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How to Be a Meal Planning Mama

meal-planning-mama

Guest post from Kristi of Klover House

I have talked with so many moms over the past few months, and I can’t believe how often I’ve heard them voicing frustration when it comes to meal planning.

I used to be in that camp, too! With my planners, and whiteboards, and calendars, and cookbooks, and lists everywhere…  I found myself throwing away food way too often, erasing and rewriting my plan over and over again, and abandoning my plans month after month. It left me so frustrated.

We were wasting money, and I was stressing out daily.

Friends, no more.

I am no longer frustrated, stressed or wasteful. This method has saved my sanity and my budget. I am so happy to share it with all of you.

To follow my process, simply…

1. Evaluate what you already have.

I quickly take a peek at three separate areas: the pantry, the refrigerator/freezer, and my baking supply cupboard, that holds our baking powder, soda, corn starch, honey, extracts, coffees, teas, etc.

I go shopping every two weeks. I used to go once a month, but with more children came more trips to the store. I have found that going every pay day makes the best sense for our family.

I use what we still have on hand to inspire and drive the next list of meals. For example, if I have Red Hot, chicken, buns, and leftover fruit salad from the previous day, I’ll plan for buffalo chicken sandwiches and fruit salad on “grocery day”, so I’m able to plan ahead even when the inventory seems impossibly low. Sometimes, we’ll just simply use that day as our “Order Pizza” day to avoid the scramble after a long day of shopping with my four little ones.

2. Draft your two-columned list.

On the lefthand side, I have the day/date. On the righthand side, I have my list of 18-22 meals usually.

I shop every two weeks, typically, so having a few extra options on my list gives me the flexibility to change my mind or roll meals over to the next list. (I save all of my previous lists as inspiration, and I also rely on Pinterest, other bloggers’ recommendations, my favorite cookbook, and a catalog of long standing family-favorite recipes.)

My list always looks like this: 

meal planning list

3. Prepare to grocery shop.

Using my list of possible meals as a guide, I create my grocery list based off of what I already have and what I still need.

I create my list using meals that are versatile and that can compliment one another in the event that there are leftovers. For example, if pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes is an item and fajitas is an item, I will plan to use my leftover tenderloin as my fajita meat that week.

By using leftovers effectively and creatively, my family doesn’t get bored with what I am serving them, and I am almost never wasting food. If I make spaghetti and meatballs, I’ll leave a large portion of meatballs plain to be thrown into wedding soup or stuffed peppers that week.

By planning meals in this way, you are saving time, money, and sanity. Trust me.

4. Keep it consistent and basic.

I keep my list simple. I don’t go into great detail for multiple reasons.

I’ll write chicken and mushrooms. It may end up being a pasta dish paired with roasted cherry tomatoes and a garlic lemon butter sauce, or it could become a marsala dish served over mashed potatoes.

I consistently stock up on fruits and vegetables (many frozen), and I will make a more detailed decision on the dish the day before or the morning of, depending on what I have left and its state of freshness.

I love this system, because it is so easy to take a quick glance and create a plan for each day. If I open my refrigerator and see that the strawberries won’t last much longer, I’ll choose that night for a chicken and strawberry salad with poppyseed dressing. I may even have my husband grill a double batch of chicken and plan to use it later in the week.

Work and plan smarter, not harder.

5. Keep track of meals prepared using the simple number system.

If chicken parmesan is #7, and I am making it on August 12th, I simply write #7 next to August 12th, and I cross it off the list on the righthand side. I know that I am taking a meal to a family on August 5th, and stuffed chicken breasts seems like a good choice for that, so I will make it for us as well.

By coordinating our inventory, likes, budget, and plans, I can easily make a realistic meal plan that spans each two-week timeframe.

6. Include “the usuals” and the special events.

We have a pizza night, an eat out night, and a date night scheduled on each plan. Do we get to have those consistently? Nope. But I plan for them.

I also include any other dinner plans as their own number. We recently held our daughter’s birthday party at dinnertime, so “Isla’s Party” was assigned a number.

