the saga of meal planning

Posted: October 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

It’s so true that venting can help relieve tension and help you move on in better spirits. After my post earlier today, I immediately felt better and truthfully found humor in it all. Then, things picked up quite nicely.

I got to enjoy my missing cup of coffee during M’s afternoon nap, while relaxing on the couch.


I managed to do all the dishes and finish laundry. Then, fit in a good sweat session with some TurboKick. And with my little fitness mascot. 


All in all, the day ended up pretty good. Even with the dreaded grocery shopping involved. You know what I realized though? I don’t think its the act of grocery shopping that bothers me. The whole act of trying to remember the reusable bags, driving to the store, and lugging a kid in and out is not what turns me off from this errand. I dread the preparation the most. The list making and meal planning.

You know how people experience the Sunday blues when faced with going back to work the next day? I do not exaggerate when I say I face those blues  thanks to having to come up with a grocery list. Every Sunday night the same drama ensues.

Me: What do you want for dinners this week?
Peter: I don’t know. Whatever.
Me: How about this?
Peter: No…I don’t like that much. How about this?
Me: We just had that this week.
Peter: Oh, yea.
Me: *rack my brain and scramble to come up with something*

This process usually leaves me with meals that, while tasty, lack creativity and rotate out fairly regularly. This week’s meals look like this:

Tonight we had brown rice, assorted roasted veggies, and Great Northern beans.


Tue: tacos with beans, local/organic/grassfed beef, corn, & other fixings
Wed: dinner at church with our small groups
Thur: chicken + veggie eggrolls (like Trader Joes but different brand…aka ingredients I know), broccoli
Fri: at home pizza night
Sat: dinner out after corn maze/pumpkin patch
Sun: Gina’s Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

When making a meal plan, I always keep in mind our schedule for the week, meals that have an easier preparation, and what types of things we usually feel like on certain nights. For example, I tutor on Thursday night this week, so I need something Peter can get together easily. On Fridays we never feel like cooking a full meal, so pizza tends to show up. Sundays tend to leave us craving something simple and lighter after a dinner out on Saturday. I know how to make a meal plan that suits us. However, I wish our meal plans had more variety in them from week to week. 


I do find meal planning beneficial for many reasons. It helps us stick to a food budget. It motivates us to prepare healthier meals. If I waited until dinner time each day to decide what I felt like preparing, I would likely end up eating pizza or cereal every night because I would not want to cook. Meal planning also fits my schedule better because I don’t have to run to the store numerous times each week. I love what meal planning does for us, but I hate not ever knowing what to make and facing that dilemma each and every week.

So, how do you manage it? Do you plan out your meals and do one big shop each week? Or do you go day by day? How do you incorporate variety in the dinners you make?  Any great, easy dinners you want to share? And any other meal planning tips you have? Spill your list making and meal planning habits in the comments section. I want to hear them!

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72 Comments to “the saga of meal planning”
  1. I used to food plan more last year and it would help me to budget money. However, now I just kind of go with the flow and I buy whatever looks good at the food store which = trouble for me. I need to get back into looking at cookbooks because right now I make a lot of veggie burgers, beans, rice, etc.

  2. I kinda plan a few meals for the week, but not specific days. That way I can shop for things and make a couple other meals with things we always have on hand – beans, veggies, tortillas, etc. We have variations of tacos, fajitas or enchiladas often, because we both love them – and can be made vegan / veg for me, with meat for jason VERY easily. when I make a big platter of things like enchis, we can have leftovers or lunches. 😉

  3. I hate meal planning too, but it’s a must. And I get the same response from my husband. “I don’t know”

    I usually shop on Mondays and pick up things here and there throughout the week. I didn’t get to go today so I’m hoping to get there tomorrow and figure out what we’ll be eating this week.

    Turkey tacos are totally in there somewhere. I’m craving Mexican!

  4. Lisa says:

    Your daughter looks so cute with her little hand up in the air! I think its so admirable that you always make time for fitness even when being pregnant and with a little girl!

