How to plan for a week of meals

February 16 | Guest post by Helen Jane

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

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.)

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

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!

Thursday

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

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!

Saturday

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!

  1. Ahhh, I want to do meal planning and you've convinced me! Thanks for making it simple, I'm a spaz in the kitchen sometimes.

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  2. We do this on Sunday morning, minus the inventory of already stocked items. We have gotten much better about eating all the food we buy, and actually eating the leftovers. Part of making meal planning easy(for us anyway) was eating smaller portions of what we cooked. A 12 oz box of spaghetti with sauce and either turkey meat or extra veggies would give us barely 4 servings. Now, we get 6 perfectly normal servings. It also means we only cook 3-4 nights a week, with Friday being date night. I need to take an inventory of already stocked items and get some of those out of the house because I'm sick of throwing out tortillas or things that would have been perfectly good 'a few days ago'.

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  3. I so need advice in cooking territory. I still haven't fully transitioned out of "bachelor" cooking (i.e. Cook chicken breast. Cover in hot sauce. Dinner is served). I've heard/seen people use a combination chalk/dry erase board with pockets at the bottom to store recipe cards for favorite meals.It's one of those good ideas I've been "too busy to get around to."

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    • Oooh the recipe pockets is a fabulous idea! I have kind of the opposite problem, I get excited about new recipes and then am constantly trying to cook overly ambitious meals and my boyfriend feels bad and like he's not being helpful and we don't eat dinner until 9:30. I really need to make a list of like 15 go-to easy favorite meals. And stop reading so many food blogs.

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    • I tried to put my favorite meals in a file on my computer, but quickly realized that it's not ideal to read a recipe off my laptop in the living room while cooking in the kitchen. Now I have a binder that sits on top of my fridge with my favorite go-to recipes. I only keep the ones that are worth making over and over, like pad thai, fried rice, and several tasty casseroles that have proven themselves to be awesome at freezing. It's easy to grab the binder when looking at food I need to buy and quickly scanning ingredients, as I can check the freezer, fridge, and pantry as I go through it.

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  4. Reading about meal planning just reminds me how absolutely rubbish at it I am. :( I've tried and failed several times. I think it's because I don't know a lot of recipes … so I usually resort to just winging it with whatever I have in the fridge.

    Also, "GO AMERICA!" made me laugh aloud. :D

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    • There are different ways to meal plan. The way listed in the article is the traditional way to do it, but I to have trouble with it. I'll take the time to plan out a menu for each day, but then when it comes time to cook I realize that I don't feel like making what I had planned, or life happens and I don't feel like I have the time.

      So I do two things: First of all, I'm a foodnetwork.com and cookingchanneltv.com junkie. I surf through their recipe databases like it's porn (for me it kind of is) and subscriptions to foodnetwork's magazine and cooking light cost under $30 (combined!). No, I don't tend to make the recipes out of them, but they're wonderful inspiration for when I am cooking (and every once in a while I do take the time to make one of their recipes and that's great too).

      Second: the way I meal plan is I simply decide what protein I'm going to make each day, and then get more specific the night before. For the past month I've been trying to transition my family to Meatless Mondays, and Pescatarian Fridays to help make our diets healthier. But it's also to save time. I go to school on Mondays and so I'm pretty tired when it's time to cook. Vegetarian meals eliminate the need to worry about defrosting something and make the cooking a little less intensive (So I'm much more likely to actually cook).

      So do I plan out each individual meal? No. But knowing what protein I'm going to make and roughly how I"m going to cook it means I'm much more likely to cook dinner, and has definitely helped cut our meal costs. Combining that with a well stocked pantry and I'm good to go.

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    • My husband and I are just learning to plan meals too. For us it's about being realistic and flexible. Usually we shop together about once a week, and when we go we make a plan for each of us to cook 1-2 times before the next big grocery shopping trip. For my recipes I usually pick one recipe I like and have done before and one new one that sounds good, to expand my repertoire.

      Once we get the food home, we only have at most four meals to "remember", so we just cook them in order of what goes bad first. We leave plenty of flexibility in case we find that one night we don't have the time/energy to cook, or we have unexpected leftovers (we haven't learned how to anticipate leftovers just yet). And for nights when we aren't up to cooking or need to pad meager leftovers, we have standby no-work pasta and soup options.

      I've tried the "Plan a whole week, night by night" thing before, and while it sounds AMAZING, our lives are just not quite that organized right now. We're working on it!

      So my suggestion is, just play with the idea of meal planning. Start small, and adjust for what works for you.

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  5. It's interesting to see how other people plan their meals. My husband and I are big planners, too. We structure it around three types of meals: pasta, rice, and meat & potatoes, usually eating each twice a week. Rice is usually stir-fry or curry, occasionally a risotto. I have a list of recipes I'd like to try (and a Pinterest board of same: http://pinterest.com/chalimar16/recipes-to-try/), so when I get a new cookbook I add things in the appropriate category. We also have a large white-board on the fridge, so when there are perishables or leftovers, I write them down so we remember to have them for lunch or incorporate them as ingredients in another meal. I try to also have some frozen chicken breasts and veggies on hand, as well as rice and potatoes, so if I need to pull something together last minute, it's doable.

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    • I love the idea of keeping a list of what needs to be eaten soon! I'm perpetually finding an apple that escaped the bag or a chicken breast I forgot about. Kudos!

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  6. I love Google. "Hmm, I have spinach, beets, and butternut squash that have all been in the produce drawer for a while. What can I make that will use the most of these?" Google the ingredients + "recipe" and see what you can find! "Huh, if I just pick up some barley I can make this dish with the beets and squash." I love me some Google.

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  7. I am a big believer in planning meal plans, because though I can cook rather well I seem to always get stumped when it's meal time. I look at a fridge full of food and I'm like WTF? So I carefully plan everything and I try to add at least one brand new recipe from pinterest every week. Good stuff. : ) And thank you for this article, it's inspired me to organize all my meal plan gear, so I don't have to look up a yeast-free pizza crust recipe every time we make pizza!

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    • *perks up* Yeast-free pizza dough? Would you mind sharing your recipe?

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  8. Thank you for posting this! I've been trying to do more meal planning for the fella and I to save us time and money. We are also trying to eat healthier, the only bump in the road that I keep running into is our dietary restrictions (I can't process gluten and he refuses to eat anything that once had leaves…) frankly I'm getting a little tired of turkey tacos and chicken and rice… =P i guess I'll just have to keep trying to get him on the veggie train (wish me luck!) looking forward to tomorrow's post!

    1 agrees
    • I was a hugely picky eater up until the age of 18. When I moved out on my own I decided enough was enough and started pushing myself to branch out. I started with an old trick of putting veggies into spaghetti sauce. If you can't do the gluten try subbing the noodles with spaghetti squash or some veggie cutters will do a spiral cut that will make zucchini into spaghetti like strands. There's also a cookbook called "Deceptively Delicious" that has some great tricks and recipes. It's directed to moms with picky children, but it works just as well on adults. You may not be getting him to eat a veggie platter any time soon, but at least you'll both be getting the nutrients.

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    • My husband is gluten-free and dairy free, so it puts a cramp in my cooking style too. At least he eats veggies, but not joyfully. I just started cooking for the restrictions, vegetables be damned. If he complained, I just lovingly told him that he could make his own dinner if he wasn't a fan of what I made. Since I'm a damn good cook, and he's lazy about cooking, he ended up eating more veggies and I have a greater range of stuff I can make. Your mileage may vary! PS start with spaghetti squash in place of pasta. Honestly once you slather it with meat sauce and cheese, there's really no difference in taste.

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  9. I live alone, so meal planning is difficult. When I lived in Japan, it was easy to buy fresh food for one. Typically, people go shopping 3-4 times a week over there, and buy only what they need for a particular meal. It was a single person's dream- I could buy a quarter head of cabbage instead of a whole head. In North Carolina, however, I'm stuck with gigantic amounts of food I cannot reasonably expect to eat unless I want to have the same meal for a week. I've unfortunately begun relying on frozen dinners to get me through my thesis, but this is inspiring me to begin planning meals well in advance so I can eat a variety of foods with less waste.

