SOL 22: Meal Planning

I wasn’t always nearly as type A as I am now. Something happened somewhere post college to make me need to micromanage most parts of my life (just don’t look in my purse). I became an organizer and planner. Not having a plan gave me super high anxiety.

So it was no big surprise when I started meal planning. At first, it was a way to save money while I was working my debt snowball. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Right? And Dave says he should never see you in a restaurant while you are paying down debt unless you are working there. It must have been then that I got hooked.

It felt good to know what I was going to eat each night. I loved having everything in the fridge, freezer, or pantry ready to go. At the time, I did it all by hand. I would flip through my cookbooks and magazines to find recipes that looked good. I would make a list of what I needed to buy on paper and write my plan on a little dollar store calendar. It worked even if it wasn’t super time efficient.

When I lost my beloved recipe book in the flood, I started keeping my recipes electronically in the Notes app on my phone. When I found a recipe I really liked, I would type it or copy and paste it into a separate note on my phone. I would create a new note each week for my actual meal plan. That worked, too. But it didn’t keep my recipes organized as neatly as I would have liked. I needed some sort of system for them.

That’s when I discovered the One Note app. I could create a virtual notebook of sorts. In my notebook, I could have tabs. Each tab could have different pages for each recipe very similar to a binder with dividers. It started innocently enough. I moved my recipes from Notes to my new One Note app (by copying and pasting) and organized them like a traditional recipe book: beef, poultry, meatless, desserts, etc. It exploded to hundreds of recipes I have tried or want to try. I find recipes in FB groups, websites, from family or friends. I just create a new page in the appropriate section and copy/paste them in.

Front page of my “recipe book”

View of my “pork” recipes tab

From there, I created a tab just for meal plans that is kept at the very top of my recipe notebook. Inside that tab is a meal plan page for each week. I would scour the weekly ads looking for the most affordable proteins that could be stretch over a few meals. I would then check out my organized-by-tab recipes to see what would match up with the sales. I have a meal plan for every week dating back to May 17, 2015! I’m that dedicated to this process.

This is what my last 10 meal plan pages look like

Now each week, I plan using a template that I copy and paste into a new page that is titled with that week’s date. The template changes every now and then. Right now I have two. One is for weeks I have class and the other is for no class weeks. It includes lunch for my FIL 2 days a week. Providing lunch is the least I can do for all he does for us. Below the actual meal plan, I copy and paste all the recipes I will be using for the week for dinner…we take leftovers for lunch and have very simple breakfasts. It seems tedious, but the entire process from planning to finishing preparing the grocery list takes less than 20 minutes. If there is a holiday or we are planning a party, I’ll create a separate meal plan page for that just to keep myself organized. It also makes it easy to look back year-to-year to see what I did. I can copy the entire event to the current plan. Think Thanksgiving…I’m not changing up my menu all that much.

This is my meal plan for one week earlier this month. Note that I planned lunches for my FIL and indicate when I have class. These meals tend to be easy to prep a head of time and just need to be heated. The recipes for each of these meals is copied and pasted below this meal plan list.

Now that I have meal planned for an entire week, I need to make a grocery list. I’ll quickly copy and paste EVERYTHING from my meal plan (list of meals and recipes–it’s just easier to use the select all feature on my phone) into my heavily used app called Paperless. For me, it was worth the few bucks for the paid version. I will then use the edit feature to do a quick round of deletions: the actual meal plan list, directions for the recipes, and ingredients I know I have in my fridge, freezer or pantry all get deleted in the first round. Usually this will be items like salt and pepper, olive oil, etc. Next, I do a more thorough deletion round. I’ll double check ingredients I’m not certain about in my pantry or freezer. If I have it, I delete it off the list. If I don’t, they remain on the list so that I remember to purchase. What I am left with is a complete grocery list for my entire meal plan. I’ll add to the list things I need for the kids (diapers and wipes) or just need for life (toilet paper and wine). If the hubby lets me know anything he wants or used up, it goes on the list immediately when he tells me or I simply forget. As I cook each week, if I finish a staple ingredient, I add it to the list as soon as I can to buy the following week.

This is a sample shopping list

I grab my reuseable bags from TJ Maxx, Marshall’s or Home Goods and off I go to Aldi. The bags are adorable, big, super sturdy, and just 99¢. You cannot beat that. If I can’t get it (or a reasonable substitute) at Aldi, I’ll head to Mariano’s. I can usually do all my grocery shopping including travel time in about 60 minutes even with two stops. You can even do grocery delivery or pick up!

I told you they were cute!

It took some initial set up to get going. I am sure there are easier methods out there. But it works for me. I get a lot of my recipes from friends and family. I run across a bunch on Facebook for friends’ posts or a meal planning group I am in. And I follow a favorite blogger who creates almost all Aldi based meals plans. You should check her out…MashUp Mom. We have been trying all sorts of new foods since I started following her. We’ve loved pretty much everything she’s posted.

I like to plan my meals for the following week by Thursday. I try to shop on Fridays on my way home from work. I’m typically by myself and not too terribly late leaving school. This gives me a little extra time by myself before the kids descend on me for the weekend. This week, I planned with a glass of wine…because spring break and wine is good.

I am writing for the 2019 March Slice of Life Challenge



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