  5. I love meal planning – it’s my favorite!! Here’s how I plan meals 8 steps:

    Love your little mascot! hehe

  6. Lee says:

    I am not good at it at all. Kelly (above) is awesome! Check out her tips.

  7. Cynthia says:

    My husband and I always make a shopping list and menu for the week . . .or rather, I do. I have to say that your husband is a lot like mine. I end up making most of the decisions. Usually, we just keep a lot of the same foods in rotation. I wish we were a little creative as well.

    Fridays are usually busy for us, so we usually end up making hamburgers and baked potato fries (sweet potato fries for me). One good idea that we have regularly is taco salad. You can use chicken or beef and there are tons of recipes online for making your own taco seasoning. I don’t use the packaged seasoning because of the MSG. Taco salad is easy, fast, and you can get lots of veggies in as well.

  8. I usually try to plan at least three or four meals that I KNOW I want to make, and then pick up some produce that I figure I can turn into some sort of dish for the other days. I would say I end up planning about 75% of our meals, and for the other 25%, we just kind of improvise.

    I love your fitness mascot 🙂

  9. liselledyer says:

    That pic of you and your daughter is adorable.

  10. Emily says:

    I am so with you on meal planning! Now that I have school three nights a week and am also transitioning to a pescatarian diet, I find meal planning to be very difficult but completely essential in getting through my weeks. On Sunday my thought is always “I need meals for three nights of classes! I usually try to think about making a few big batches of things such as rice, tofu, or soup and then taking the extra ingredients a day at a time. It is not a perfect system but it’s working for me right now. I also try to bookmark and print blogger recipes that look simple and good to try and use them in the following week (after I’ve had time to grocery shop and prepare). Hope that helps!!

  11. jamie says:

    I have recently discovered that meal planning and menus (a week at a time) are a MUST for me and our household. It’s made everything so much easier. I’ve been raving about e-mealz and talked it about here (there’s a giveaway too if you want to enter!):

    I talk about it more on that post but it seriously has helped me SO much! I’m all about quick & easy but healthy meals. I only follow the plan maybe 3 times a week but use the various recipes that we all like repeatedly, along with my own recipes and then make a menu for the following week over the weekend. It’s really helped with saving time and money. If I don’t have it planned out, I buy stuff we don’t need at the store (spending more money) and then get home from work and stress (Yes, it’s something I really would have anxiety over) because I wouldn’t know what to do for dinner. Plus, there’s usually some leftover that I can take to work the next day for lunch so it saves money there too.

    Meal planning has really helped my family in big ways and I love it! =)

    • Tina says:

      I saw that post and I think I entered?? Or am I just dreaming that I commented? LOL

      I need to check into that site more though. It really does sound useful. And we try to do meals with leftovers too to have for lunches. I love leftovers for lunch now.

      • jamie says:

        Yes, you did! I just checked. I’m sorry!!!!!!
        You can delete my comment if you want. I promise I wasn’t trying to spam for the giveaway!!!!

        Loving the comments on this topic!

  12. Kelly says:

    Meal planning…um yeah…never do it. Ever. That would stress me out. Instead I just keep lots of good stuff on hand and then that morning depending on my mood and my schedule I decide what to thaw out and make. For some reason that seems much less stressful than planning out an entire week at a time. As for variety….well….let’s just say my husband and I are not picky! haha!

    • Tina says:

      Kelly!!!!! How are you?? I was thinking about you just the other day.

      • Kelly says:

        Good! I got my cast off about 2 weeks ago and it has been wonderful to have both hands again! Things are going really well! I still read daily even if I don’t always comment. 🙂

        • Tina says:

          I bet it feels great to have it off. So happy to hear things are going well. I miss your blog, but completely understand your need to stop. Thanks for saying hello. 🙂

  13. Melinda says:

    Love that brown rice and roasted veggies dish- yum! I never do meal planning but I should!

  14. Natalie says:

    IMeal planning feels so stressful to me! I do it every week, but it always feels tedious. I never know what I’ll feel like making OR how life will interfere and I won’t have the time I initially thought I would to cook.

    I do try to make one major main dish (soup, chili, bean salad) and some slow cooking grains (brown rice, quinoa) on the weekend to have ready in a flash during the weekday.