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    • Maybe focus on foods that are freezer-friendly? Then you can make 3-4 servings, toss some in the freezer, and bust it back out in a few weeks when you're not sick of it any more and don't have time to cook.

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      • I need to learn some more recipes that are freezer-friendly. Unfortunately, carrots and potatoes are not. I should really do a ton of research… once I'm done with my thesis, that is!

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      • You know what is super-healthy, delicious, and tastes somehow EVEN BETTER after freezing? Homemade soup, of pretty much any kind. (They say not to freeze dairy-containing soups, but I've frozen some with a little cream in them, and they defrosted fine.)

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        • Oh I love soups! They are so easy to improvise with what's in the fridge. And so many are crock-pot friendly… just think, crock pot to freezer and you've got food for days.

          If the entire meal can't be frozen, often components of it can. For instance, freeze a sauce to toss over pasta, a bean dish to put alongside rice, or grilled chicken to add to a quick salad. There are entire cookbooks about freezer meals.

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        • I completely agree! I'm such a homemade soup fan. I did a massive batch of cauliflower soup, and each time I was reheating it, added a tiny bit of milk and blue cheese. Nomnomnom. Lasted me all winter!

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    • Oh man! I lived in Japan, too, and that is like the number one thing I missed! I would walk to the store four times a week on average, get things for just a few meals (FOR ONE!) and then repeat. It was so amazing. I sulked about the amounts you have to buy things in over here when I returned.

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    • Me too! My husband and I left Japan in July, and whenever we go shopping it's a bit depressing. We have to get pretty creative to use up all the produce we're forced to buy.

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    • There is a website that does freezer dinners. I did them while I was in college, buy groceries once a month, do a assembly marathon and have dinner for at least a month! They were amazing and there's one just for crockpots! Make it all ahead, dethaw and pop in a crock pot while writing. Simply amazing! It's savingdinner.com good luck on your thesis!!

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  10. I do the same thing except that in addition to the "stuff I need to use up" I like to base meals around what's on a good sale at my grocery store.

    Before I did this I threw SO much food away/found rotted food in my fridge.Spending a few minutes planning makes such a difference in what we spend. Plus I don't end up going to the grocery store a bunch of times.

    1 agrees
    • I'm pretty good at cooking "just enough" without much leftovers, since the hubby refuses to eat leftovers.
      So I do most of my meal planning with "What's on sale this week?" in mind. This also helps us keep on our tight student budget. I usually write my shopping list up 3-4 days before I do the shopping, since I'll inevitably want to change my mind.

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  11. One thing that we need, need, need to do when we're stictly adheing to our meal plan is not forget to plan for snacks and lunches. For example I know that we need to have tuna, peanut butter, and bread even if we are not planning on eating any of those things this week because sometimes dinner fails and you still gotta eat.

    1 agrees
    • I cook big enough dinners that we always have leftovers for lunches. It was how I grew up because it was just my mom and I, and buying/cooking for 1-2 people is a pain! Lots of meals actually taste better the next day, and it makes things super quick and easy the next day.

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  12. I love meal planning! It makes me feel so much more organized when I know what we're eating all week. I spend less money on take-out and my family eats healthier! I don't do a big cook on the weekend, I just grab my needed ingredients and cook each night. Every weekend I look through my Pinterest board with new recipes to try and pick a couple, and I try to use a recipe or two out of the many food magazines I have subscriptions for (which is way too many. I seriously need to cut back), and the cookbooks I hoard. I post my weekly menu in my LiveJournal and try my darndest to actually follow it!

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  13. Thank you for this post! It helps to not only hear your thought process but see how it gets put into action.

    Anyone have advice for planning meals when you're only feeding one person – preferably something that doesn't involve eating the same leftovers for a week? I hate it when I end up with: "Yum, potato soup!" to "Okay, potato soup." to "Potato soup again?" to "Blech! Throw out the potato soup."