Using my list in conjunction with my monthly planner/calendar helps me in making the best possible plan for our family. By using the two-weeks-at-a-time method, I am never overwhelmed, caught-off-guard, or scrambling. Flexibility, accuracy, and simplicity makes this technique ideal for our family.

7. Keep your lists handy.

I save all of my previous lists and keep them handy. You can do this with a binder, an envelope, or simply by tucking them in your cookbook. I also like to take a picture of my lists so that I can reference them quickly on my phone while I’m out or if I lose my paper list.

By keeping all of my previous lists, I am creating a library of meals from which to choose when it comes time to plan for the next two weeks. I never have to think too hard when it comes to meal planning, because I’ve already done the legwork ahead of time.

Again, work smarter not harder, and you’ll be a “Meal Planning Mama” in no time!

If you’d like to see more of my plans, visit us on Instagram @kristi_kloverhouse.

It is my hope that this system helps you to make the most of your budget and your groceries, while giving you the inspiration and freedom to create delicious, healthy and affordable meals for the people you love without frying your brain cells in the process!

Kristi is a former elementary teacher and ministry school graduate turned SAHM mom to four spunky blondies (and one sweet Heaven Baby). She writes about faith, family, food, and occasionally, random diy projects. She is also the owner/designer behind Eden Gray Clothing, using her four daughters and three nieces as the never-ending inspiration behind her dressmaking (and excuse for her undeniable fabric addiction). Babies, budgets, and beautiful things are her passion. Kristi blogs at Klover House.

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22 Comments

  • I shop once a week and I do weekly meal planning. We include a lot of fruits and vegetables and I’d like to buy them fresh every week. This works for our family and I don’t waste the groceries anymore.

  • I love menu planning because it streamlines my kitchen time and saves money. Usually, I just print a blank meal plan sheet and fill it in with simple, quick recipes. I base my menu off loss leaders, freebies, and what I have on hand.

    http://thejewishlady.com/meal-planning-important/

  • Tamara says:

    Very practical and simple! I think I can do this! 🙂

  • Amy F;) says:

    this is great! well done:)

  • Kelly Cox says:

    I agree with this mindset! Work smarter, not harder! I love to meal plan, stretch my grocery budget and come up with ways to make our home run smoother and save money in the process. Great info. Thanks!

  • patti says:

    Your system is very similar to what I do except I shop at least 6-7 weeks at a time. I have a different meal each day but basically rotate every 6 weeks or so. I use a calendar (you get for free at a bank or something) and write my meals in that. I do have to go every two weeks or so for a few perishables, however I find the less I am in a store the more money I save. i also cook ahead alot and freeze.

  • patti says:

    Very nice article…you broke down a task that tends to overwhelm most people.

  • Kariane says:

    This is great advice! Meal planning definitely helps me to keep my sanity at dinner time (I wrote about it here: http://everydaymindfulliving.com/simplify-saturday-plan-your-meals-in-advance/ ). I like that you build flexibility into your plan. I try to do the same thing.

  • erica says:

    In my quest for menu planning, I found it was to hard for my brain to think up the very first list–so instead, I documented for a month what we ate eat night. and Voila! 30 days later I had a 30 day menu plan/list of recipies. An added bonus from that first 30 days? I knew when to throw out the spoiled leftovers becuase I knew exactly when I had cooked them!

  • I couldn’t agree more! I like to try to keep meal planning as simple as possible. My kids like eating the same foods regularly anyway, and why stress so much over it when you can easily serve the same meals two or three times that month? I feel like the season changes give us enough variety anyway. (More soups in cold weather, more grilling in summer.)

  • I’m glad you found a system that works for you! Because I work outside the home and have young children, I plan a week at a time. That way I can go to the store on Saturdays and make purchases for the week. Our local farmer’s market is also open on Saturdays, so I do all of the shopping in one day.

  • Kelli B says:

    Awesome tips! It’s really ridiculous how complicated meal planning can get… isn’t it? Plus, I can’t express how much I hate wasting food.