  15. Karen says:

    I have to plan our meals or we would end up eating mac-n-cheese for dinner every night. I plan all the meals on Sunday morning,make a list of all the groceries for the week and then send the hubby and kids to the store. I enjoy the peace and quiet while he battles the store.

  16. I try to meal plan every week but some weeks it just doesn’t happen. Those weeks I just go to the grocery store and plan as I am shopping. Takes much longer in the grocery store and I always forget something! When I do plan, I sit down and write down what we’ll have each day of the week and then make my list. I generally shop 1-3 times per week, it just depends. I tend to go to different stores for different things so sometimes I have to go shopping more than once. (I go to TJ’s, for example, about every other week. I can’t get all my stuff there, but I do stock up on certain things.) I actually like the planning part more than the actual shopping. I agree that it can be tedious.

  17. ashleigh says:

    I struggle with meal planning so much so that I decided just to stop doing it. I think that meal planning is, as you say, a great way to save money and eat healthy, but for me I found I was spending even more money! Now, I may eat the same thing pretty often and I go to the grocery store a lot, but it’s what works best for me now.

  18. I kid you not when I say that *every* to-do list I make has “meal plan!!!!” somewhere on it. I never get around to it, though! I guess I prefer spontanaeity when it comes to my food…what can I say? 😛

    • Tina says:

      With spontaneity I end up sitting there wondering what to eat for too long. The miss my chance to eat with the little one. LOL I won’t ever make myself eat what I planned if it REALLY doesn’t sound good, though. That doesn’t happen often thankfully.

  19. Hmm, I don’t know fi this would just stress you out more, but how about this: when you’re meal planning, allocate one night a week for a new recipe you’ve been dying to try. I find that I’m constantly flagging/bookmarking new recipes but always forget to plan for them. Maybe some excitement over a new meal will make the rest of the week a little less painful.

    • Tina says:

      That’s a really good idea to try one new recipe a week. One wouldn’t be overwhelming and could add in some new favorites. Great tip!

  20. Camille says:

    Sometimes I try to plan meals for the entire week but they always seem to fall though. Now I just go on a day to day basis!

  21. I’m glad your day turned out good! Sometimes you just have to let your frustrations out one way or another!
    Oh meal planning.. we used to do that but we’ve slacked. A LOT. Which makes for some random meals. So while meal planning is a hassle, it’s worth it in the end.

  22. Dev says:

    I love that your daughter exercises with you! That is too cute 🙂

    I’ve slacked with the meal planning lately – but normally, yes I normally plan for the week. It’s the only way I know to stay on track.

  23. I try to plan meals and go shopping once a week, but I get lazy sometimes and forget to plan, and then we are scrambling to think of ideas last minute for supper. I need to get better at meal planning consistently.

  24. Jaime says:

    Strike a pose girlfriend! Your daughter is SO cute! I agree with meal planning. If I have everything I need for the week I stay on track with my meals and I save money by not making extra trips to the store. I can totally relate to the “What do you want for dinner” blank stare. I tend to not ask the kiddos…I’m sure you know why. 😉

  25. Yes! I agree meal planning stinks, but I do love grocery shopping alone. If I am with Ryan he rushes me and I enjoy looking up and down isles and reading ingredients 🙂

    Your week of meals ahead look great!!


  26. Dawn says:

    I try to plan meals once a week, but I am always sure to schedule a couple of meals with ingredients entirely out of the cupboard or freezer – that way I have a few meals that can get “bumped” when life happens, without having to worry about ingredients going bad. That gives me the flexibility too of being able to shuffle things around when I don’t feel like eating what’s planned on its intended night.

    Something I just started was a private photo blog of meals I liked enough to eat again. I figure that eventually when it’s filled up more I’ll be able to just scan through it when I’m stuck on meal planning and need some inspiration. Sometimes I’ll post whole recipes there but sometimes it’s just as simple as snapping a picture of a can of chili to remind myself that that’s an option too, or to document food combos that are worth revisiting. It’s not much yet but I think in time it’ll be a good resource.

