Meal Planning (or “How to Keep Most of Your Groceries From Going Bad”)

Hiii (*waves nervously*) Let’s kick this off with the confession that I am not a foodie or a chef or a professional meal planner. I’m a newbie who still let’s the milk go bad and forgets to use the bananas before they’re squishy and grey.

Alright. Now that my credentials are out of the way…

*In between starting this post and finish it I went through our pasta cabinet and threw out so much expired food. Pasta, graham crackers, panko breading. Not a few months expired… years. Please note: All of that was purchase pre-meal planning. #oops

Toward the end of last year I started meal planning for our family of two. At the start of 2017 I made the lax resolution to meal plan every week. Surprisingly, I’m actually carrying this out with moderate success. A fellow blogger (Carolann, I think?) suggested I talk about my methods. So I thought, ‘Sure! Why not?!’

To be frank, I’m not even 100% sure I do this right. Critique me if you feel so inclined. I have thick skin; I can handle it.

Step 1

Pick three meals for the week.

Three?? But Audrey! Surely you’ll starve!

Fear not, my friends. We utilize the luxury of takeout and/or dining out at least once a week. (*cough*still working on budgeting*cough*)

Honestly, though. On Fridays we’re usually out with my parents and on Sundays we typically have dinner at my grandparents. Mix in one night of take out and fill that fourth night with leftovers and we’ve got three days left for home cooked meals.

… perhaps I’m not so qualified to write this post.

Stick with me, friends. Pick three meals from anywhere. I usually search Pinterest. Sometimes it’s not a recipe meal- sometimes it’s just burgers and veggies on the grill. It doesn’t matter… it still counts.

Ok. Got your three meals? I’m going to play along here and pick three, too.

  1. One Pan Sausage & Veggies (+ egg noddles with butter #healthy)
  2. Chicken Fajita Pasta (so good!! if this isn’t one of your 3 you should change that)
  3. Steak & veggies on the grill (+ mashed red potatoes left over from meal #1)

Step 2

Make a grocery list with the ingredients you don’t have.

can we ignore the “egg noddles”? oops

Now double check your kitchen for the ingredients you might actually have, but you put on the list anyway because you weren’t sure and you were too lazy to go look in the cabinet to check. (Oh. Just me? ) Cross those ones off.

Step 3

Go grocery shopping. I prefer Sunday afternoons because for some reason it’s a ghost town at the market but everything is all stocked for the week.

Obviously if there’s an afternoon NASCAR race this gets bumped to Monday night (which becomes the takeout night).

Step 4

Prep stuff if you feel so inclined.

Often I do not.

This is a good time to figure out WHEN you’re eating your meals. I don’t like to keep asparagus or steak too long so we’ll have those on Monday or Tuesday. If we don’t plan to make something until the weekend or we get busy and have to skip a meal I throw the appropriate meat in the freezer.

Boom Bang Ba-Da-Done.

the chicken fajita pasta… seriously- SO good

Some amateur tips:

  • if you never go out to eat plan for four nights
  • if you have a super busy week aim for two nights and make enough for leftovers
  • this doesn’t include lunch… and if you eat leftovers for lunch, go with 4 meals
  • make that Chicken Fajita Pasta… you won’t regret it

Was that even helpful…? Hahaha. Honestly, I never meal planned before this year but now that I do it’s pretty easy to stick with. This is probably a good gateway to meal prepping, too, but I don’t wanna demand too much of myself…

So tell me… do you meal plan? If so, what am I doing wrong? 🙂 If you don’t plan does this make you want to…?

52 thoughts on “Meal Planning (or “How to Keep Most of Your Groceries From Going Bad”)

  1. Jenn @ Optimization, Actually April 25, 2017 / 7:58 am

    I just started meal planning and this is pretty much what it looks like for me, too. We’re only planning 2 or 3 meals – 1 big crockpot meal and then 1 or 2 other ones, because I know us and we just don’t cook. I’m fine with it – it’s a good start and we can work on improving as Orion gets old enough to actually eat with us. Oh! And I’m definitely collecting recipes because when I made the list of things Ryan and I know how to make, it was pretty short. Haha! So thanks for the chicken fajita pasta recipe – that sounds amazing!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:37 pm

      I don’t utilize the crockpot as often as I should, but that’s because it doesn’t fit into my daily timeline. (I know that’s backward from most people…) We tend to use it more in winter for some reason- I think it makes me feel cozy. Lol
      Try that recipe! It’s a fav in our house!

      Like

  2. Michelle April 25, 2017 / 8:11 am

    It shocks me that I used to get by without meal planning. How did we eat?! I have no clue. I can meal plan in my sleep now, but I’m always looking for better methods and recipes. Leftovers are our saving grace with our current limited budget. James made a bunch of taco meat on Sunday with turkey and beef, and we’re making tacos/taco salad for the next few nights. It makes life so easy! We eat so many crockpot soups and stews in the fall and winter. I’m going to check out that pasta recipe!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:40 pm

      I feel that way, too, now. Apparently I was blindly grocery shopping for the past three years. It’s way more convenient and cost effective to meal plan! I use the crockpot more in fall/winter, too!