  • Anna Vaschina says:

    Hi Crystal, after your periscope on the 3 things you’ve learnt at 33 you asked to get to know your readers. I couldn’t find the post but that could be a time difference thing? I’m Australian, ‘PreciousPea’ on periscope. I usually can’t catch your scopes live.
    I’ m a homeschoo mother of 4, only 2 are homeschooling, they are 9 & 7. My other too are young adults now still studying. I’m new to your blog. I enjoy your Facebook and Instagram posts mostly as we don’t have the same coupon system in Australia. There are sales and specials but there is always a catch. I really appreciate your scopes, your heart for God and family is what keeps me checking in to see if you’ve scoped. Your realness is precious. I’m 48 and had no where near the wisdom you have at 33. We have a house mortgage but no other debt. We downsized and we live in a 2 bedroom unit we love. I’m very interested in minimalism and simplifying life. I am also very interested in reducing waste. Trying to balance love and service to the Lord and my desire to care for our bodies and our Earth which God has asked us to take care of but in an eternal sense isn’t as important as the condition of our souls. I’d love to glean from your thoughts on the issue of maintaining that balance. It can go hand in hand but can look like we care for earthly things and not the eternal. I’m a born again Christian and have been married for 25 years. My husband is a school teacher. You are very wise and very, very special Crystal. May the Lord bless you and keep you, dear one. Have a very happy, love-filled birthday!

  • Kat says:

    This is exactly what I do, and it saves so much time, money and frustration! I also have a “blank” grocery list saved on my computer. I have sections titled: fruits and veggies, bread, meat, dairy … Etc. I fill it in with what I need, and that way when I go to the store I’m shopping by section and not walking all over the place. Saves so much time.

  • Jennifer says:

    I have become a meal planning queen! I do all of the above, but in addition, I go through the sale ads first, and then plan as many meals as possible just from the sales. Last week Albertsons had but one get one free pork tenderloin, so for this plan I’m making asado, and the additional loin will be used for Posole! I got $24 worth of meat for $14!

  • Shari says:

    I shop super early in the mornings at a grocery store that is not one of the “big named” suppliers, once or twice a month and buy all of the meat that is reduced. I then use up whatever I have in the pantry for sides. I buy fresh vegetables/ fruits (or frozen) each week from Aldi. Meat is what really drives the menu and I think that my early morning reduced sale meat is what has driven our grocery bill way down. For $134 I got enough ground beef, chuck roasts, sirloin tip, chicken, New York strip, and baby back ribs for at least 25 meals. I freeze the meat when I get home. Very little gets thrown out bc we base future meals off the leftovers… Brunswick stew, shepherds pie,

    • Bonnie says:

      Yes! This is close to what I do . I buy random meat on clearance and freeze. Then the next week, I plan my menu around those frozen meats with whatever sides and veggies/fruit are on sale. Then at that grocery shop, I buy more random sale meat and freeze. This way I can take advantage of sales, keep my weekly budget in check, and use what I have on hand.

  • Tracy R says:

    I’ve tried several different ways to meal plan, and this was similar to one way I tried. I was never able to keep up the meal planning for more then a few months. We would either get bored with the menu, not like the recipes on it (online ones that do it for you) or it was just too hard to keep up I. The long term. What I did do that I have been able to keep up on is labeling each day of the week (i.e. Meatless Monday, taco Tuesday , etc). Then I made a list of different recipes/meals for each day. So now when I meal plan, I have tons of options that we all like, we get a variety of nutritional needs, I can quickly go through my stock to see what I can make based off my themes, and even if I meal plan on the fly while in the store and doing it off the ad it only takes a couple minutes. It has simplified my life significantly, and busy moms need all the help we can get

  • Angel says:

    How/Where do you keep track of breakfasts, lunches, and snacks?

  • I am so grateful for meal planning – it has enabled my husband and I to cut our grocery bill in half every month!

    When I first started meal planning, I failed miserably because I couldn’t find a way to stick with it. I love your list of tips for meal planning – simple, yet effective.

    Thanks for the great post! 🙂

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