  27. Leashieloo says:

    I’m the total opposite! It’s weird, but I enjoy making lists (not just for groceries, even!) and planning little menus and such. I don’t stick to the menus necessarily, they’re handy though!

  28. I’ve had several of these convos with my hubby. We’ll go back and forth and each nit pick something that the other suggests because it’s not appealing so we end up with old standby’s. Most of the planning is up to me so sometimes I lose my creative juices..argh!

  29. This post literally made me laugh out loud. My husband and I have that conversation every Sunday before we go to the grocery store. I definitely plan out my meals for the week ahead of time. I would end up like you eating oatmeal every night if I did not. We also have the problem of lack of variety, mainly because anything with more than 6 ingredients scares my husband! LOL We are woking on this, by trying one new recipe each week. I will come up with a few recipes from blogs, cook books, or recipe websites and then let him pick. It seems to be working fairly well so far!!

  30. janetha says:

    Um, your fitness mascot is the cutest EVER. Love it. I try to plan ahead but sometimes I am so exhausted that I do the day by day thing. Usually I have an idea of 3 or 4 dinners I want to make for the week and we will eat leftovers a couple of nights and go out to eat once on the weekends.

  31. this is really an area i could improve in…our schedules are seriously insane though which makes it hard to do a good job with the meal planning. we really need to do something and stick with it though to save money!

  32. i plan meals like this:
    every single night there is massive amts of raw green food and veggies being consumed

    if i am home for dinner i will make more elaborate things but if i am gone and the family is fending for themselves, i lay out their salad beasts, top with nuts, seeds, tofu, TJ’s frozen meat/fake meat products for them, and that’s that.

    I dont stress anymore. Variety is nice, but not always reality. Not every night is “amazing”. Some nights, it’s just food. It nourishes them, it’s infinitely better than anything they could get out or carry in, but it may not win creativity awards…oh well!

  33. I plan out my meals for all the same reasons as you state above, i.e. budgeting, healthier choices and reducing food waste but I can really relate to the lack of creativity that brings! I also have a tough time as my hubby is a bit of a picky eater so I have to try and make dishes that he will like too. I tend to shop twice a week and get my food coop box. I always wait until I have the food coop box and then plan my meals around the contents! I do try and have at least one evening meal a week when I can be creative for myself – usually when the hubby has his friends over and they eat pizza! 🙂

  34. Courtney F says:

    I’m so glad your day go better. Cute workout mascot!
    I love making lists of all kinds, so grocery lists don’t bother me. Plus, if I don’t right it down and check it off, I will leave the store without it!
    We just have a few ideas in mind and whatever tickles our fancy that morning we decide on for the night.
    Tonight is tilapia and squash and onions!

  35. I love to meal plan because it helps save on the budget, keeps me on track and just makes life easier. When I plan I try to have during the week a meatless meal, chicken meal, pork meal, and meat meal. I also add in a leftover night. I make a calendar and right what we are having each day but don’t get too worked up if I don’t cook that on a certain day. I will just shuffle things around. Each Monday on my blog I add my menus so feel free to check them out.

    With our meals I always some type of veggies and fruit.

  36. I meal plan, but leave some room to switch it up. This week I have plans for it to be a major salad week- but in case I want to throw some of it on top of some dough for a pizza, I can also do that… or throw it in pasta… Alot of mixing and matching going on! 🙂

  37. Kristy says:

    Your “what do you want for dinner” conv sounds alot like the ones that go down in our house. The man says he does not need variety…but i do! 🙂

  38. So glad you found some peace today! I love meal planning, but Tony is a stocked pantry person. He feels that if we have a stocked pantry then we can have whatever (besides the fresh stuff that you have to get weekly). Sounds like you are working on a process! If you have any good freezer meals, I would say start to get those together for when the little man arrives! It will help you a lot then.

  39. Justine says:

    Meal planning is something that I look forward to! So much so, that I have been known to start on a Wednesday (for the following week!). I don’t even grocery shop until Saturday/Sunday, but I even look forward to that. I can see how it would be stressful/not enjoyable for some people, though, especially those with a busy lifestyle.
    Martha Stewart has an email chain that will email you a dinner recipe every day. Maybe you could use that as inspiration for the following week for some new ideas?