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    • I use an email menu subscription service written by a certified nutrition counselor. Once a week I get an email with 6 2-serving recipes. I make each one for dinner and have the second half for lunch the next day. All I have to worry about is breakfast and snack. The menu service also offers different dietary options (I eat Paleo), and it uses new recipes each week, which means I eat things I wouldn't think of otherwise. Cooking only two servings means I only have leftovers once for each meal, not a huge pot of something looming over me.

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      • Whoa, that sounds super interesting! Links? More info?

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        • http://www.savingdinner.com

          Someone just posted the same link further down! The service I use is her MenuMailer, but she has A LOT of different options. The MenuMailer has a three month subscription and a one year available. If you sign up for her mailing list (which admittedly is a bit obnoxious), they'll email you a one week sampler to be sure you'll like it.

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    • I found freezing stuff works best. Of course not everything will freeze but a lot will, especially if you cook it first.

      Alternatively if you cook from scratch you can make multiple different things with the same fresh ingredients and don't really need to worry about stuff that will keep for a while like dry rice or pasta. It helps to have a few 'go-to' recipes, for example pretty much any veg + stock can become soup and anything + beansprouts + soy/teriyaki sauce or an asian spice mix (like Chinese 5 spice) can become stir fry, but it can also be fun to Google a food that needs using up + the word recipe and see what comes up (as someone recommended further up the page).

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    • We're talking about this above: freezing meals is definitely the way to go. Danikat's advice is also really great. Buy some veggies and use them all week in salads, stir-frys, soups, casseroles, whatever.

      You may also wish to check out any nearby grocery co-ops. Mine offers most produce in bulk, meaning that I can buy only three carrots or one cup of spinach if that's all I'm gonna eat.

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  14. I grocery shop every Saturday morning. During the week I write down what I need on a dry erase board and also plan a menu (Tofu stir fry, GF chicken noodle soup, PF Chang wannabe lettuce wraps, etc.). I make these meals often, so I know exactly which ingredients and the quantities I will need.

    Usually my son and I eat either cereal or oatmeal for breakfast with a piece of fruit. My husband usually eats a banana during his 1.5 hour commute to Boston. I pack my husband's lunch in a Mr. Bento four days a week and on Friday he eats out with the guys. My son and I eat leftovers or whatever I have sitting around that is suitable for a lunch.

    I have Celiac disease and my son has multiple life threatening allergies, so we eat 100% of our meals at home. I do this mostly because I don't feel like dealing with the bs that comes from eating out and all the allergic people haters that we come across. Also, it's cheaper to eat at home.

    My grocery list is on a spreadsheet in Excel. I have everything I normally need to purchase listed in one column and in the next column I can put an x or a number for what items I need. Then I can use a macro to put only the items I have chosen on a printable list. Currently the printer is broken, so part of the list goes to my husband's blackberry and I write my part of the list on a piece of paper.

    The three of us go to the store on Saturday and my son and I take a shopping cart and work on our part of the list and my husband goes off with a cart to work on his part of the list. Usually shopping gets done in half the time and we can get in and out of there before it gets too crowded.

    I like this method of menu planning and grocery shopping. The only thing that can slow me down is if I am going to make something new or need to stop and read labels on items to check for possible allergens.

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    • Wow, you sound amazingly organized! I am in awe.

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    • Just a note on "allergic people haters"….

      I used to work at Subway, and occasionally i'd get someone in that would be like "can you please wash your hands and change your gloves and wash that knife? my daughter is volently allergic to tomatos" (for example)

      Which is fine, no problems whatsoever.

      The thing is, all around the tomatos, is lettuce, cucumbers, capsicums, and whatever. I don't know if someone's dropped a tomato in there and pulled it out again, I don't know if someone's been sticking their tomato-juicy hands it the lettuce…. maybe someone used the bread-knife to cut a slice of tomato in half… these things are not supposed to happen, but sometimes they do.

      So if this hypothetical person's daughter is so allergic to tomatos that the knife having previously come into contact with some tomato, and then coming into contact with her tomato-less sandwich is going to cause an anaphalctic reaction… the rest of the food is probably not safe either.

      So for me, the "allergic people hater" attitude comes from, a feeling that either this hypotetical-subway-customer is completely over-reacting to the severity of her daughter's allergy, probably becuase she thinks i'm some sort of idiot, or, she is some sort of idiot, and thinks that all tomatos are restricted to their containers at all times, and i'm worried i'm going to unwittingly cause the death of her child.

      2 agree
  15. I'm so glad you don't have fancy forks either. I've had some fairly mean things said to me in the past about my "stance" on extra forks. Haha.

    Anyway, this is a great reminder for me to meal plan. It really is much simpler than I think it is. I just have to do it!

    It is a little confusing in my household right now though. My husband does the majority of the cooking while I do the baking for the week. So while we always have bread and biscotti and homemade butter, we might not have a clue as to what we're going to eat that particular night. So I'm thinking about doing more of the cooking and letting my husband do fancy meals on the weekend.

    I'm wondering how you decide the specifics of what to eat, ingredient-wise. Like chicken on Thursday or Mexican on Tuesday or is it random from week to week? Or do you have a list of recipes by convenience? Or am I really making this way more complicated than it has to be? Haha.

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    • You're not the only one. In my world fancy forks means they're all from the same set instead of whatever random ones we grabbed out the draw. I'm slowly transitioning from 'student' mode to 'adult' mode but I've only just gotten as far as different glasses for wine. Fancy forks is a long way off. :D

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      • Psh, all I have is fancy forks lol. I managed to find a set of silver fancy rose engraved forks/spoons for a dollar per piece (originally fifteen a piece). So we eat off legit silverware. :) I like it. I feel fancy, always..

        1 agrees
        • I've turned all of our silver-ware into jewelry… now we just have mismatched thrift store utensils!

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  16. we've just started meal planning in the last month, because we started watching what we're eating. I know that if left to my own devices, I'll totally fail and just eat whatever's easy, with a side of microwave veggies, so what we've been doing is sitting down, planning vaguely what we'd like to have, and then i go find good for us recipes for them. then we make a shopping list and when we get everything home, the perishables are listed on a whiteboard on the fridge, as are leftovers when they happen. This way, if the plan for a night changes, we know what we need to use next. It's been a really fun process that's made me look forward to the next meal (tonight I get to try making quinoa stuffed acorn squash for the first time!!) instead of "oh god, diet food again?" and we're trying out a lot of veggies and grains and recipes I never would have thought of before. Meal planning has been my savior in all this and I finally feel like I've found a way to diet that's not a diet.
    Also, by planning meals, I can make better use of things. Last week I roasted a chicken (which was fantastic, why haven't I done THAT before?!), the next day I made a chicken pot pie from some of the leftovers (again, amazing) and then on an I-don't-feel-like-really-cooking day a couple days later, the last of the chicken became chicken BLT salads and I made some store-bough stuffed mushrooms. the carcass is currently waiting in the freezer for me to make stock, and the whole thing was way cheaper than just buying boneless skinless breasts or tenders.

    tl;dr: menu planning, highly recommended!

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  17. Thank you for being real with this article. It's good to know I'm not the only one whose carefully thought out meal plan just doesn't hit 100% every week. And also? Go poppers!

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  18. I do something similar with meal planning. Clean out the fridge, then write on the white board everything that we have left in it (and the freezer), with stars next to the things that most need to be used. That way I can stare at the stock list for as long as I want, AND when I use something I can erase it. When inevitably the dinner plan for a day gets scrapped, I can refer back to the list for an idea of where to start to use up those most precious ingredients.

    Bonus: when I'm trying to remember if there is a brick of blue cheese in the back of the drawer, it takes a lot less effort to glance at the list. Fewer things end up just getting shoved back and lost.

