{DESPERATELY SEEKING} Reader Advice…Meal Planning

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in series that asks you, our readers, for your tips and tricks on a specific food-related matter. We will cover a wide range of topics; this week, meal planning. Leslie (and I) need help! -Christina


I have gotten spoiled. I rarely have to think very far ahead about meals, because every Wednesday I get my big ‘ol box of veggies from our Denison Farm CSA share. I am creative enough in the kitchen that I can always throw together something delicious with whatever I happen to find in the crisper drawer. But, sadly, we are coming up on the last few weeks of fresh CSA veggies (I did not sign up for a Winter share this year). Which means I actually have to start thinking about tomorrow’s dinner before, well, tomorrow. I’m not so good with planning ahead. I shudder to think about loading kids into the car all winter, though, to go get random ingredients for dinner on a regular basis. So I am going out of character and I’m going to be really organized, and follow through on a meal planning system (I’ve tried before and failed). But what??  I know it’s really not that complicated, but for someone who is a little more, uh, free-spirited in the kitchen, I just am not sure how to plan ahead successfully.

Here are my ideas…

  • meal plan on Fridays, hit the Farmer’s Market and grocery store on Saturdays, and be set for the week
  • make each day a different food category…Mexican Mondays? Pasta Tuesdays? Breakfast dinner Wednesdays?
  • browse my cookbooks and magazines and find recipes I want to make each week, plan around that? (maybe challenge myself and go for one cookbook all week…could be fun!)

Do you meal plan? Please offer your tried and true strategies for getting dinner on the table!


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Erica says:

    Planning ahead is something I am also trying very hard to get better at. Here are my strategies that seem to work so far:

    – I look the the cupons/weekly deals for the supermarket friday night and also hit those up Saturday morning. Veggies over the summer I’ve been getting at the farmers market. D (my son) is now very used to our satuday shopping trip (and he also likes it becasue he gets to pick out a treat at the farmers market to munch on.)
    – I plan a week of meal (based on the sales) and 1 very quick back up meal so that if I’m running late from work its a quick 15 min prep and we’re good to go (usually a pasta dish)
    – During nap time on the weekend I prep as much as possible for the meals (D wont eat veggies so I puree all his veggies and hide them in his food. I do all the pureeing during nap time on the weekend.) Any meat that I can cook in advance I will cook (chicken for quesadillas, ground meat, etc.)
    – I also make double what we need for our meal and freeze the remaining for a future meal.

    I don’t stick to this every week, but I’ve really been trying. The weeks I do follow through I save money and eat much healthier than the weeks I don’t. Eventually it will become a routine!

    1. Leslie says:

      Erica, I LOVE the double and freeze idea. I used to do this all the time, and somehow once I got out of the habit it was completely out of my mind as a possibility. THanks!

  2. kristastes says:

    I only have to feed myself, BUT I do plan — I like making a soup, stew, or chili of some sort on Sunday so that I have it for the next few days (especially since Mondays tend to be hectic). I also pre-wash most of my veggies as soon as I unpack them so I can just grab and go when cooking/snacking. Whenever I make a sauce, I make a double batch and freeze half to heat with pasta/rice/fresh veggies another night. That about sums up my meal planning 🙂

  3. Purple Cook says:

    Yes, I meal plan.

    We get our CSA on Tuesday, which sometimes can throw a surprise into the meal plan – don’t get a planned veggie etc. But that’s just the fun of eating locally.

    I plan for one whole week. I try to have a Meatless Monday, chicken, fish, pasta nights. We usually have homemade pizza on Friday. I have cooking magazines and cookbooks marked up with recipes to try. I usually will look at the week’s schedule – on a busy night I plan a tried and true recipe. An evening with more time I’ll try something new.

    When I’m stuck for ideas I make the kids or my husband suggest one meal for the week – they get to have what they like and I get a slot filled.

    Meal planning works for us! I go to the store once a week and have everything I need on hand. Hope it works for you.

  4. Dianna Goodwin says:

    We kind of sort of meal plan. It is based mostly on what we grow in the summer or what our winter share has in it during the garden off season. Michael and I can enough tomato sauce to have desperation pasta once a week, usually around Wednesday or Thursday. We cook a big batch of whatever on the weekend, eat it with different side dishes and different things thrown into it until roughly Tuesday night when it runs out. We often give up and eat out on Thursday night and feel freshly energized to cook something pleasant and one-nightish on Friday. My meal planning consists of buying a variety of raw ingredients on Saturday to make it through the week and leave some room for playing with the ingredients. Saturday night fish. Sunday into Tuesday, evolving stew from garden/shopping/share (often Bittman inspired – like variations of chicken in red wine or some kind of curry), Wednesday pasta something with our tomato sauce, Thursday, whatever or eat out. Friday thoughtful loving anticipated and often creative dinner from cook books or inspiration, with Shabbat candles, and so it goes. Flexibility and room for both brain death and creativity are the keys of this meal plan. It was thrown for a loop by our son moving home and cooking for us when he has the time, which is even better than cooking for yourself. Mostly it involves a real commitment to eating something well cooked but not necessarily fussy together every evening that we are home. Best rule of meal planning: when I grocery shop I try to buy something I have not eaten before every time and then deal with it. THis will not necessarily work for families with young children, but teenagers can be coaxed into it.

  5. Kris says:

    I was doing pretty well with meal planning for awhile, but got off track recently. A change of schedule and lack of inspiration threw me for a loop. Having a picky toddler, and rarely getting to eat with my huband and son are always a challenge. When it works, it makes life much easier, though.
    I usually start with what I have in the house, what’s in season that I can get at the farmers market and pick one or two recipes I’ve been craving or want to try. On my two evenings off, I generally make one meal that gets eaten all that night, and one meal that will be good leftover that I make lots of. The rest of the week, I pick simpler meals that can be warmed up, because I have to cook in the afternoon before I leave for work – soup is great for this now that it’s cooler. I always plan in at least two nights for leftovers. And, one day a week I make pizza – we all eat early that day so we can all have the pizza fresh.
    The key for me is to be somewhat flexible. I make a menu for the week and shop accordingly, but swap which days I make what depending on how the day goes and how many leftovers I have. Some weeks, I end up with more leftovers than expected and I push one meal to the next week. Sometimes a meal gets eaten up and I don’t have leftovers. For that, I keep ingredients on hand to make an unexpected meal.
    Now I’m off to shop for this week’s menu so I can get back on track.

  6. Kyla says:

    I like to do my grocery shopping on Mon or Tues mornings when there are fewer people in the store, makes for a smoother, faster trip.

    I also like to make double batches so I can freeze a portion of the meal and have it for another week, when maybe I don’t plan as well.

    I try to do a few “regular” meals, ones that I could make in my sleep I know then so well. In addition to new and interesting meals that challenge our taste buds a bit.

  7. Ann P says:

    I always make a menu for each upcoming week. I start by asking myself what I already have on hand. For instance, I may have milk left in the fridge from a previous meal (we don’t drink milk in my house). I then pick a meal that uses milk. Same thing with meat in the freezer.
    I also do the double batch freezing trick as well as having some back up meals for days that don’t go as planned.

  8. Leslie says:

    WOW, everyone, a HUGE thank you for all the great tips and advice. Really, wow! Great ideas, and I think I’m getting it!!

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