How to plan for a week of meals

Guestpost by Helen Jane on Feb 16th

I plan my meals every week.
It saves me time and money.
It helps me visualize when I'll need extra help, or when to scale back or when to pull out the fancy forks.(Just kidding, I don't have any fancy forks. Do you?)

It keeps me from wasting food.
It takes less than 15 minutes a week.

So, what are you having for supper tomorrow?

How a Meal Plan Comes Together

There's a logic to my meal planning, teased out through years of the effort.

Our meal plans are, on average, followed 60% of the time. Some weeks (especially the broke ones), it's 100%. Some weeks (the busy ones) it's 25%. All averaged out, 60% followability.

And like I says, 60% is better than 0%.
I'll take it.

Here I'll go through the whyfores of how I plan my meals in the hopes that it might save you a little money, time or effort yourself. So, what are you having for dinner tonight?

  1. The food-we-have list
  2. The calendar.

First. The food-we-have list.

Usually early Saturday morning, I creep downstairs and make a really messy list of all the ingredients that we need to use up. Man, it's ugly: real back of the envelope, back of a crumpled piece of construction paper kind of list.

On this list, I take note of rotisserie chicken carcasses, wilty green onions and potatoes that might just be starting to sprout. (Those foods you really don't want to toss quite yet.)

Then, I add pantry staples. Sometimes, I have an errant 1/2 cup of corn meal that's just bugging me. Sometimes, I need to use up one of the six giant cans of Roma tomatoes that are taking up too much room. Sometimes, I become obsessed with using up a can of evaporated milk and I take it from there.

It's the ugliest little list you ever did see. I scratch things off, I circle and draw connecting lines. I look at what leftovers we have and what leftovers we will have so that we can minimize food waste and maximize our prep time.

Second. The calendar.

Once I have that, I look at my calendar. Just like you, between social events and an intense work schedule, we're pretty booked. Thinking about our week ahead of time helps prepare us for the events ahead — and sets up a sense of happy anticipation. When I look at my schedule as it relates to food I look forward to my week instead of dreading it.

On the days I work in San Francisco, I don't get home until 8:00 pm. This means that dinner for James and the girls needs to be ready to go without me. James is a great preparer of food, but as you know, with two toddlers, there's just not a lot of time. So we plan meals that can either be made in the slow cooker or meals that are ready to go.

This week, I work in the city Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. I'm spending the night on Wednesday, so I know that on Thursday, James is going to be beat.

Knowing this helps me work around the calendar with a combination of convenience, pre-prep and the freezer.


Sunday is my day to make all of the foods — Sunday dinner is a priority for our family, so we usually have some sort of time and/or intensive meal. On top of the baked potatoes, greens and steak, I made chicken soup, the meat sauce for the spaghetti, and cooked the broccoli. I also packed the lunches for the next day and set up the coffee. (Sunday from 3-6pm is quite a busy time in the kitchen, I'll tell you what.)


For dinner on Monday, all James needed to do was boil some pasta and heat up the sauce, insto-dinner-presto! I rolled in at eight and made a late night salad after the girls were settled.


Since I'm home Tuesday, when I'm preparing the night's dinner, I'll brown the short ribs and cut all the veggies and add them to a slow cooker bag. I put the meat and veggies in a slow cooker baggie in the fridge.

I'll also make the mashed potatoes for Wednesday (mostly). I'll cook and rice the potatoes — and stir the butter through. I'll leave stirring the milk through for James on Wednesday.


On Wednesday morning, James adds the short rib mixture to the slow cooker before heading to work. Wednesday night, he'll heat up the mashed potatoes, stirring through the milk and the short ribs will be ready already! Thank you slow cooker!


For James and the girls, Thursday will be a fun convenience food night because sometimes, you need to eat foods named poppers. GO AMERICA!


Friday is for chicken soup and sandwiches — I made this chicken soup on Sunday. (We had a surplus of cooked chicken and some celery and carrots that were starting to wilt.) Sunday night I tucked it in the freezer when it was done. We'll defrost and heat up the soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches and super salads.

Friday is the day most likely that we cave and order a pizza or pick up something — so I like to have Friday's meal be easier than pizza ordering. Self hack!


Saturdays are our funnest food days. I usually do my grocery shopping on Saturday, so I don't need to plan my meal based on food I already have in the fridge. We'll plan for make-your-own pizzas (also thwarting any Friday night pizza temptations) — I'll have time to do the crust myself, and if I don't, I can buy a crust. I'm easy like that.

And I have a sneaking suspicion you are too.

(Tomorrow, we'll talk about shopping lists and strategies for meal planning.)

Any more questions about meal planning? Ask 'em in the comments!

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About Helen Jane

Helen Jane throws a lot of parties, and puts together ideas for people too busy to entertain.