    Have a good day! 🙂

  40. rachael says:

    I am a firm believer in meal planning. I actually love doing it and the grocery shopping that follows. 🙂

  41. Before blogging, I planned out meals much better. I pretty much planned them for a 2 week period. Now….I sort of wing it more b/c I’m always wanting to try new things. I never plan for the new things. Half of what I make, I just make up too so I don’t really sit down with cookbooks very often and mark off recipes and add those ingredients to the list. Though – I should.

  42. I made Gina’s chili over the weekend — it turned out really good!

    I make a rough meal plan for the week and I try to do most of my shopping on Sunday. I buy enough produce for 3-4 days and then I go shopping midweek on Wed or Thurs for produce for the rest of the week.

    Neither of us are very picky, so we end up eating the same things every week. I spice it up with baked goods for Jason — I prefer baking so much more to actual cooking.

  43. The Real Simple meal plan I’ve been using this month has completely done my meal planning and grocery list making for me! If you hate meal planning (I do too), check it out. It comes with a shopping list for each week and promises to use the fresh ingredients at the beginning of the week. With this at least there is a game plan for one of your meals of the day 😉

  44. I try to meal plan every sunday. That’s also when I go grocery shopping so it makes sense. I usually go shopping for food first, then work my week meals around what I have. It works out pretty well most of the time.

  45. I used to dread meal planning, but now I enjoy it… IF I have time to sit down and focus on it. I find that the more I do it, the easier it gets. On those weeks that I don’t have time to plan, i end up kicking myself because I have to keep going back to the store, and like you said, usually end up going over budget.

  46. Allie Finch says:

    I love meal planning! 😀 I really do. I love looking over recipes & blogs to find new dishes to try, planning out the week’s menu & grocery shopping [I think I am in the minority here] — not to mention the cooking & eating part. Fortunately I like all of this, because if I didn’t we would be eating out, eating boringly or not as healthily more often. The days we don’t plan for whatever reason often end in conversations like the one you mentioned.

    I have a menu that hangs on the fridge with space for writing in ingredients I do not have on hand & need to pick up for each day/meal. After noting which days I need to plan meals, I determine one or two dishes I really want to make for dinner & check with Dave to see if there is anything specific he wants. As I start to fill in the ingredients I need, I try to get creative & choose other meals that can be made from some of the same ingredients [say beans that filled “spaghetti squash bowls” becoming burritos for lunches; or using half a can of artichokes for pasta, the other half for salads]. This has really helped reduce waste & save on our food budget. This might be a good idea for a post — it seems a lot of people want to be better at this — maybe I’ll scan in my menu & share my process in more detail. Also, farmer’s market has been great for inspiration. I often go there with a few specifics I need/want to make, then let the rest of my shopping being inspired by the beautiful, fresh food.
    Your roasted veggies look really yummy.

  47. OMG that picture of M “posing” is soooooooooooooo cute.

  48. Nichole says:

    Every single time I have tried to plan for the week something goes wonky and I either still end up back at the store or we decide that’s not what we want. I can’t imaging having a family behind me watching my decisions, lol.

    I am in LOVE with the workout girls!

  49. Annett Davis says:

    I think your meal looks great! I wouldn’t have ever thought of that combo. I just started a new thing over at my blog, where on Monday’s people post “HEALTHY” meals! I was tired of seeing so many poor menus on other sites and I really wanted to encourage family health. My dad died early due to poor choices and helped me develop bad habits. Now I’m turning it around for my family. I’d love you to join us on our Fit Meals Mondays at : ) Anyone with a blog or not is invited. I need help too coming up with “other meals” so the merrier! Love your blog by the way!

  50. Emily says:

    Hey Tina! I get overwhelmed with meal planning, too. I usually do my grocery shop on Sunday and just get a bunch of staples that I can mix and match easily – carbs, protein, lots of veggies and some fruit. It usually works out but sometimes I’ll run out to the store again for a more special meal. 🙂

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