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March 28, 2018

My Simple Meal Planning Process

Dillon and I both love to eat delicious, healthy meals and appreciate the feeling of knowing what we will be having for dinner that evening. Early on in our marriage, we sat down and talked through which household responsibilities we would each take ownership of. Since I have a natural knack for planning and cooking, I have done almost all of our meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking since we got married.

As a newlywed, I spent months searching for a simple meal planning process with no success. I tried a meal planning notebook, a word document, and even a 1 month trial for Plan to Eat. Each method helped me to refine our process, ultimately leading me to create one last month that I absolutely love. I’m excited to share my process with you today, including a free resource I created to plan our meals.

simple meal planning

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Create a List of Go-To Meals

Meal planning used to feel like such a burden because every step of the process was incredibly time-consuming. Each weekend, I would spend an hour or two searching Pinterest for recipes, then another half hour trying to create a list of ingredients to buy. Since I had never before tried most of the recipes, I didn’t know how long the preparation would take or how complicated it would be.

Some of my favorite sources for new recipes are SkinnyTaste, this board from Emily of EmForMarvelous, and my own Pinterest board of recipes. I generally prepare meals that have 6-8 servings, one for me and two for Dillon for dinner and then the double that for lunch leftovers. If a recipe serves two or four, I adjust it accordingly. After eight months of consistently preparing dinner, we’ve really landed on a handful of recipes that we both love. We still try new meals from time-to-time, but having a staple list is so helpful.

 

Organize Your Go-To Meals into a Spreadsheet

This step was the game changer in our home. Earlier this year, I gathered our go-to recipes and created a Google Sheet to store them all. Within that sheet, I list the recipe type (casserole, sheet pan, crock pot, etc), flavor profile (American, Italian, Thai, Mexican – our favorite!), ingredients (copied and pasted from the recipe itself), and type of meat (helpful for buying in bulk!).

I’m still adding information to the sheet, including the number of servings and whether or not a meal is freezer-friendly. The sheet took about two hours to prepare but has already saved me countless hours, making it totally worth it!

 

Each Week, Choose Recipes from the Spreadsheet and Write Them Down

Once the sheet is prepared and filled with your favorite recipes, meal planning takes hardly any time at all! Each week, typically on Thursday or Friday, I figure out how many nights we will be eating at home in the upcoming week. This number varies depending on family dinners, date nights out, holidays, social events, and nights we treat ourselves to Chipotle, of course!

Taking our schedule into consideration, I generally choose anywhere from 3-5 meals per week directly from my Spreadsheet. I’ll often ask Dillon to glance over the sheet to let me know if he’s craving anything in particular, and also scan it to see if there are any recipes we haven’t had for a while.

Most recently, I’ve started stocking our freezer with a few easy dinners to have on hand for weeks that are particularly full. Rather than create extra work with additional meal-prep, I usually double a meal a couple times each month. For those meals, I factor in twice the amount of ingredients on my grocery list and prepare double the recipe. When I’m finished prepping the meal, I freeze one recipe’s worth in one of these foil pans (less than a dollar for two pans at Walmart) and label it with the recipe name for easy reference in a future week. It’s been such a timesaver! As we strive to make healthier choices for our home, I plan to replace the foil pans with additional pyrex baking dishes.

 

Copy and Paste the Ingredients Into a Google Doc

Once I’ve chosen our recipes for the week, I copy and paste the ingredients into our grocery list Google Doc. I quickly skim the list for duplicate items (for example, if one recipe calls for a cup of cheddar cheese and another one calls for two, I consolidate those into one line item as ‘3 cups of cheddar cheese’.

Altogether, this process takes me about 10-15 minutes each week. I’ve also streamlined our grocery shopping to take less than 30 minutes door-to-door, which I will share in an upcoming post. If you have any questions on this or any favorite recipes to share, please leave a comment below!

Download a copy of my meal planning Google Sheet here.

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