Meal planning simplified!

I’m going to come right out and say it, I love meal planning! No, I am not crazy and yes, I do honestly mean that. I know what you’re thinking but honestly, once you get in the groove of regular meal planning you will love it too. I can say that confidently because who doesn’t love saving time, knowing not one but multiple options to have for meals, and saving money?

I have been happily married for lucky number seven years now and I can say, without a doubt, what my husband and I fight about most: what are we going to eat? Neither of us wants to decide, neither of us wants to run to the store for that one missing ingredient we need to make a meal come together, and neither of us wants to go broke from eating out every day. Ready for my simple solution? Meal planning!

Follow the steps below and yes, it really can be simple!

I started meal planning years ago when we were going through that lovely phase of life where we weren’t technically struggling but we weren’t technically not struggling. Where we had graduated college, gotten married, bought a house, and had a baby (yay us!) then realized that all those exciting accomplishments we thought made us functioning adults actually made us have student loan payments, house payments, daycare payments, etc, etc. Kind of takes the joy out of being an adult when you have to face real life doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to my earlier point of not wanting to be broke from eating out all the time. We resorted to eating out due to the earlier mentioned recurring fight of neither of us having a plan or wanting to figure out what to eat. At that stage in our life, ‘eating out’ would have consisted of some sweet dollar menu combinations and us convincing ourselves we’d start working out at home to offset all the low quality food going into our bodies…starting next week 😉

I was blessed to be raised in a family of amazing cooks and grew up in an area that didn’t have places with dollar menus. If you wanted to eat out in my hometown it was at the combination bar/bowling alley/restaurant in town and the quality of food there beats anything I’ve yet to experience from a dollar menu here where there are options around every corner. Needless to say, my body wasn’t happy switching from homemade deliciousness to frozen, flash cooked, chemical ridden fast food. I also want to point out that I do enjoy cooking and am capable of doing so, my issue has always been deciding what to cook. Thanks to meal planning, I’ve come up with simple solutions to solve all my past dilemmas!

