Eat + Entertain / Family

How do you meal plan?

how to meal plan

I think I was playing hookie on the day that moms learn how to meal plan in Mom School. I simply have never been good at planning dinners ahead so that I have what I need to cook for the week. Actually let me rephrase that: I’ve never ever done it EVER. In my 16 years of being a mom, I’ve never been able to devote the time, the brain power, and the organization skills to planning dinners ahead. Which of course leads to chaos every evening. 

I’ve been trying to get better at meal planning for a long time. The idea makes so much sense to me, especially as someone who uses tech and proper planning to hack and streamline so many of life’s tasks, from fitting exercise into a busy schedule to getting more (and better) sleep.

What is it about this process that’s so elusive to me? Maybe it’s that there’s so many moving parts—groceries, recipes, shopping, prepping… it feels like it takes so much time that I simply don’t have to spare… but being crazed, exhausted, and looking at my kids blankly when they ask me what’s for dinner— that’s just not cool. 

What I’ve tried: bookmarking recipes in my favorite cookbooks, then writing their titles in Evernote; clipping recipes to Pinterest to use later (I never remember they’re there); putting prep time on my calendar (which gets written over if I decide to take a morning yoga class, or just go out for breakfast burritos with the kids). I’ve also tried apps like Gathered Table to make grocery lists and plan dinners for the whole week; and recently I was (re)introduced to Whirlpool’s app Yummly, which will organize recipes according to your food preferences, and makes grocery-list-making a snap. 

None of it has quite clicked perfectly for me yet. So, I’m taking it to you, readers: What works for you? Do you have tips and tricks that have made it easier for you to stay on top of meal planning and prepping? Is there an app or device that’s served you well? Which strategies have totally failed?

Leave your best tips in the comments below. 

7 comments on “How do you meal plan?”

  1. Like you, I’ve found the whole figuring out what to feed my family all of the told a real slog. I wrote a blog post about the system I use now

    And this one about getting past my mindset challenges around cooking.

    It’s comforting when I hear others struggle in this area too and I’ll be watching this space to hear what others suggest.

  2. I am also struggling with this. My current plan, since hubby just went on third shift, is to take a Google calendar and list one meal a week I’m willing to make. I’ll then ask hubby to do the same and the third meal, since just the two of us three meals will feed us dinner all week, will be a ready to make freezer meal.

    I’m very hopeful that others will have better ideas!

  3. I roast trays of veggies with olive oil and salt and pepper. I cook up some proteins, like hamburgers, chili in the crock pot, seasoned roast chicken breasts, baked salmon, etc. Then, for meals, you just put what you want of the components on your plate and heat it up. Easy, peasy!! Good luck.

  4. I have used the website forkchop for over 5 years now. It is a recipe management platform that is just simple enough that it has staying power. You can import recipes from popular food websites or can write them in from your grandmother’s recipe box, etc. Over the years I’ve added over 500 recipes to my stash and try to tag recipes with a bare minimum of what type of recipe it is (I.e “dinner” “side” “dessert” “soup”). You create your own tags though, so when I have time I get super specific and use tags like “one-pot” “easy lunch” and “go-to”. At the beginning of the week I go in and pick the recipes I want to make that week and click “add to shopping list”. It creates a list of all the ingredients and you cross out the items you already have. Since I have a 4 month old, I’ve started picking just two recipes per week and doubling them to cut back on prep time. I do the big batch cooking on the weekend and throughout the week my husband and I eat one dish for lunch each day, and the other recipe for dinner each day (a lot of people couldn’t do that, I know!) I love that I no longer have to keep track of where to find all my recipes- they’re all in one digitally organized place!

  5. I caved and went with one of the weekly services that mails you food and recipes. We get 2 meals a week from them
    1. We are making recipes I wouldn’t have tried
    2. All ingredients are right there
    3. Kids like making the meals
    4. Blue Apron has a great app

    There are a lot of meals that I don’t think my family would want any part of. The good thing is you can easily skip weeks.

  6. has a neat interface which allows you to clip recipes into Cozi as well as schedule meals on your calendar. It works best on a desktop when you’re planning, but once you enter the meals, it is easy to look up each day on your phone. Cozi will also generate a grocery list, but I don’t use that feature.

    My base system is very low-tech. Over the years, I’ve made a stack of 4×6 note cards which list the meals my family enjoys. I include the recipe name, where to find it (cookbook, online, etc), and side dishes that pair well. I also note ingredients that I’m unlikely to have on hand to help with grocery list making. I find having the cards in my hand makes the planning process easier. Once I pull out a week’s work of meals, I ideally enter them in Cozi. That doesn’t always happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *