Creating a weekly meal plan

In my mind, there are two types of meals: utilitarian and everything else. Utilitarian meals are weekday lunches and dinners when my top priority is supplying my body nutrients for survival. Everything else meals are dinner parties and meals prepared when I have leisurely Saturday afternoons to craft a gourmet plate.

The utilitarian meals, the ones that often begin with phrases such as “What’s for dinner?” and “I’m starving, let’s see what we have in the kitchen,” are where disorganization can work against you. If you don’t have an organized meal plan, it can be easier to head to a fast food joint than to create a nutritious meal at home.

To help with meal planning organization, I created a Meal Plan worksheet (links to the worksheet at the end of this article). To use it, I start most Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee, a stack of cookbooks, and a pad of post-it notes. I flip through my cookbooks, flagging all of the recipes I want to use for the week.

My next task is to put an “X” on the worksheet through any of the meals that I know will be eaten out of the house for friends’ birthdays or whatever is lined up on our calendar. Then, I match up recipes I’ve marked in the cookbooks with openings on the schedule. If any of the items need preparation hours or days beforehand, I’ll list those under the “Prep for Tomorrow” section to help with managing my time. (For example, dough for homemade pizza crusts needs to be made 24 hours in advance of use … so if I want pizza tomorrow, I have to make the dough today.) Also, having at least two snacks listed on the worksheet ensures that I’ve got healthy snack choices available.

When matching recipes with meals, I’ll review the recipe and write down any ingredients on the grocery list section of the worksheet. This helps me plan out what I need from the store and my local farmer’s market. Sometimes, I’ll make two grocery lists for a mini-run on Wednesday night to get fresh produce.

Creating a meal plan takes a little time when it is written, but ultimately saves time and stress during the week. You also may find that a meal plan helps you to eat better and completely eliminate fast food from your diet.

The Unclutterer Meal Plan:

111 Comments for “Creating a weekly meal plan”

  1. posted by Alison Scott on

    I’ve used Leanne Ely’s ‘Menu Mailers’ — the website is http://www.savingdinner.com — for several years now. Leanne gives you a list of six dinners (for either six or two people), together with recipes, suggestions for side dishes and a shopping list for all of the above. There are several different menus (vegetarian, kosher, low carb) but we just use the regular one. She also offers lunch and snack choices which I read over for ideas but don’t follow directly.

    I work out when I need my groceries to be delivered, then a couple of days earlier I log onto the supermarket site and pull up three webpages: the weekly menu mailer, my ‘saved trolley’ of the items we buy every week, and our household wiki page where we note things we’re runnning out of. I then add all the things we need to the cart, make any necessary substitutions (for weird US food products, or things we just don’t like) on a printout of the menu mailer (with notes in case my husband is cooking that night’s meal), order the groceries, and leave the menu in the kitchen. As there are four of us but the recipes are for six, the leftovers provide most of our weekday lunches as well. The groceries are then delivered at some convenient time (for us, late on a weekday evening) and, even though we choose a relatively expensive grocery service, this is much cheaper than going to the shops.

    But the bottom line is this; total elapsed time for menu planning and shopping for our family of four, per week, is typically thirty minutes.

  2. posted by Kris on

    I love this idea but it would never work in our house.

    Canned organic beans, lots of whole grain pastas, frozen spinach and broccoli, fresh onions, frozen chicken breasts and tons of great spices …. that’s what gets us through the week.

  3. posted by Chief Family Officer on

    I already menu plan but the worksheet will make things that much easier. Thanks!

  4. posted by SI on

    What a great idea! I usually try to plan the meals for the week, but all of the meal ideas, grocery lists, etc, usually get strewn all over various index cards and post-its, and it never quite works the way it’s supposed to.

    This helps alot – thanks.

  5. posted by Karen on

    I have a double duty meal plan worksheet – the top half of the page is a list of what’s in my freezer, and the bottom half has a calendar. (I keep it on my computer and print it out every week or two.) That way, I can take advantage of stuff I already have on hand.

  6. posted by Karen on

    Another great idea, it seems the part I always leave out is the prep for tomorrow. I use a PDA/smartphone. Is anyone aware of a program that would allow me to dump this right into my calendar? Thanks.

  7. posted by Patrick on

    “For example, dough for homemade pizza crusts needs to be made 24 hours in advance of use”

    ??? It takes about 30 minutes to mix the dough, an hour or two for it to rise, and then another 10 minutes to roll it out and top it. Where do the other 21 hours come from? If anything, keeping the dough in the fridge that long makes it more difficult to work with.

  8. posted by Springpeeper on

    A few years ago I made up a meal planning sheet (that looks eerily like this one) and forced myself to plan the meals for the week and to shop for the required ingredients.

    It was the single most significant thing I’ve ever done in terms of home/personal organization. No more standing in front of the open fridge at 6 pm muttering “What am I gonna to make for supper?”

    I’d previously attempted to make meal plans for a whole month at a time, but it was only the weekly planning that worked because it was flexible. If I don’t feel like cooking Tuesday’s meal on Tuesday, I can “trade” with Thursday because we already have the ingredients. If we should eat out unexpectedly, that evening’s meal just gets put into next week’s schedule, while the ingredients are still fresh.

    My meal plan sheet goes one step further: I have boxes for “What’s happening today” and “What’s happening this evening” for each day. These get filled in first, since our activities often dictate what kind of a meal we’ll be having, for example, if someone has to be somewhere by 7 pm, I don’t plan a meal that has to bake for an hour.

    This weekly meal planning sheet is an idea that really works and I highly recommend it!

  9. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Patrick — I use Peter Reinhart’s Neo-Neopolitan dough recipe from his American Pie cookbook. It is the best dough recipe I’ve ever made, and it takes a minimum of eight hours for perfection.

  10. posted by Springpeeper on

    Patrick:
    This idea assumes that you work outside of the home and have no choice but to start dinner only when you get home late in the afternoon. Unless you are comfortable with having dinner around 9 pm (not an option for families with young kids), then you would need to prepare things like pizza dough the evening before – “24 hours in advance” is just another way of saying “the day before”.

  11. Profile photo of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    Since Erin started using that recipe, I don’t eat other pizza. It just seems wrong.

  12. posted by Yolanda on

    I am on day 4 of my first meal planned week. I like the chart a lot and will definitely use it. i have always loved the spontaneity of seeing what I had in the fridge and whipping up something accordingly, but that really only works well if I have done a large grocery trip within the previous days. Usually, I’d come up with an idea, discover I was either out of something, or my meat was frozen (I hate microwave defrosting), and wind up making the same dishes over and over again (or eating out). This week, we have eaten something new and different every night and I’ve felt organized and in control dinner.

    I’ll add that if anyone is new to cooking, or intimidated by it, I really like the Grocery Bag section in each Every Day Food magazine. It gives you five days worth of meals, a shopping list, and a pantry list and each of the five meals can be made in around 30 minutes.

    Oh, and if you’re only cooking for one or two eaters (like I am), you can always cut any recipe you’re working with in half; or freeze the leftovers and work the reheating into your meal plans for upcoming weeks.

  13. posted by NancyV908 on

    I agree that the weekly meal plan is an incredible time and stress saver. The only downside (which I am willing to live with) is that it can be a more expensive way to shop, since the ingredients you’ve put on your list won’t always match what’s on sale. I suppose the next level of organization is to make the list with the store circular in hand (which doesn’t work for me because of my shopping schedule & the circular’s schedule don’t match ). I plan only dinners, first looking at the calendar to see what days we may have activities, then checking what I have in my freezer (a list would make this easier; I am not so good about that anymore), then consulting recipes & making the menu. I do this the night before I shop, & add anything I need to my list.

    To be honest, I find the process of planning 7 meals an ordeal; my picky family makes it hard to find 7 things that will actually get eaten, or at least partially eaten. (I refuse to make special meals for the kids.) But it is soooooo worth it–once that’s done, all I do is open my kitchen cabinet (where I post my menu) & see what I have to do to get dinner ready. I work part-time, but even when I was home all day, this system was still a huge help.

  14. posted by Org Junkie on

    Menu planning has been a lifesaver for me. Check out Menu Plan Monday each week for lots of great menu ideas and recipes. Over 200 ladies are participating, it’s fun!

    Laura

  15. posted by Mary on

    We have a similar Saturday morning routine. However, we also clean the fridge first – it doesn’t take long because we do it every Saturday morning. It helps us reduce waste – we can see if there’s anything left from the week that would make a good weekend lunch. It goes hand in hand with making our menus and weekly shopping list. Our fridge is less cluttered now (we plan meals to use the last of the whatever) since we are using the food we buy.

  16. posted by Patrick on

    “This idea assumes that you work outside of the home and have no choice but to start dinner only when you get home late in the afternoon. Unless you are comfortable with having dinner around 9 pm (not an option for families with young kids), then you would need to prepare things like pizza dough the evening before.”

    I see where you’re all coming from. I guess I didn’t consider that this might apply more to families with children. I work 9-5 in an office, like many people, but I can still manage to have a pizza out of the oven by 8pm, which works well enough for my wife and I, or any guests we may have. I’m not familiar with Reinhart’s recipe, and I’ve never seen a recipe that called for a resting period that long, so you’ll have to forgive my ignorance in that department. I’ve heard it is very good though, so I’ll be sure to check it out. I guess I was also confused by the statement that you NEED to prepare it that far ahead, when it really depends on the individual’s situation and/or recipe.

  17. posted by Kristy on

    My household consists of two adults (one vegetarian, one vegan), both of whom work and are graduate students. We are very busy. On Saturdays or Sundays, we cook two large meals and eat them all week. For example, last weekend I made a huge tofu/vegetable/rice noodle stir fry with peanut sauce and two pans of spinach lasagna. Between these main courses, fresh produce for salads, and a few frozen burritos, we each have lunch and dinner at home (or from a pail) through Thursday. Friday, we might forage the kitchen, pull out something leftover from the freezer, or go out. This has worked quite nicely for months now.

  18. posted by Avlor on

    I love having a menu planned. I usually plan for 2 weeks at a time (just suppers, a few snacks, and a few non cereal breakfasts), and do the shopping as much as possible for those two weeks.

    I converted from paper to putting my recipes in an electronic filing system/personal info manager.
    -I just copy the recipes I want into that week’s list and print.
    -From there I make my grocery list.

  19. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mary — Great idea to start the meal planning process with a refrigerator cleaning! I do that, too, but didn’t think of it as part of the process until you mentioned it. Really terrific!!

  20. posted by Christine on

    As a single person, I often default to eating out (expensive and caloric) or buying frozen meals. I’ve thought about making ahead and freezing…anyone do that? I have a horrendous time planning meals for myself.

  21. posted by Jasi on

    Awesome! Simple but effective. Wtg, Erin.

  22. posted by Tiara on

    My family eats out a lot. It’s really hurting our budget. But I don’t want to go cold turkey. We have social lives and some nights we just grab food out with our friends. So, (as part of my new years resolution) I plan three meals a week on Sunday nights, and head to the store. We have extra meal ideas (our 3-4 standard recipes) in the freezer, if we need more than 3 a week.

    I only go to the store once a week, I get everything I need that one time, and I have the food when I’m ready to make it. That gives us the flexibility to go out when we feel like it, but also to have the meal ingredients ready when we’re staying home.

    I also only cook from a couple of cookbooks, both boasting 30 minutes or less recipes. On my shopping list, I write the name of the book and the page number above the ingredients I need. I then keep the list near the stove, so if I’m too busy to cook, my husband can easily find the recipe and take over!

    Maybe someday I’ll get to the point of writing out my meail plans per day, but right now, our moods rule what we make (for instance, last night it was cold and rainy and the salad pita I had planned didn’t sound as good as the warm meatball soup).

    By the way, when I started doing this, I found a lot of online meal planners, some for free. Just google menu planning.

  23. posted by LJ on

    I do meal planning as well (http://www.simpleproductivityb.....ing-meals/), but I also incorporate freezer cooking (http://www.simpleproductivityb.....r-cooking/) as a big part of it.

    I work outside the home, and between these two methods, I find time to get meals on the table most nights. When we eat out, it’s because we want to, not because there are no other choices for a timely meal. And I also rely on my crockpot to ease cooking, and having leftovers to limit the amount of cooking I do daily.

    I recommend that everyone take a look at SavingDinner (savingdinner.com). She has tons of recipes, for all portion sizes, meal types (vegetarian, low carb, etc), as well as the freezer stuff. Everything comes with shopping lists and serving suggestions. Great food, very little work.

  24. posted by Josephine on

    I have been pouring over cookbooks and doing lots of cooking at home lately. Funny that this posting appeared just as I was thinking that I should set Sunday morning or afternoon aside to prep meals for the week.

    To simplify meal planning, I came up with was “Josie’s Pantry”, a list of items that I should always have in the cupboard or fridge should I need to prepare a meal in a pinch. Doing so has saved me additional trips to the grocery store and I always have the necessary ingredients to cook a meal. (I realize more seasoned cooks don’t have this problem, but I used to eat out A LOT and typically had an empty fridge, so this is new for me. This can also be of help to newer cooks.)

  25. posted by Lori on

    My system is like Josephine’s: I keep my pantry stocked with staples and have a dozen or so easy go-to meals in my repertoire that are based on what’s always in the pantry. I almost always cook enough to ensure leftovers. These two tactics give us the flexibility we need with our crazy, ever changing schedules.

  26. posted by Michele on

    This is a great post, and I’ve learned a lot reading the comments as well. I can’t believe that I am just learning to menu plan now! It saves time and money and we have more tasty meals without the cost and calories of a restaurant. I am slowly working up to cooking more meals, and we always have rice, beans and veggies ready to microwave for the nights when I don’t cook (we’re both vegan). These are our “go to” foods that can be a fast meal.

  27. posted by VeggieChick on

    I’m kinda young, so I live with my parents. I’m a vegan, though, while the rest of my family’s … not… So I tend to cook all my meals anyways. I should try doing this, though it’d cut down on my bike-rides [I ride my bike to the grocery store], and probably would make me use more bags. I’m sure I could figure out a way to fix that, though. Probably two-three trips a week, on my bike, instead of one right before I’m going to cook.

    Of course, since I’m the only one who eats my food ['What's that weird vegan food?'], I can cheat and cook one or two bigs things of soup or something at the beginning of the week, and eat that for the rest of the time.

  28. posted by Ethel on

    We ran into some issues with meal planning: We couldn’t afford it, and it was too time-intensive. The worst situation was when we planned a meal, but didn’t have time to cook it – for days – and ended up throwing out the ingredients. Instead, we plan “everything else” meals at our leisure.

    “Nutrition” dinners we pre-prep and store either in the freezer or, if they only use dried ingredients, on a shelf with a date. We keep a stash of pre-made food on hand that just needs to be thrown in an oven or crockpot and heated to the right temperature for the right length of time. For breakfast and lunch, we do really simple, low-prep foods or convenience foods: Fresh fruit, toast, steamed veggies, cheese, sliced meat, and similar fare – all ala carte. We try to keep several weeks of food on-hand since we (a) will frequently go an entire week without time to spend cooking and (b) need to buy ingredients on sale – which you can’t do if you need it right NOW.

    We also use “Josie’s Pantry”, in that we keep a good stock of common ingredients. Again, you need to stock up to time sales.

    It is more “cluttered” in that it requires more things on hand, but it ultimately reduces waste and expense and increases free time and order – so still an “uncluttered” approach.

  29. posted by Karen on

    Christine, I’m also single, and I make meals ahead all the time and freeze them. It doesn’t require special “freezer recipes” – I just make my normal favorite dishes, and eat one portion and freeze the rest. For things like soups and casseroles, I often make a double recipe so I have more portions for the freezer. Most things freeze and reheat pretty well. I can easily add some fresh vegetables or a salad.

    It’s great to know that whenever I get home late from work, I can pull a container of homemade soup out of the freezer and have a good, homemade meal in less time than it would take to go out – and much tastier than a “frozen dinner”.

  30. posted by Russel on

    I noticed that I am less likely to eat crappy and unhealthy food after I actually started planning meals. If I just got home from work and didn’t know what to eat I would usually default to something easy and unhealthy like grilled cheese, pasta, etc

    I use meal mixer, its easy, well featured and has a ton of recipes. Now I look forward to cooking when I get home, and don’t mind the extra time spent to make something better tasting and better for me.

  31. posted by Darren Wood on

    We’ve been doing this for some time now. It’s an excellent way to keep on top of time and money as it enables you to shop more efficiently for the following week. Before we used to walk aimlessly through the supermarket buying what we thought we’d need. With a week by week plan we are now saving heaps and eating a lot more healthily!

    Our system makes use of a shared Google Calendar. For more info read a short how-to on our cooking blog.

  32. posted by Lernen on

    maybe you will not belive me, but this system developed my mother about 20 years ago. The problem she tried to solv with this Metaplan was simple: we have just not enough money to buy everything we would like to eat.
    If a man is in need, every one can create realy useful things.

  33. posted by Mary on

    I am loving the comments and appreciate the links! @Darren – using Google calendar is a great idea! I especially liked the part about rescheduling a great meal! The hardest part of this process is thinking up menu ideas. I use a generic menu and adapt it week by week but it’s getting very predictable! We have two cooks in our home and using Google’s calendar would grant both of us access (in case one of us gets stuck at work and the other picks up the slack at home. We often stop at the market on the way home for fresh produce.) Your idea will take a little more work up front but will pay off in the long run. It’s really a terrific idea!

  34. posted by Eden on

    Nice and simple. I like it!

  35. posted by Ruckus on

    I really like these ideas. I subscribe to a community-supported agriculture program and pick up a bag of produce every week. I supplement this with items for my pantry and fridge from Trader Joe’s and othe markets which I generally frequent once a week/every two weeks. I rely mostly on staples and the produce, and generally avoid packaged, processed, and convenience foods. I do a very ad hoc informal method of meal planning, but I like this worksheet for something more concrete. Any ideas/templates on how to organize/plan for maintaining the supply of pantry items?

    Thx.

  36. posted by Leigh-Anne on

    Thanks for the meal plan templates! I’ll be more likely to actually plan with a worksheet. It’s nifty.

  37. posted by JR on

    [Meal Outlaw](http://mealoutlaw.com) is a website that does a lot of what is listed here, but automatically and allows you to share meals.

    It can even export a calendar to PDF if you want, does RSS and iCal, and well, since I wrote it, I guess I should shut up now.

    Oh, and it’s free.

  38. posted by Kirsten on

    I love the idea of preparing a meal plan like this, but the one major obstacle I would need to deal with to actually put this into practice is my utter reluctance to start cooking at night when I come home from work.

    I’d much rather relax and enjoy the little time I have off than cook and wash dishes… Yes, this also explains that I often skip dinner all together which is clearly not a very healthy thing to do. I guess I just need to make more time for dinner and dinner preparations ;-)

  39. posted by Karina on

    I have exactly the same template written on a huge white erase board in my kitchen! It works great because I can see what needs to be made ahead of time on the list, I have an idea of what my kids lunchboxes will look like throughout the week, and a running grocery list is right there (I just copy it on piece of paper before I go to the store). Also, when I come back from shopping I will add to the Prep List the veggies that will go into the crisper, that way I (usually) don’t forget about them. A nice side effect of this is that it’s green: I’m not printing out a sheet every week, which had actually discouraged me before to do meal planning this way (you get into habits…) I will also write the date under each day so I can plan accordingly (like when a special date is coming and will not need to cook) and it’s great that each day I can erase the day before and enter the next date.

  40. posted by Jackie on

    I learned this from my mother, who always planned meals for the whole week before her weekly grocery shopping trip. She’d post her list on the fridge, and then we all knew what was for dinner each night.

    I myself keep a small notebook for this purpose (and this purpose alone). It fits in my handbag, and on Saturday mornings (or on shopping days) I plan my menus for the next 3-5 days. I try to overlap ingredients, and piggyback leftovers, and incorporate healthy snacks. This way, we waste little food, and I am never stressed by having to come up with a meal on the fly.

    Also, by keeping it a notebook dedicated to the purpose, I can flip back over the past months and be reminded of meals that we liked and have go-to shopping lists if needed. It means I can’t hang it on the fridge, but I like it better that I have it with my at all times.

    It’s truly maybe the best home-managing skill that I learned from my mother.

  41. posted by Kurtis on

    I just found this web site tastyplanner.com that will let you create a receipt box, a weekly planer and a grocery list from your planner. I think this would be much more efficient than a excel spreadsheet. Plus it comes with the bonus of looking at other people’s receipts and sharing your own.

  42. posted by Isabel on

    I created an excel spreadsheet to combine menu planning and making a shopping list.

    The spreadsheet has columns across the top for categories of food (produce, dairy, meat, canned, etc.). The first column on the left is a column for a sort code, and the second column is the name of the meal or recipe.

    On the first two rows below the header, I put the items that we regularly have for breakfast and lunch, in the appropriate column (fruit, cereal, oatmeal, milk, coffee, etc).

    The next step took a little time, but it has been worth it. On each of the next rows, I enter the name of the recipe (modified to start with the main protein ingredient, to make it easier to scan visually), then I list all the ingredients other than staples that I need to make a complete dinner out of the recipe. For side dishes, I will just say “vegetable” and will choose whatever looks good at the store. The recipes are for my “weeknight” dinners that are fast and easy to make (though some I make for guests too!). I have about 30 recipes on the list.

    Then, each week before I grocery shop, I choose which recipes I want to make and put an x in the sort column (first clearing last week’s selections). I usually choose about 4 or 5 meals, based on how many nights we will be eating at home.

    Then I sort the data in the spreadsheet to bring the selected recipes to the top, along with my breakfast and lunch list, and I set the print field to cover only the meals that I selected. I do a quick check of the kitchen to see what items on the list I may already have on hand, and cross them out. Then I take my list to the store.

    It has helped me be more creative in weeknight meals, making sure that everything I need is on the list, without pulling out cookbooks or recipe cards. When I find a new recipe that I want to try, or one that I like, I add that to the list. It only takes a minute or two to plan meals and print my list. (I have lots of cookbooks, so I also have a column, not printed, that reminds me where to find the recipe!)

  43. posted by Jayne on

    I also use mealmixer.com. I like that I can edit the recipes to my own needs. Plus I can enter my own spontaneous creations to see if they are nutritionally balanced.

  44. posted by Jayne on

    I also use mealmixer.com. I like that I can edit the recipes to my own needs. Plus I can enter my own spontaneous creations to see if they are nutritionally balanced.

  45. posted by Monica on

    I used to have a hard time meal planning because the items I needed were never on sale when I needed them and I never did manage to figure out the meal planning from the circular thing – very backward from how my brain works LOL!

    What I have found is having a nice “core” group of recipes was the key. It used to be about 10 recipes that I would rotate, now I have about 21 tried-n-true meals that I rotate.

    I have a master list of all the ingredients needed for those core recipes and as the items go on sale I buy 2 or 3 so they are always in the pantry/freezer.

    As soon I as I make one meal, I mark the ingredients so that I know to start watching for them in the circulars again. Then all I have to worry about are immediate perishables like mushrooms, squash, tomatoes etc. which makes it MUCH easier to see if a particular sale week is conducive to a particular meal or meals. I may not score a sale on every ingredient, but definitely the majority of them.

  46. posted by Emma on

    I love this idea. I started getting into meal planning a while ago but missed a few shopping trips and got into bad ways again. I will try using your spreadsheet and see how it goes.

    The main reasons I was keen to do this was to eat more healthily but also reduce food waste. If I wander around the supermarket grabbing what looks good we tend to have a lot of waste, and I hate throwing food away! A menu and plan for everything I buy cuts this right out.

  47. posted by Eliz3333abeth on

    Hi,
    I love your ideas – simple and easy to use in our fast paced times! I am also a proponent of meal planning as I promote on my website, htp://www.MomsMealConnection.com. I also practice what I preach and will have several ham dinners this week using the leftover ham from our Easter dinner. The recipes include Ham and Potato Au Gratin, Eggs Bennedict, Potato and Ham Soup, and Mediterranean Vegetable Salad with Ham. All are deliciously different so the family won’t be saying “Oh, no! Not ham again!” Check out the recipes on my last post http://www.MomsMealConnection.blogspot.com.

  48. posted by Tom on

    I’ve created a meal plan using the template, laminated it and we’ve been using it for a few weeks now. It DOES help us organise our shopping, and has solved the “what do you want for dinner?” question, which can be so difficult when we arrive home late and already stressed. One change we did make to the planner: we’ve added a “wish list” for all those things we’d like to get onto the schedule in the next few weeks. We add to the list as we think of things or get a craving!

  49. posted by Eliz3333abeth on

    I agree with you whole heartedly! I make weekly meal plans that match my family’s schedule. I write the activities on my meal plan so I know at a glance what is for supper and who has to be where (helps with the juggling act). I believe the fewer trips to the grocery store per week the better for saving money and time! The best way to eliminate trips to the grocery store is to have a weekly meal plan and use it.

  50. posted by Clark on

    Meal plans don’t help much if you like to shop on a budget – ie. you plan for a chicken dish but steak is on sale.

    We keep our meals simple and try to keep a balance of fresh meat, vegetables, and fruit in the house at all times. It only takes a minute to prepare a vegetable dish or a sauce for meat. If we get stumped I have a freezer filled with meat, sauces, and left overs that can be readied in a pinch.

  51. posted by Rae on

    For us, on the contrary, meal plans are incredibly helpful when shopping on a budget. Planning, and buying just what you’re making keeps one from the odd purchases here and there that seem to add up to so much. We’ve had a large, noticeable difference in savings since we’ve been planning meals.

  52. posted by Susan on

    DinnerPlanner.com has been around a long time helping busy moms with weekly meal planning.

    Stop by and check out –

    http://www.dinnerplanner.com

    thanks!

  53. posted by Toni on

    These are really great ideas! I’m just getting into meal planning and this is really helpful. I’ve learned a lot reading all of the comments. On another website I learned to incorporate the weekly grocery circulars into the meal planning, but to also be flexible in case you’re in the store and see a better bargain. It’s also helpful to have a repertoire of core meals and new recipes that you want to try. I’m trying not to overwhelm myself, so for now, I’ll limit new recipes to 1-2 per week. I do like the idea of noting where you found the recipe, as I too, have a lot of recipe books and internet sources.
    I’m excited to try my meal plans!

  54. posted by Elizabeth on

    I’ve been looking at this concept for a while (http://clutterdietlog.blogspot.....tware.html) and the idea of working with a worksheet and making my own may help me to identify what I’m really wanting from one of the sites.

    Thanks!

  55. posted by Katin on

    Thanks for this great advice! I am really hoping that weekly meal planning will help to simplify my life. I am going to try it for the next few weeks & see if I can fold it into my household’s routine… Would love to hear more tips!

  56. posted by MissionaryMom on

    Wow! Tons of great info here. I’ve never been a meal planner and have recently entered the missionary field in Honduras. The nearest grocery store is a minimum of 20 minutes away. . . and that’s just one way. No running to the corner store or Jewel to pick up something you need to complete a recipe. I can definitely see the pros to meal planning. I hope I can just find a system that works for me and stick to it.

  57. posted by Sarah on

    One thing we’ve done successfully for the main dishes is to buy meat in bulk at Sam’s/Costco/BJ’s. On a weekend afternoon, we’ll separate the meat into dinner plus leftover for lunch (for us, that’s 6 pieces of meat). Then we put those cuts into Gallon Freezer bags.

    To the freezer bags, we’ll put homemade marinade — these vary from BBQ sauce, Ranch Dressing, Olive Oil, Red Wine, Vinegar, seasonings — our marinades are always different and totally dependent upon what condiments we have handy.

    Then we’ll put the meat/marinade mixture in the freezer laying flat and stacked all on top of each other. In one club run, we’ll get steaks, chicken, shrimp, salmon/fish and pork chops, and separate / marinade them accordingly. This approach usually gives us 12-16 bags worth of frozen food.

    Each morning, we pull out a bag of frozen meat and let it thaw. By the time we’re home from work, the meat has thawed, the marinade soaked in, and it’s ready to toss on the grill. Add a quick side salad, fruit, steamed veggies (or whatever) — and you’ve got a quick and healthy meal.

  58. posted by Annette on

    Hi there. I was just reading Sarah’s post about using freezer bags and different marinades, etc. and wanted to share with you all that http://www.homemadegourmet.com/annette has that type of plan – it is all about making several meals in just a few minutes using Pantry Staples, and it is wonderful. Yes I sell it and I apologize if any of you happen to get upset maybe that I’m promoting my website, but I totally agree with Sarah that it works, it’s easy to plan and prepare meats like that and simply add quick sides for dinners, and I encourage you all to try it.

  59. posted by Amy on

    I currently plan my meals by the week. I shop on Fridays or Saturdays. I plan my weekly meals around the sale ads(and use coupons). If pork is on sale we will have more pork that week and so on. I also have started using cash instead of my debit card. I shop on friday because we get paid bi-friday so I will go pull my weekly budget outta the atm and thats what we get for the week. I saw this method on GMA and it works!! Thanks for posting the pdf planner its neater than jotting down my meals.

  60. posted by annaswatkins@yahoo.com on

    When I’m really on the ball, I plan meals by the week — actually I try to do 8 or 9 days, for a little overlap while I get around to planning the next week. I take into account what I have on hand, and make the list for what to get (pretty much just like Erin’s plan).

    In the past month so I’ve been playing with a site called The Grocery Game, which lists each week’s sales in your chosen grocery store, and matches them to coupons and the store’s sales trends. The idea is to stock up on items when they’re really cheap, so “what you have on hand” is more than “what you need to get” that isn’t on sale. The coupon thing doesn’t save that much money (so far), but the cumulative data on when items are at their best price is really helpful.

    So far so good, though I am going to need a deep-freezer soon (I’ve always dreamed of owning a deep-freezer . . .) Check it out — this is not a sales pitch, but what the heck, if you feel like saying somebody referred you, you can put in my e-mail address. Or Erin’s :-)

  61. posted by Carrie Jean Ross on

    Meal planning is a must for me. One problem I kept running into is that if the family knew what was on the menu for the week, then they started asking for different things. I need to make sure that only I know what is on the menu until the day it’s made. I let them tell me what they’d like for the following week, but once the shopping trip is done then there is no more family input!

  62. posted by Megan on

    Darren Woods’s useful comment about using a shared google calendar leads to a broken link. You can find the post here here.

  63. posted by Step Two in the Year of Self-Care: Commit to Weekly Grocery Planning on

    [...] Creating a Weekly Meal Plan—a blog post at Unclutterer that includes a spreadsheet that may help you plan your meals [...]

  64. posted by Christine on

    I’m a grad student who typically works 9:30-6:30 on a given day and just plain does not want to cook when she gets home most evenings.

    I’ve developed a plan for getting around that issue, which get implemented most weeks.
    (1) Plan at least a couple of slow-cooker meals each week; these are usually either ready-to-eat or a couple simple steps from ready. I would heartily recommend Robin Robertson’s Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.
    (2) Plan in at least one leftover night a week.
    (3) Shop and prep on Sunday. Sunday is my “I will only set foot in the lab for cell culture” day, and so is usually safe from the demands of labwork. It’s nice to have a set day for grocery shopping, but the key thing is getting the prep out of the way.

    Typical Sunday:
    Sit down on couch with favorite cookbooks, laptop with online circulars and Erin’s spreadsheet, and a pad of paper.
    Map out the week (what days we aren’t at home for dinner, what days I will be home but the SO won’t and vice versa), discuss what we’ll be showing on movie night and therefore what food will be appropriate.
    Pick out recipes for the week – usually about half tried and true, half new. We’re slowly shifting towards more old favorites as we develop a larger library of favorites.
    Write down all the ingredients for everything on the notepad – yes, everything.
    Go to the kitchen and check the cabinets, crossing out everything that we already have. I usually discover that I don’t have something that I was sure I had about every other week.
    Merge the remaining items with the running grocery list we keep on the front of the fridge.
    Shop.
    Come home, unpack, do food prep (as follows).
    Wash, peel, chop, julienne, whatever all the veggies and fruit for upcoming recipes (if they will tolerate being in that state until it’s time to cook – most hard veggies are perfectly OK).
    Make spice mixes and sauces for recipes (many slow cooker recipes are simply the meat and/or veggies with a sauce or spice mix poured over the top). Label and store (this usually results in some funny-looking tupperware containers in the fridge with a weird-looking goop inside).
    Saute or pan-fry anything that should be sauted or pan-fried prior to being put in the slow-cooker. Pack in tupperware or in an oven bag. (Yes, typical oven bags fit perfectly into my 4-quart slow cooker).

    This reduces the amount of work that I have to do on the day of to a minimum, which is especially important when I want to get something started in the slow cooker and I’m dragging in the morning. For example:
    Slow-cooker Torta Rustica: pull sauted onions and pan-fried potatoes, prepped sauce, defrosted chopped spinach, and brined eggplant out of the fridge. Slice tomatoes and assemble all layers, pour sauce over top. Set slow cooker.
    Veggie Borscht: Pull oven bag containing tons of chopped veggies and spice out of fridge. Place in slow cooker. Add veggie broth to cover. Set slow cooker.
    Chicken Stir-Fry: Slice chicken, pull out chopped veggies, grab sauces/oils/spices from pantry. Go!

    It makes for more time spent prepping on Sunday, but it makes things almost infinitely easier the rest of the week.

  65. posted by Lisa on

    @ Kirsten – I used to hate cooking too; I got really bored with all the chopping and stirring and waiting around. Then I discovered podcasts on the Itunes store – now I subscribe to a lot of NPR shows through podcasts, as well as some other interesting ones I found while browsing, which ensures that I always have something to listen to while I cook. It helps a lot to motivate me to get my butt in the kitchen, especially since I’ve made a rule that I can only listen to them while I’m cooking or cleaning or what have you. So maybe if you can think of cooking time as a break from work, rather than more work… Hope this helps!

    Also, this is a wonderful post – will help me not get overwhelmed by all the delicious (and expensive, and fatty) things in the French grocery stores and open-air markets when I do my weekly shopping!

  66. posted by Mary on

    I’m going to give this a try. I find that way too often, on my way home from school, starving, that I wonder what I’ll eat, and can’t think of anything good at home. So I stop by a fast food or a grocery store for a ready-made meal.

    I always grocery shop on Saturdays, looking for sales. After I got home yesterday, I reorganized my cupboards and found many things I didn’t realize I have.

    Today I made the menu, not including breakfast because it is always the same. I’ve included one “at cafeteria” lunch where I always “say I’ll bring a lunch but never do” to let myself off the hook, and I’ve left Friday night open because we always either go out or order either Swiss Chalet or pizza in. Also, by really looking into what we already have, I will be able to go through frozen leftovers such as lasagna, half of a pizza, etc. I’m really excited to see how the week will go.

  67. posted by Lisa on

    I have a friend that recently created a meal planning website. It’s still in testing but you can ask for an invitation to try it out. I think it solves a lot of our family’s problems like eating out too much and not eating well. It’s called plan to eat. check it out. http://www.plantoeat.com

  68. posted by Elena on

    I used to plan meals weekly and found it very helpful…no more muttering in front of the open refridgerator wondering what to cook. I let that lapse and found that we’d gone back to eating unhealthy or fast food more often than not. I planning again and the template helps tremendously. The planning certainly makes my days easier and stress free.

  69. posted by Russ on

    I’ve used MealMixer (http://www.mealmixer.com ) for a long time. It does everything from suggesting recipes and meals based on my taste, diet, family size, etc., to printing a great shopping list, tracking my exercise and weight, etc. It’s very easy to use and the price is great (less than a dollar a week!).

  70. posted by Melissa on

    Thank you for posting the excel sheet! :)

  71. posted by Pizza Crust on

    I’ve used a pizza crust recipe from the Company’s Coming Bread cookbook (may be found at a library) that doesn’t require any rising time and works well.

  72. posted by rebecca on

    love the files – thank you so much for sharing them! great post, interesting comments, too!

  73. posted by Damsel on

    Stumbled on you thru google…. thanks for the template; it was EXACTLY what I was looking for!!!

  74. posted by Melissa on

    I found this Googling for a meal-planning template. Your template is simple & concise. I think it will work perfectly. Thanks!

  75. posted by Payne Family Homes » Super busy? Try these six time-saving tips on

    [...] been talking about this issue a great deal on Unclutterer recently. A weekly meal plan streamlines shopping and food preparation, and rids your life of [...]

  76. posted by Tony on

    My family has been using http://www.dinnerbeat.com/ It allows us to plan our meals and print shopping lists from the recipes for the week. Shopping with a list is a great way to save. And the best part of Dinner Beat is that it’s free.

  77. posted by Cherise on

    This sounds like EXACTLY what I need – so great, thanks!

  78. posted by Angelina on

    I’ve used the meal planning tool on meals.com for years. They have recipes you can use or you can build your own and it creats a shopping list that you can edit for items you already have. Really helps me buy appropriately.

  79. posted by Angelina on

    After posting my previous comment I went to Meals.com and they have deactivated what I felt was the best part of their website. You can’t create meal plans and shopping lists anymore. Bummer!

  80. posted by Cindy on

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I just found a website that pulls recipes from Martha Stuart and Bon Appetite. http://www.eatcharts.blogspot.com. It looks new but promising.

  81. posted by Thinking about: Meal Planning « Stay at Home Bev on

    [...] are also all kinds of links and tools out there to help with this task, most of my ideas came from this post at Unclutterer.   Leave a [...]

  82. posted by TheRoosterChick on

    Weekly meal planning is a big sanity saver for me. So much less stress and good for the budget!

  83. posted by Bec on

    I use a relatively new site called Menu In A Box Online Meal Planning {http://www.onlinemealplanning.com} It is specifically for families and also has allergen friendly recipes. I love it because there are hundreds of recipes and you can simply print loads of different menus. I don’t even think about what to make anymore!

  84. posted by Rachael on

    I think MealMixer (http://www.mealmixer.com) is hands down the best site out there for meal planning for families, dieters, people with food allergies. They even have a professional version. It’s very easy to use, they have thousands upon thousands of recipes and meals, and you can put in your own recipes, ingredients, etc. Plus you can share them with the community. Their shopping list is easy to use and understand. They’ve been in Real Simple, Oprah, and The Wall Street Journal. And its cheap.

  85. posted by Justin on

    Meijer has a great meal planning website called meijermealbox.com. It’s really handy especially if you live in one of the 5 states with Meijer grocery stores — you can print coupons and shopping lists right from the widget.

    You can also put the meal planning widget right onto your iGoogle page, iPhone, or whatever other blog/page you have!

  86. posted by Betty Hakes on

    i too created a simple meal plan system — you can download the worksheet for free on my website. Although my meal plan system is just for dinner planning and focuses on bringing families back around the dinner table.

    It’s a family activity focused meal plan system. Check out and let me know what you think. thx! Betty http://www.gourmetbetty.com/mealplan_system.htm

  87. posted by Kristie on

    This is great. I love the spreadsheet – weekly planner. I read through all the comments and I have to say that there were some websites that I had to go and check out.

    I cook for a family of 4 (two young children, my hubby and myself) – and I usually get home from work at 6pm – the kids are in the bath by 7. You see that I don’t have much time to cook and for our family to eat – so menu planning is ESSENTIAL for us to function with low stress.

    I have not been great about planning meals, but in the past few months I have started getting into it full swing. Here’s what I do: One one of the last days of the month, I will get my recipes out (I go through the month and print off recipes off of various websites that sound good, as well as recipes out of cookbooks that I have) and organize them. I try not to repeat proteins (like have 2 beef meals in a row), and I always leave Fridays open (although, if we eat out on Tuesday, I just shift that meal to Friday). I like to plan for a month, because we grocery shop at the beginning of the month for all main staples. I print out a blank monthly calendar from Outlook and I pencil in meals in the weekday slots first. I also try to use the crockpot at least 1 time a week (usually more often). I look at the prep time/cook time before putting it on the menu – since I only have 30 minutes from the time I walk in the door to the time I want us to sit down to eat) to cook – so if the recipe calls for 1hour to bake – that won’t work for us (well, I will just use those recipes on the weekend when I can devote more time to cooking). After I have made up the monthly plan, I put the recipes into sheet protectors (one for each day) and pop it into a 1/2 binder. The calendar page goes in a sheet protector, as well, and it goes in the front. This way, I have the whole month planned, all the recipes in one spot, and all pages are protected from cooking. I can carry my binder with me to the grocery store – if I need to – I haven’t created my shopping list yet, but if I get this planning online, I can just print the list and bring it as well.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your suggestions and comments.

  88. posted by The Many Ways that Bloggers Retain Readers « Springpad Blog on

    [...] and Excel files allow readers to take the blog’s advice one step further for life tasks, like creating a meal plan.  These downloads are great for deepening the quality of the advice, but may not always drive [...]

  89. posted by saritha on

    And my family actually thought I was crazy to come up with this plan two years ago! But well, this is India and chaos reigns supreme.

    This is an idea we’ve successfully been following at home for the last year. My Mother in law who runs the household kitchen was resistant at first, and the plan went downhill for a while, but later, she found it useful to come back to a basic weekly plan.

    One big advantage is that we’re able to plan a balanced diet for each average day with a range of products instead of OD’ing on the bread and cheese. We balance the carb intake and the protein this way each day.

    One additional tip – we have a standard meal plan every week, but have a list of optionals on the plan sheet that we exchange if we’re bored. The list is on the refrigerator right next to a small white-board where the shopping list is jotted. We then take a picture of the list with our camera phones and use that as a shopping list instead of wasting one more piece of paper.

  90. posted by #4. Tree down, Church down?, Lists… down. « Ready, Set, 30! on

    [...] Unclutter (10 daily to-dos … I bet it doesn’t include personal hygiene : Weekly Meal Plan) [...]

  91. posted by Plan Healthy Meals With A Grocery List And Meal Planner | Lifehacker Australia on

    [...] While the tutorial goes in depth on making the tools, they don’t actually share the template they used for the grocery list. Never fear however, the web abounds with templates you can take and modify for your own use like this grocery list and this meal planner. [...]

  92. posted by Plan Healthy Meals with a DIY Grocery List and Meal Planner [Food] | Computer Tips and Tricks on

    [...] While the tutorial goes in depth on making the tools, they don’t actually share the template they used for the grocery list. Never fear however, the web abounds with templates you can take and modify for your own use like this grocery list and this meal planner. [...]

  93. posted by Plan Healthy Meals with a DIY Grocery List and Meal Planner [Food] · TechBlogger on

    [...] While the tutorial goes in depth on making the tools, they don’t actually share the template they used for the grocery list. Never fear however, the web abounds with templates you can take and modify for your own use like this grocery list and this meal planner. [...]

  94. posted by Plan Healthy Meals with a DIY Grocery List and Meal Planner [Food] | The Everything Forums Blog on

    [...] While the tutorial goes in depth on making the tools, they don’t actually share the template they used for the grocery list. Never fear however, the web abounds with templates you can take and modify for your own use like this grocery list and this meal planner. [...]

  95. posted by Plan Healthy Meals with a DIY Grocery List and Meal Planner [Food] on

    [...] While the tutorial goes in depth on making the tools, they don’t actually share the template they used for the grocery list. Never fear however, the web abounds with templates you can take and modify for your own use like this grocery list and this meal planner. [...]

  96. posted by Crystal on

    I completely agree. If you make a plan you save time, money, and dinner time is much less stressful. I like the Unclutterer Meal Plan concept. Plug in dishes based on how much time you have to cook each night. If you want to make it even easier, I offer five free weekly menus with a free detailed grocery shopping list and lots of family friendly recipes at http://www.makedinnereasy.com. I’m the mom of 4 busy kids and I love to cook. My recipes are those that my kids will actually eat and that I have time to cook. My hats off to all the families trying to work, shuttle the kids around and still get dinner on the table at night!

  97. posted by Misty Bourne on

    Hey there. I just wanted to let you know that I think this simple menu planning template is excellent! I just made a blog post myself about menu planning, and I linked to your template because I think it’s a really good one! :)

    Thanks for creating this!

    http://rarestgeneric.blogspot......nning.html

  98. posted by mer on

    thanks for posting the template, it’s just what i needed :)

  99. posted by Saving Money: Meal Planning « Beautiful Chicken on

    [...] came across a template to use here which also talks about Meal Planning, so I wanted to [...]

  100. posted by Meal Planning for the Uninitiated « More Than Mary on

    [...] check out one of these websites: Real Simple Everyday Meal Planning, Meals Matter, Dinner Planner, Unclutterer, Organized Home, or see a sample meal plan I [...]

  101. posted by Michele on

    I too have used http://www.savingdinner.com for my menu planning for years. As a busy mom who works full time I just didn’t have the time to figure it all out myself and I was tired of spending money for “good intentions” that never got cooked. Not only have the menus from Saving Dinner saved me money, time, and my sanity LOL but I have also lost weight! YAY! Nothing beats a home cooked meal that’s for sure! I’m pretty sure you can get a free sample if you sign up for her newsletters (which are excellent by the way and almost always include great recipes and information)!

  102. posted by Jenny on

    Meal planning saves me a lot of time and stress. Before I was always wondering what to make every day, and spending a lot of time getting groceries. Once I started making a weekly plan and one main trip to the store, I was surprised how much easier things got and that I saved money as well, as less food was going to waste.

    I have tried several different meal planners, and I like the one at http://www.saymmm.com because it is easy to use and I like how it connects my meal plan to my grocery list.

  103. posted by emma on

    Life is too hectic for most of us to cook different meals every single night not to mention breakfasts and lunches.
    I meal plan for the week but I cook a huge batch of something Sunday or Monday night and we eat it until it’s gone-usually it lasts until Wed or Thursday night.
    If the family doesn’t like eating the same thing, I invite someone to do the cooking.

    By the way everyone is responsible for creating and making their own lunches.

  104. posted by Health is Easy » Uncategorized » Need a Weekly Meal Planner, a Grocery List, or Price Books? We Have 36 of ‘em. on

    [...] Unclutterer Available in spreadsheet or PDF form. Clean and efficient. [...]

  105. posted by DiAnne on

    One suggestion that a poster on Lifehacker mentioned was using Google Calendar for menus, especially in multi-member households.

    I’m lucky in that when my mom retired, she moved in with me and offered to take over the cooking, but hates deciding what to make. So, I made a Google Calendar just for menus. She can access it and make changes as well as my teenage daughters. Everyone can look at a glance on any Internet-connected computer to see what supper will be for the week.

    As a bonus, we can have meals repeat once a month (or every 6 months).

  106. posted by Saving money with a menu plan on

    [...] Create a weekly meal plan [...]

  107. posted by links for 2010-06-03 | GFMorris.com on

    [...] Creating a weekly meal plan | Unclutterer Since I'm working from home now, no excuse. (tags: food meal_planning) [...]

  108. posted by Week 2 Week « Kariba Pāka on

    [...] Jun I was reading some old archives over at Uncultterer specifically because I was looking for weekly menu planning  calendar/templates. How many of you [...]

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