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  19. for those of you who are particularly concerned about waste, you might like my mother's amazing system of not wasting anything. She had a few large tupperware containers in her freezer at all times. One was for wayward veggies, the other for tomato and meat based items. Any little amount of leftover vegetable went into the veggie container, even if it was a tablespoon of peas. Anything tomato or red meat went into the other container. When the veggie container was full, it got turned into the worlds best vegetable soup. When the tomato and red meat one was full it became the most amazing ragout sauce for pasta. You could do a poultry container, or combine your poultry based leftovers with the veggies and make chicken veggie soup, I guess, but she never did that….

    What do you think? Is the woman a genius or what?

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    • I keep a bag for carrot ends, the middle of the celery bunch, and bits of onion that's starting to go dry. When it's time to make chicken stock the bag is poured into the pot. (Note: stock – not soup. I wouldn't use the icky parts of the veggies for anything that they weren't later strained out of)

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  20. Unfortunately with just two of us we don't have much of a schedule and since we are not responsible for feeding anyone else it is generally just a nag at one another until we have cooked food. I work (currently) in a kitchen so I really don't want to come home and cook or do it on my off unless it is something I know only I want (think brownies or flat bread.)

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    • OK so I have actually been really annoyed at how little we do plan out, so I came up with my own solution… we currently have a stainless steel fridge and a few dry-erase markers… I basically started writing on the fridge, what we have in the fridge that HAS to be used in the next few days (turkey- snacks and dark meat is for a soup-Sunday; ground beef- cooking creme meal experiment- Saturday) another section for what is generally in the fridge (eggs x4 cheese x bunch)another for what I need to make flat-bread for my sandwiches and too see if I can stop buying subway… and than a section for what we have in the freezer, I might have to use the larger panel on the fridge instead of just the small section above the ice dispenser.

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  21. We recently started meal planning to help us dramatically cut our grocery costs – we found that without a meal plan, we were constantly wasting food and making impromptu trips to the grocery store. I've found that planning two weeks at a time (looking not just for the present week, but the week after) has allowed us to cut down to one grocery trip a week, and then we go to the cheap store that is out-of-the-way, instead of stopping at the close-but-super-expensive store that is on the way home from work. We also buy bulk dry goods and most of our frozen items at Costco, so I try to keep our bulk items in mind while planning our meals.

    Some tips: I like to eat leftovers for my lunches, so I plan out what meals are going to make leftovers for my lunches, so I don't wind up spending money on buying lunch. I also find it helpful to have a few "pantry meals" (meals that can easily be made from things that won't go bad) in my repertoire. If I get stumped on meals, I try to think of ethnic foods to mix-it-up. We really like tex-mex type food, so we have a tex-mex meal at least once a week. Other good ideas are pizza night, Italian food, or casserole night.

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  22. blah…. i wrote a whole post about my method of meal planning but it was mostly just rambling… maybe i'll write an actual article and submit it, cuz my method seems to be quite different to what other people are posting…

    the short version being: i've never had an issue with meal-planning, because i let my meals plan themselves…

    intrigued?

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  23. When I worked a 9-5, meal planning was my sanity-saver. I found so much stress lifted after I took the 20 minutes to think through the week and the grocery list! I love knowing exactly what we'll have. I now work in a restaurant where my nights are usually pretty messed up, so I hope to hop back on the meal planning wagon soon!

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  24. I've always planned the weekly meals ahead, from when I first took over the family kitchen at age 15. I hate grocery shopping, and planning in advance helps me avoid the stores during the week. (Usually we have got a big trip or two on Saturday, and I go out for some fresh vegetables on Tuesday or Wednesday.) When we moved in together, the BF initially made fun of that habit, but by now I guess he even likes it, because it is way more relaxing this way.

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  25. Funny to see this post. I am a huge believer in meal planning to save time, money, waste and hassle. I was telling some friends about it last night, and they laughed and said if I had kids it would never work. Seems like families with kids would have even MORE reason to do meal planning, but hey, what do I know?

    There is nothing more frustrating to me than starting to cook (especially after a long day at work) and finding out I am missing ingredients. Meal planning puts an end to that for me.

    Like some of the other commenters, I also cook for 4 and we take leftovers – BAM. Lunch is packed. Saves time and a lot of money!

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    • YES! The rage I feel when I am missing one ingredient used to make me give up on cooking all together. I meal-plan loosely just so that I know I have all the shit I need for the week.