Stacie’s Simplified Tips to Starting Meal Planning

  1. Start a note on your phone or a word doc on your computer or a draft email and list out some of your favorite meals. Get detailed here: favorite foods to order at restaurants, favorite dishes your co-workers bring to food days at work, favorite dish you ate growing up, recipes from your family, foods you’ve pinned and been meaning to try, etc. If you have others who rely on you regularly for meals (spouse, kids, in-laws, neighbors, friends, siblings, etc) make them do the same thing and send it to you so you have a master list of recipes.
  2. Take that massive list and skim it, breaking it down into major food categories. What do I mean? If you listed five cheese ziti al forno, your kid listed mac n cheese, and your hubby said spaghetti then Italian is going to be a food category you should likely include in your meal planning regularly. If you’re not big into cooking and/or a lot of your ideas tended toward minimal prep, I’d suggest including Crockpot Meal as a food category (keep it simple people!). If there are a couple favorite restaurant meals you know you just can’t replicate, how about adding Dinner Out – ________’s Choice as a category and rotating weekly who gets to choose. Keep in mind that some things are seasonal, I like to include things like Soup or Casserole for fall and winter categories and Grill Out or Salad for spring and summer. We also like to be able to bring lunch to work so I have lunch categories that are simple things such as Sandwiches or Wraps.
  3. As you are listing the food categories and/or as you meal plan each week, always have that master list of recipes handy and jot down any additional ideas that come to mind. Did you list Mexican as a food category then start craving crunchwraps or chicken enchiladas with white cheese sauce and green chiles? Add them to your master list! Each week, you can pick a couple food categories and use that master list to combine recipes without you having to think up new ideas each time (brilliant, right?).
  4. Speaking of meal planning each week, be sure to rotate out the food categories and keep it fun so you don’t get sick of Italian every Monday. If your family loves Italian as much as me and it is a staple food category almost every week, that’s fine! Find ways to keep it interesting by doing different proteins (chicken alfredo with broccoli one week then spaghetti with meatballs the next and italian sub sandwiches for another). Proteins and ingredients and variety are the real MVPs with meal planning. You can cut down on your grocery list (and cost!) drastically by meal planning smart. Say wha…? Yes, you can. I will have a new post next week titled Meal Planning Budgeting Simplified. Stay tuned for tips on how to make the most of buying in bulk, taking advantage of sales, reusing ingredients or leftovers in multiple meal plans for the week, etc!
  5. I strongly recommend marrying your two lists of food categories and recipes into one master list so it’s easier for you to pick options each week. Did I lose you? Not to worry, I just mean that if you have a Food Category of American, cut and paste all the recipes from your master list that fall into that category next to it (burgers, hot dogs, sloppy joes, etc) so you now have one large organized list you can reference each week and to as you go.
  6. If you’re someone like me who enjoys cooking and loves Pinterest, I’d suggest making Pinterest as a food category and making it a goal to make a new recipe found from there regularly as part of your meal planning. Fun right? Another great tip is to make meal planning food category boards on your Pinterest and save recipes into them so you not only have ideas readily handy, you also have the instructions and ingredient list at your fingertips. Make an Italian Food Planning Board, Crockpot Food Planning Board, etc and get to pinning! Speaking of this, I will be making food category boards on my Simplified by Stacie Pinterest page so feel free to follow me and re-pin to your own boards.
  7. Now it’s time to figure out when works for you to devote time eack week to meal planning. Yes, this seems OCD but it helps to have a schedule and stick to it. Personally, I like to meal plan on Thursdays because I’m random like that. There is a rhyme to my reasoning for this which I’ll circle back to in my final tip. I make time each Thursday to pick a couple food categories and look through my master list/brainstorm for what recipes I want to include in each category so I can make a full fledged meal plan for the week. Make sure to account for lunches, sides, snacks, desserts, etc so you have everything in one place for grocery list time. I strongly recommend keeping your meal plan list handy in the kitchen so you can reference it when you inevitably stare in the fridge after a couple days wondering why you have a pork loin (oh yeah, forgot raspberry chipotle pork loin with baked potatoes and green beans were on my meal plan!).
  8. Ok, it’s time for my final tip and (total honesty here) FAVORITE tip when it comes to meal planning. Online grocery shopping! I don’t care if you choose to utilize the delivery or pick up services (although I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to at least for the vast majority of the items on your list). Either way, download the app for your favorite grocery story and have your meal plan list for the week handy then go through your fridge and pantry and start adding all the ingredients you’ll need for the week on the app. This changed my life with how simple it made meal planning AND grocery shopping. Pull up recipes for any meals you aren’t familiar with and make sure you have enough of each ingredient (got a cream based soup planned for Wednesday? Make sure you have enough milk for that AND your kid’s cereal each morning). As you go through each meal you’ve got planned, you’ll realize a lot of the ingredients for them overlap which cuts down on your groceries. The real genius behind this is that you now know how much you are spending, you’re only getting what you need, and you’re avoiding multiple trips to the store which saves you time. Remember when I said I like to meal plan on Thursdays and you were thinking to yourself that I’m off my rocker? I do that because then I’m at home while going through my fridge & pantry and starting my grocery list. The next morning, I have everything saved on that app and head to work only to realize I forgot I’m in charge of snacks for my daughters class this month and need to add a bulk package of cheese sticks. No worries, I just pull up my app, add them to the list and submit it for pick up after work that day. Having the groceries Friday night allows me time to meal prep over the weekend when I have more free time-it’s a win win for me and hopefully will be for you too once you figure out what works best with your schedule!

Thanks for reading and overlooking all my rookie mistakes as this is (very obvious I’m sure) my first blog post ever and I have no idea what I’m doing. My only hope with this first rambling post is that it made enough sense for you to follow and maybe made the thought of meal planning seem less daunting and help you realize it really can be simple!


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