I would be without my snacks.
Here’s What we Do
My husband isn’t much of a breakfast eater. Premade pastries or a piece of buttered toast is about all he wants. I like boring quick oats every day, with cinnamon and a little bit of brown sugar. It’s healthy, hot, and ready to eat in under five minutes (including clean up). Occasionally, we have waffles because waffles are amazing.
My husband is into sandwiches. Generally, he gets a loaf of bread, two types of meat and two types of cheese per week. Occasionally, he needs more mustard. Every weeknight, he makes his sandwich and packs it up with a bag of chips. I work remotely so I have access to my fridge all day. Leftovers are my favorite lunch. A salad with some sort of leftover protein is my staple. Weekends we might do something fun or just our usual weekday lunch. Depends on what we are up to.
Saturday is miscellaneous and new recipes.
Sunday is fondue night. We cut up a little extra while we meal prep. On special occasions, we might buy something a bit fancy (like thinly sliced beef for Valentine’s Day). Then we make broth fondue, which is healthy and extremely easy to make. It has turned Sundays into a fun date night, and I strongly recommend it to anyone.
Monday is fish. Usually, we have some sort of salmon with yellow roasted potatoes.
Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays because I love tacos. Also, tacos make awesome leftovers.
Wednesday is Italian. Generally, it consists of some sort of protein like sausage or meatballs in jarred marinara sauce over pasta and zoodles.
Thursday is Indian. It’s really lazy Indian where I take a store bought marinade and pour it over some chicken. By Thursday we are both brain-fried and nothing complicated can be achieved. The chicken is then served over rice straight from the rice cooker. Rice cooker for the win.
Friday is pizza night. I love pizza. He loves pizza. Weekly pizza is a highlight of the week. We either get takeout pizza or make it ourselves. It’s pretty easy to make in the oven when you have the dough ready to go in the freezer.
I don’t like to restrict myself to what and when. Instead, I like to have some around the apartment. How much you snack also varies from person to person and even week to week. Don’t be discouraged if you over or under buy in the first few weeks. Also, many snacks are shelf stable for a long time, so don’t be afraid to stock up on those.
Here are some snack examples:
- Shelf stable: Chips, nuts
- Fruit: Bananas, oranges, apples
- Other: Yogurt, humus, cheese
We tend to make one over the weekend and eat it through the week. It generally depends on my mood, but caramel and chocolate are common. If you don’t want to make your own, a package of double stuffed oreos can also be very satisfying.
These are relatively simple for us. He has water and the occasional hot chocolate. I am powered by tea, both hot and iced. Your staples could also include, coffee, soda, beer, etc. If you are having a special wine or cocktail with a particular meal, I encourage you to put it up in that meal’s box.
Congratulations on making your very own meal plan! I would love to hear all about it in the comments below. Seriously, I’ve already talked my friends ears off on this subject. Especially, about what themes you’ve chosen and if you have any questions.
After you have finished making your meal plan, the next step is making your shopping list. Please feel free to head over to Part 2 of my Chaos Management Series: Grocery Shopping!