Hi guys! Today I thought I’d share a post of how I do my weekly meal-planning to encourage anyone else out there that could use a little organizational help in this area.

I do my meal-planning and shopping once a week.  Some people do better planning for 2 weeks at a time, or even a full month.  I think the key is to do what works for you. 

About a year ago, I started this little binder for meal planning and grocery lists.  It’s just a pretty 3 ring binder with side pockets on the inside.

I have it filled with a stack of meal planning/grocery list charts which I downloaded and printed free. Check out THIS ONE from Project Girl ~ it’s one of my favorites, along with THIS ONE.  

There are dozens of these printable lists all over the internet (just google it in images) and some allow for planning two weeks or a month at a time. But I just liked this one for its simplicity.  

Meals on one side, grocery list on the other.  When I am done planning, I tear it in half, and I hang up my meal plan on my fridge and put the grocery list in my purse.
I also keep lined paper behind my meal and grocery planning sheets, because it always seems I’m making other lists or jotting down reminders to myself when I sit down to plan my week’s meals.

Anyway, here is my binder opened up.   

You can see that the pockets in front and back are perfect for stashing cooking magazines and printed recipes I want to try.  Sometimes I find something new and I just stick it in the back so when I sit to plan the next week’s meals, I am reminded that there is a new recipe I wanted to try, and the ingredient list is right there in front of me.  In that way, it’s sort of a running recipe organizer too.  However, once I make the recipe, I then shove it in my giant recipe binder.  So at any given time, there are no more than 15 or so recipes and one or two current cooking magazines in this planner.

I have to be honest and say I am not really making a lot of new and time-consuming recipes these days.  Life has just been too nuts.  If fact, about the only thing that has kept me sane is this binder and my little rotating schedule of meals.

Here’s basically what I rotate each week, though the meal does not always match the day:

MONDAYS: Pasta Dish
WEDNESDAYS: Soup and/or Salad
THURSDAYS: Breakfast for dinner
FRIDAY: New Recipe
SATURDAYS: Eat out or Order in
SUNDAYS: Grill Out

So the first thing I do is write in the meals I am planning on the left side of the planning sheet.
Most meals take very little thought when I do it this way.  I glance at my go-to meal and I know exactly what I have already and what I need.

In fact, the first thing I would recommend anyone to do if they want to get their meal-planning organized, is to choose your go-to meals and start a rotation.  It doesn’t have to be boring, and you can rotate between 10-20 of your family’s favorites.

These are simply the ones that work for us right now, but I bet some of you would also enjoy a similar meal rotation, and maybe this one looks a bit like your own…

So here we go:
Who doesn’t love taco night?  It’s a winner every time, and usually for all ages.  Since I make this meal weekly, I actually have a Sam’s Club-sized container of Taco Seasoning, and I buy an 8lb Sam’s Club package of ground turkey each month to keep in the freezer–as soon as I buy it, I divide it up into 1 lb sections–then I am good to go for at LEAST 8 taco nights. Everyone in our family is crazy about taco night, so this meal is definitely a staple.  And while I seriously don’t think it would ever get boring for us (we love Mexican food that much), I do like to keep it fun by adding things like freshly made pico de gallo salsa, homemade guacamole, or a yummy corn and bean salsa to accompany it. 

Mmmm.  Italian food.  When I have a pasta dish cooking, it’s hard to keep my kids out of the kitchen–the smells of garlic and bubbly sauce cooking up is almost too much to wait for.  You probably have several go-to pasta meals that you love too, right? Make a place on your weekly menu for pasta night and start rotating them.  Even if it is the same favorite pasta dish every week, who cares?  It’ll make your planning and shopping that much easier.
Another thing I did last year that helped SO MUCH was that I canned my own marinara to get us through winter–I made 30 quarts of that goodness, and so each week, I was able to pull one can from my own shelf, add whatever pasta I wanted, and my meal was done.  This year, I plan on canning 60 quarts because we ran out sometime in February.  🙁
There is nothing like homemade marinara sauce, people.  My kids eat it room temperature, right out of the jar by the spoonful it’s so good.

Soups and salads are always at LEAST once a week because they are so easy and of course, healthy too.  There are a ton of different salads I love and I’m always trying new recipes and homemade dressings.  Pair a delicious salad with a hearty bowl of soup and who needs meat? 

Asian Chop Chop

We probably make some type of bean soup every single week because its my kids’ favorite thing to eat.  Makes lunch the next day a snap too–many soups taste better reheated.  There are SO MANY great soups out there, and most come together quick (less than 30 min) and are easy peasy.  If you have picky eaters, consider purees and bisques.  Your kids won’t even know they are slurping down so many veggies.  
This is our family’s all time-favorite bisque.

In our family, we ALL love breakfast so much, that a while back, we just started having it once a week for dinner too. I like to mix this one up…we always have eggs, but I rotate the sweet part (french toast one week, pancakes the next). Sometimes I do egg sandwiches too, which we all enjoy.
When we want to kick it up a notch, I do up my version of Pittsburgh’s famous Gab’N’Eat sandwich.  This might just be my husband’s favorite sandwich ever.  SO GOOD.


Around here, we grill year round.  In the winter, I pull the grill right up to the deck door.  Grilling is also a great weekly meal idea because it is so versatile and can easily be adapted for everyone’s tastes and preferences (I am a vegetarian, most of my family still eats meat).  I can do a black-bean burger while everyone else does turkey burgers… but one of everyone’s favorites is pizza on the grill! 
Don’t have time to make your own pizza dough?
Pay a visit to your favorite pizza shop and buy a dough ball or two from them–makes like so easy, and seriously–WHAT an affordable dinner–most pizza places sell their dough ball for $1-$3 each.  You just can’t beat that.

Pizzas, fresh from the grill…Mmmm

Again, since the recipes I am interested in trying are already stashed in my binder, I just pick out one that I want to try that week and I jot down the missing ingredients on my shopping list.  Preparing for new recipes takes a bit more time–browsing through cookbooks, magazines or online printed recipes, but it’s no big deal since I limit myself to one a week right now.

Spicy stuffed peppers

 I include “Eat out or order in” on my actual menu-planner because we JUST always end up eating out at least once a week–and if I’m going to be honest, usually more like twice or three times if you count those Sat. morning bagel runs or the occasional lunch out with the kids.  If I don’t write it in, and I pretend that I’ll actually make 7 home-cooked dinners in a row, I only set myself up to overspend because I’ll buy ingredients for that 7th meal but be too wiped out to do it, and end up paying out more of my grocery $$ when we order out.
When we do go out, we try to keep the bill around or under $30 for our family of 6.  So honestly, we’re pretty limited where we can go (Mexican, Pizza, Eat n Park).

Well, there you have it.  This little meal rotation and meal-planning binder is how I’m staying afloat right now with everything else going on around here.  
I’d love to know what works for you when it comes to cooking for your family, so please pass along any helpful tips in the comments!

Happy Meal Planning!

*Today’s post is an edited repost from the 2012 archives.*

2 thoughts on “Stress-Free Meal Planning

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