Easy Meal Planning

Late last year I was really struggling with my grocery budget and I was often getting to 5pm and realising that I hadn’t done anything about preparing dinner. Nothing thawed out, not much in the fridge – cue stress and then a boring slap up dinner. Which is fine sometimes, but it was happening too often and I felt like I was stuck cooking the same old things and I was craving some variety.

So in a push to make myself more organised and to save a bit of money, I started meal planning. I thought I’d share with you how I do it. My approach is pretty old school –  no apps or electronic lists.

To start with I bought this weekly planner from a local office supplies store. Not only do I use it for meal planning but I write my whole week down on here. As the week continues, it fills up and I write daily to-do lists on it too. It looks very tidy in this picture because this photo was taken on the Sunday before the week started.

Before having kids, I had a mind like a steel trap. These days I am so forgetful – constantly interrupted, distracted and things slip from my mind like water. This weekly planner has helped a lot – it sits on my kitchen bench where I am forced to look at it several times a day! It doesn’t help all the time though – yesterday I emailed a dear friend back and forth several times, the whole time completely oblivious that it was her birthday and I hadn’t acknowledged it. Despite spending the whole morning thinking “Must ring Bec for her birthday! Must ring Bec for her birthday!” Hopeless. But not as bad as I used to be now that I’ve developed a few strategies for remembering things.

So to start with, I like to grab my planner and some food magazines and cook books then I flip through and choose my recipes for the week. Some more detailed than others and I always make room for old favourites.

I also write down the book/magazine and page reference so I can find that recipe easily on the day I cook it.

Once I’ve got a week’s worth of meals, I write a shopping list of all the things I need to buy, then do the grocery shopping accordingly. I don’t shop as impulsively as I did before, so it helps keep costs down and I’ve really been able to reign in the budget over the past few months.

So that is it! Simple, but that 15 minutes a week I spend planning saves me SO much stress.

You are probably wondering a few things. Like what if we decide to have take away one night? Easy – I just bump that night’s meal into the following week because I know I have all the ingredients ready to go. And what if I wake up and just don’t feel like that meal for that night? I just swap it with something else that week. I like to keep things flexible.

I have kept up the meal planning for a few months now, and the best things are:

  • No stress at 5pm or if I’ve had a really busy day with the kids – in my mind dinner is sorted, I just have to cook it.
  • I use my cook books and food magazines a lot more often. Current favourites are Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, Secrets of the Red Lantern and Recipes Plus mag (I bought a subscription). I also use some recipe sites like Kyrstie’s blog A Fresh Legacy and taste.com.au.
  • It’s easier to stick to our budget ($250AU a week for ALL groceries, including food, toiletries and cleaning products, nappies, and extras including mid week cafe visits, kids activities, the occasional take away or dinner out)

So that is one of my attempts at being a Domestic Goddess. Ha! Do you meal plan? How do you do it? 

14 thoughts on “Easy Meal Planning

  1. This is a great idea! I plan about 3 days at a time, but I still forget to include lunch for me and Roman when we're at home and I should try and stretch it to a week. I'm better than when I used to shop daily though!

  2. I've just gone back to meal planning in the last couple of weeks – it's been nice to not have to go to the supermarket everyday (although I don't buy a whole week's worth of meat, so do make a trip midweek for the rest), and our costs have significantly gone down (like, by $200 or more!) only downside is the children refusing to try the new foods I'm trying to mix in with old favourites, so they're eating lots of spaghetti or raisin toast. But I'll keep trying.

  3. Last week I wrote down 6 meals, and did one big shop. It has been fantastic and I have to keep it up.
    The bummer is that I went to 3 shops. Aldi, Coles and a fruit market. I spent $200 and I buy so many no name and cheap brands. I would hate to see my weekly bill if I actually bought some of the nicer stuff!
    Now I just have to get organised to send frozen drinks with hubby each day… cause they aren't cheap to buy when your working in Darlinghurst (Sydney).

  4. Great idea…..I used to do this a few years ago…..I found those recipe magazines fantastic, and it was a great way of introducing new meals and tastes in to the family. But I'm finding that now the kids are getting older, they are getting fussier and really know what they do and don't like to eat, which is driving me bonkers! Sometimes I just cook what I want to eat and make them all eat it – regardless of whether they like it or not! lol

  5. I like the way you meal plan, no stress and simple!

    I used to meal plan every week, but it took me a bit to get into the swing of things when we moved. I am still tweaking my meal planning now because we have had to change up a few things that we like to eat regularly because the ingredients just aren't available here. That was one of the reasons meal planning got put into the too hard basket when we moved here. But I am getting back into the groove of it all and slowly adding in new recipes as soon as I can source products.

    Fresh fruit and veg is hard to come by here though, so I started veg garden. It is slowly taking shape at the moment and hopefully it will help with both help with my meal planning and reduce our shopping budget.

  6. I used to be skilled in meal planning. We had very little available income and I had very little time. Breakfast and lunch followed a strict routine. The evening meals were centred around certain ingredients – pasta, rice, potatoes, eggs, soup, mince, fish, beef. I had a three week rotation so nobody spotted the repeats. The eggs night could have been omelettes, soufflé, or just something that used a few eggs. Sometimes the pasta night might also be a mince night or a tuna night. I tried to cook double and freeze half as often as possible. Home-made pizza is delicious and is quick if you make the base from a scone dough. Instead of takeaways I try to keep a supply of pies in the freezer. Left over casserole wrapped in pastry makes a fabulous pie. Get to know how much food each person actually eats and there will be very little waste. When I went to school the word housewife was not used. That person was called a home economist (or a mother!). We had many lessons so we could be an economist and run a home like an empire. Times have changed, but some things still work.
    Parenting is not for wimps! It is hard work with many challenges. Master the food thing as early as you can. Later there are going to be such big worries you will laugh at this. Trust me; I am not a doctor, I am an experienced parent.

  7. Great minds Ros and a timely post for me. I've been a meal planner over the years and one who plans what's to eat the night before, preferring to opt for the second choice as that's what's been working for me. In saying that, with so much on my mind these last 14 months, I need to just empty my mind with unnecessary things and having a meal plan would be one less thing I have to worry about. I'm just about to watch a movie and then I'm digging out some cookbooks and my meal planning kit. Thanks for the inspiration lovely lady.


  8. Thanks for all the great tips and "old school" rules, hehe. When the kids were younger I planned dinners much more. It's a good habit I should start again. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Hi there (this is my first ever comment on someone's blog so yay to you! ;-), Yes I meal plan too, well try to most weeks. Very similiar strategy except I start with going through the pantry/freezer/fridge and make a list of what "needs using". Grab the recipe books/magazines – find recipes containing those foods that "need using" assign to each day of the week, fill in the gaps and go shopping. Embarrassing at times to learn how much this simple exercise saves you in $$ isn't it.

  10. I've been thinking about doing meal plan in my search to be more organised. I like that you look through your magazines and books to find new recipes. I found that too often we just forget about them and cook always the same thing.

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