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  26. my husband and i have started planning our meals, but realize that we just can't stick to a rigid plan. you just never know how much energy you will have for dinner or what you are in the mood to eat. so, what we do instead is decide, 'okay, these are the seven meals for the week' and decide each day (or the day before, or 2 minutes before we want to eat) what we will have from the list. it helps that 'don't know what to have for dinner-let's just go out' problem, and helps with grocery planning. we will for instance get broccoli for soup one night and with pasta another.

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  27. When I cook something in the slowcooker or oven baked I usually make a huge batch and then freeze it into meal portions.
    My meal plan is on a weekly tear off pad so as I add 4 portions of chilli to the freezer I write chilli on the meal planner, 1 day for the next 4 weeks, makes it even easier to know what meals I have in the freezer ready to go

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  28. My husband and I do this too, although we don't always take stock of what we have because we're pretty good about eating leftovers and don't buy cans of stuff we don't need. It helps us to plan in leftover days so everything gets eaten quickly. For a while it helped us to plan by making Monday pasta night, Wednesday soup night, etc. But now we mix it up more. We try to introduce only one new recipe at a time so that we're not overwhelmed or have too many possibly crappy dinners in a row. Sometimes if we know we're going to have to buy a lot of something, like a bunch of celery, for a soup but aren't going to use it all, we'll pick other meals that use that same ingredient so it gets used up before it goes bad. Yay meal planning!

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  29. A big thing for me is to remind myself that they are not all going to be fancy 4-star dinners, sometimes dinner can be a piece of chicken, and some veggies thrown over rice. So usually on the weekend and the beginning of the week, the hubby and I cook a few big meals, and by the end of the week we eat leftovers.

    The kids like it because they get to pick from the little bits of meals and leftover produce we had during the week. "I want an apple, mashed potatoes and a hot dog" And we like it because it empties the fridge for the next week.

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  30. this is an old post, but hey! i was just priding myself on sticking out meal planning for 4 months so i thought i'd pitch in on what works for us.

    let me begin by saying, my boyfriend and i have tried and failed at meal planning SO many times in the past. somehow we stumbled on something that actually works for us.

    we have a dry-erase board that we keep our weekly meal plan written on one side and the grocery list on the other. we update the grocery list as needed when we run out of staples (peanut butter, eggs, oatmeal) and then on saturday or sunday we make the plan for the week.
    first i take stock of what we have in the house that we should use up. then, we look in the weekly circular for our two closest grocery stores and see if they have any deals we can't pass up. after looking at the week to see if there's anything on the schedule we need to know (he is working late one day, etc) we decide which days need to be super easy nights and which ones can be a little more time intensive.
    we try to use the same ingredients in multiple meals, that way it all gets used up in different ways without us getting bored.
    luckily, we both are the kind of people who tend to go on food binges – so one week we'll go asian heavy, the next will be potato heavy, one week'll be all mexican accidentally. this is really convenient for eating seasonally, because we will be perfectly happy eating asparagus until asparagus is out of season!

    this started out because i was sick and tired of throwing food away, and because we really needed to budget (loss of one income with the introduction of a new baby). using the same ingredients all week long is awesome because if on breakfast burrito day, we're just not in the MOOD for breakfast burritos, we can just rearrange the ingredients into something new. or we can just switch days around if it ends up being easier to make pizza on monday and steak on tuesday.

    our biggest budget downfall was that we would wait until the last minute to decide what's for dinner, then have to go to the store to pick up some things for it, then come out of the store with a $60 bill when we only wanted an onion! now we have a rule that if it's not on the list, we're not buying it. we can add it to the list for the next time if we really want it.

    having the plan definitely helps with prep (oh yea, we're having rice & beans tomorrow, tonight i'll actually remember to soak the beans instead of buying canned, & we'll make enough rice for the stir-fry later in the week!). i eat leftovers every day for lunch & clean the fridge every friday so i can see what's left in there. plus, the benefit is that now we no longer have 2 year old chickens in the freezer!

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