      Like

  3. Divya @ Eat. Teach. Blog. April 25, 2017 / 8:44 am

    I definitely meal plan! On Saturdays, I sit down and look at my upcoming schedule for the week. I plan out my meals based on what’s going on in the office or what social events we’ve got. And then from there, I know which meals we’re making at home. Then, on Sundays, I look at it again to make my grocery list!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:41 pm

      It’s SO key to factor in one’s social schedule or work schedule! We’d have way too much (or little) food if I didn’t take into account what our weekly plans are.

      Like

  4. ShootingStarsMag April 25, 2017 / 9:05 am

    I try and meal plan for the most part because I’m on a strict diet. I tend to have one or two meals for the week because I utilize leftovers and I’m just cooking for myself. If it’s something that takes longer to make – aka not just pork chops I can throw in the oven – then I’ll meal prep on Sundays to get those ready for the week.

    -Lauren

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:42 pm

      I hate prepping so I just don’t. Ha.
      We also need to be better about utilizing leftovers. We only have them about 25% of the time, but still.

      Like

  5. Shybiker April 25, 2017 / 9:15 am

    I meal-plan at this level. Not serious enough to get deeper but find this is perfectly adequate. As you say, we often intersperse home-cooking with take-out and meals out so three planned meals is plenty. Plus, we want to stay loose about this or it starts to feel like a chore. Cooking and eating is inherently fun as long as we don’t sap the joy out of it. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:43 pm

      I’ve found that I enjoy cooking a lot more when I know what recipes I’ll be tackling and I know that I have all the food and ingredients that I’ll need. Thank you!

      Like

  6. Stephanie April 25, 2017 / 9:40 am

    I like to see what everyone else does! It’s always interesting. I’m the same, especially with John now working and eating at the firehouse at least 2 days a week. I plan like, 2 dinners. Maybe 3? There’s no point to planning 7 dinners a week, it’s just way too much food!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:45 pm

      Oof- 7 would be WAY too much for us. Especially since K likes to order out or go out every now and then. If he wasn’t home for dinner I’d eat such weird, not-dinner-ish things. Hahaha… Popcorn, cereal, ramen. Lol

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Emily April 25, 2017 / 9:58 am

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I have been trying to find new recipes so I will definitely have to try to make the chicken fajita pasta.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:46 pm

      We love that meal! Hope you do, too!

      Like

  8. Kimberly M (@momgosomething) April 25, 2017 / 10:31 am

    I meal plan because I need some sort of structure in my life plus my kid plays travel hockey and baseball and that schedule owns me! There’s three of us.
    Pinterest is my go to for meal planning ideas. So I sit down on Sunday and just scour the recipes that pique my interest. I live on crock pot meals and they usually give us two meals a week.
    Another trick – if you buy chicken on sale, cook all of it and you can freeze it or incorporate it into casseroles that you can freeze (I do this and they are AMAZING!! You just reheat them. You save SO MUCH TIME!) – dude, am I getting way ahead? I’m like super passionate about meal planning only because hockey burns us at both ends and I need to tackle the meals.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:47 pm

      I think it’s great that you’ve got this meal planning thing down pat! I tend to use Pinterest most, too. I’ve never made and froze chicken ahead of time, but I’ll have to try it! Thank you!

      Like

  9. Beth April 25, 2017 / 10:47 am

    We do meal plan at our house too and this is pretty much how we do it! We plan closer to five meals per week with most of our eating out/eating at family done on the weekends, but otherwise this is what we do too. I think it works best for leftovers and like you said, not wasting too much food. But it does still happen sometimes!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:49 pm

      I don’t know that I’ll ever figure out how to not waste any food… I wish! Five nights would be WAY to much for the two of us, but three is perfect 🙂

      Like

  10. Kelly @ Noodle to the Rescue April 25, 2017 / 11:13 am

    That Chicken Fajita Pasta does look so good – It’s going on the menu for next week!
    I’ve been meal planning for maybe 4-5 years and at this point and I can’t imagine not doing it. We do five meals and count on leftovers for lunch. I have this nifty fridge magnet meal planning notepad with the days of the week to write in your meal on one side and a grocery list on the other side.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:50 pm

      Ooooh, I hope you love it! It’s super easy and delish!!
      That magnet sounds great! I’ve only been at this for a few months but I feel like it’s a staple now. I’ve been blindly grocery shopping for the last four years! Haha!

      Like

  11. Rebecca Jo April 25, 2017 / 11:31 am

    I am the worst at meal planning .. I’ll try every now & then but its usually the same 3 dinners every week. UGH. I even subscribe to EMealz that sends me a week’s worth of recipes & a shopping list every week. They’ve just piled up into a huge pile … I need to make this a goal to start working on.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:54 pm

      I think I imagined meal planning to be tedious or intricate. I honestly just find three recipes, print them out, make a grocery list of the stuff I don’t have, and cook ’em. Such little commitment. Emealz sounds like a neat resource!

      Like

  12. lexandneek April 25, 2017 / 12:20 pm

    Great idea! Now I realize that it does take only 3 meals a week to plan as Lex and I do go out to eat when time gets tight. Love the fajitas recipe. Will try that one night. Thanks for the tips!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:55 pm

      There are two of us and three meals a week is perfect. Hope you love the pasta!

      Like

  13. SMD @ Life According to Steph April 25, 2017 / 12:21 pm

    I usually do two nights and rely on leftovers for two nights. The fifth night is like cereal or toast or something from the freezer and we’re usually out one or two nights or even have leftovers stretch to another night.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:57 pm

      On busy weeks we only manage two meals, even if I’ve planned for three. K also hates leftovers so sometimes I have to twist his arm and sometimes I give in and avoid the ‘tude. Ha.

      Like

  14. Lisa April 25, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    I’m such an advocate for meal planning! My boyfriend and I have been doing it ever since I moved in with him. We make our shopping list at the time as planning our meals, and we refer to our weekly calendar in case there’s something that’s going to effect an evening meal.
    The thing I dislike about cooking is having to decide what to make, and meal planning cuts this out as all the decisions for the week are done in one go.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:58 pm

      I enjoy cooking SO much more now that I a) know exactly what we’re going to have and b) am positive all the ingredients are sitting in my kitchen, waiting for me to get home from work 🙂

      Like

  15. A Mindful Migration (@MindfulMigrate) April 25, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    I used to be the same way. I’d clean my pantry and freezer and there would be so much outdated food. I actually threw out 4 lobsters once. GRRRRR …. I am a huge advocate of meal planning and am ironically planning my own meal planning post. 😀 It definitely takes time to find your rhythm but it sounds like you’ve figured out what works for you two. And you have me completely sold on trying the fajita pasta because fajitas and pasta are two of my favorite things!

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 3:59 pm

      I can’t wait to read your post on meal planning!
      PLEASE make that pasta. So, so good!

      Like

  16. San April 25, 2017 / 1:16 pm

    Meal planning is THE BEST. We hardly ever throw any food out anymore and it’s so satisfying to know what’s on the menu each week (takes a whole lot of “last minute decisions” out of the process!).

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:01 pm

      We’ve only been at it a few months but I think that my husband really loves that I have an answer each day when he asks, “what’s for dinner?”. Haha!

      Like

  17. StephTheBookworm April 25, 2017 / 3:32 pm

    Ooh, that chicken fajita pasta does look so good!
    I try to meal plan-ish, but Jerry works nights so we only have dinner together on the weekends. We usually plan what we want to eat on the weekend and I’ll go out and get everything.
    I use a cool app on my phone called Out of Milk for shopping lists and just add to it throughout the week.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:09 pm

      We’re the opposite- I rarely make food on the weekends.
      That app sounds useful! I still use pen and paper because I just haven’t found the right technology to help me out. (Well, except Pinterest. Ha.)

      Like

  18. Julie Hood April 25, 2017 / 3:38 pm

    I’ve been dropping the meal-planning ball recently, but when I’m on my A-game I do 4 dinners planned and 1 of those is spaghetti. So……really it’s just 3. These tips are so helpful, and I’m bookmarking this to come back to when I get stuck! And now I’m also gonna be adding that fajita dinner thing to the list…

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:11 pm

      We used to eat spaghetti all. the. time. It was quick and easy and it fit in our teeny tiny apartment kitchen. K doesn’t like red sauce, though, so now I try to save it as a last resort meal. Lol!

      Like

  19. justine @ sunnyinjune.com April 25, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    meal planning has saved my sanity and saved my family so much money. now that i do it, i feel like i can’t ever go back to “flying by the seat of my pants”. when my husband deployed, we went into meal prepping – cooking huge batches of food at the beginning of the week and essentially eating leftovers for the week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:12 pm

      It sounds like you have a really great system worked out! I love the organization of it all. I have a meal planning journal that sits in my kitchen and goes with me to the store. And when the kitchen is all stocked I just feel so good!

      Like

  20. Amanda Bumgarner April 25, 2017 / 4:38 pm

    I read a blog post maybe a few months ago where the blogger talked about her revelation that they threw out so much food… even MEAT! Hello, meat is expensive! This blew my mind. I think meal planning is great for making sure you eat all the food you buy. Jordan and I have gotten really good (I mean can I toot my own horn here?) about making random meals out of whatever we have left before it goes bad. And MEAT. Let’s talk about meat. If you aren’t going to use it in time, freeze it, people! I’ve discovered that you can freeze nearly anything. Leftover chili, taco meat… the world, er, freezer, is your oyster! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:15 pm

      You are so right. And good for you guys for perfecting the meal planning task! (Toot away!!) We don’t throw out much food any more, but if we do it’s a spare veggie or dairy product. I’m pretty good about tossing unused meat into the freezer. Don’t wanna waste it for sure!!

      Like

  21. Nadine April 25, 2017 / 5:07 pm

    Yay for meal planning!!! I have been doing it for about 5 years and I cant not do it! I like grocery shopping on Sundays too. I try to go before the church crowd takes over. I plan 4 dinners, breakfasts for me and lunch for Xhris and I for 4 days. We tend to eat out on Saturday and sometimes Friday night we order bbq or pizza.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:17 pm

      We eat leftovers or eat out on weekends so I rarely plan for those two days. For whatever reason my grocery store of choice is a ghost town around 3 or 4pm on Sundays, so that’s when I go 🙂 Or on Monday night like this week 😉 Haha!

      Like

  22. Penny Struebig April 25, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    So smart to only plan for three meals. I plan for more and almost always have waste because of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:18 pm

      Three is plenty for us. Sometimes we only get to two!

      Like

  23. Elyse April 25, 2017 / 9:03 pm

    I’m glad you’ve found a way to meal plan for you and K! I’ve yet to figure out how to meal plan for our life. It’s the worst, because that means we go to the grocery store every day hungry to pick up dinner which means it’s not always healthiest or convenient….one day I’ll figure out how to be a grown up.

    Like

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:20 pm

      Hahahahaha. I was the opposite before I started meal planning. I’d go once every two weeks and load up so I didn’t have to go back. Of course half my food went bad and we’d end up eating freezer meals or random stuff. Meal planning definitely works better for us!

      Like

  24. Alexandra Consolver April 26, 2017 / 10:32 am

    Meal planning is tough lady! I made the goal (our first year of marriage) to try 100 new recipes (certifiable), thinking that would leave us with a few handfuls of favorites to pull from as time goes on…. well, I did it…but boy was I burnt out. We had food at home almost every night, leftovers for every lunch, breakfast at home almost every day. Now we are much too busy for that…. so in the past few years my meal planning has been a lot of planning 4-6 meals… and having the issue of food going bad, like you said. Starting with 2-3 meals (because plans can change mid-week) has really helped me stay on top of cooking, and wasting less food. The thing that still drives me bonkers is when I need a head of cabbage (even a small one) and I need 2 cups… and there are 7 CUPS LEFTOVER. HOLY S WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL OF THAT CABBAGE?! I hate wasting things… but that’s a crap ton of cabbage. LOL. So then… I try to find recipes to make later on that include those items, but with two people it can be really really tough. I try to focus on making easy things (fast), or even unhealthier ones sometimes just because I know it’s do-able for us. Right now buying for 2-3 meals (+ lunch leftovers) is working better for us. 🙂 I love your post, this is kind of how i’ve been operating recently too. Now I just need to get better at using up things before they rot/expire that are left over from the meals. Ex. cabbage, or a whole box of bread crumbs, etc. Easy to forget about for me. XO – Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:42 pm

      Ooof- 100 recipes in one year is quite the challenge! Congrats on achieving that!! I got a cookbook this year and told K I was going to cook my way through it…. Yeah, I haven’t made one thing. Maybe I’ll try something this week 😉 It’s SO frustrating to have leftover ingredients that are due to go bad soon. I try to tie all my veggies together or use random items in recipes, but it’s tough.

      Like

  25. Cat April 26, 2017 / 7:50 pm

    Yes! This is almost step-for-step what I do, including choosing three meals for the week. Most of the time I like to make sure they’re meals that will have plenty of leftovers so I can munch them the following lunch. My favorite tool is the Knock Knock ‘What to Eat’ pad for keeping track of what we’re eating what days. I definitely recommend ordering one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise April 30, 2017 / 4:43 pm

      I will have to look into the pad! Thanks! Glad to know other people do it this way, too!

      Like

  26. San May 19, 2017 / 7:41 pm

    The fact that you’re eating with family twice a week should counterbalance the take out once a week… I wish we could do that LOL

    We usually plan for about 5 meals and figure in take out and or leftovers for the other two nights. That works quite well… and we hardly ever throw any food out.

    Like

    • Louise May 22, 2017 / 12:58 pm

      Ha- one meal with family is home cooked and the other is a restaurant. So maybe they just balance each other out….. ha.
      I wish we ate at home more often. Then again, last week we didn’t have ONE home cooked meal. It really is different every week. Lol

      Like

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