How we plan our meals

26 November 2013

I know meal planning is something that a lot of people my age struggle with (I get a lot of emails about it), so I thought I’d share the system we use. It is, like most things, contained in our Simplified Planner, and it’s pretty simple!

On Saturday mornings, John and I sit down and plan out our meals for the week (Sunday to Saturday). Since our default is to make dinner at home, we first look at the calendar and figure out whether there are any days we know we’ll be dining out (maybe dinner at a friend’s house, or a day where we’re running around and don’t have time to cook). We also check to see whether we’re expecting guests any night. Once those are marked on the planning doc, we start filling in meals for the other nights. We pull ideas from Pinterest (meal boards here + here), from our collection of cook books, and from our accumulated meal plans (we have them going back to when we moved to NC, more than four years ago!!). We do tend to have seasonal favorites that show up often — including, as you can see below, BLTs when tomatoes are summer delicious :)


As we put together a week of menus, we also take into account the weather. (Is it going to be hot or cold? Might make a difference in the kinds of meals we want to prepare.) One other really important consideration for us is the leftover situation. John and I both take leftovers to work for lunch every single day, so we need to have a balance of meals that create leftovers and are easy to pack and reheat… and meals that do not (so we don’t end up with too much food).


Once we have our meals planned, they go on the meal planning doc. (Feel free to download your own copy here!) Sometimes I’ll jot down a page number or website next to the meal so we can find it again easily. Then, we put together a shopping list. We generally shop at two places every week: Whole Foods and a Walmart Neighborhood Market (basically a Walmart with only groceries and a very small home and pharmacy section). If our schedule allows, we go to one store on Saturday, and one on Sunday, which makes it seem pretty manageable. I split our list by the stores: below, Walmart is on the left, and Whole Foods is on the right. We generally shop at Whole Foods for most vegetables and fruit, dairy, and WF brands/brands that aren’t available elsewhere. Don’t mind the shorthand :)


We generally don’t decide in advance which meal we’ll have on which day — we kind of play it by ear, taking into account the leftover situation and which ingredients spoil the fastest. Thankfully, John does the cooking in our house, so once the meal planning is done, my job is complete! (Until the dishes call my name…)

I know everyone’s situation is very different, so I would love to hear: Do you plan your meals out for the week? How many nights do you eat in vs. out? Does your significant other play a big role, or not? I hope this was helpful!!

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November 26, 2013 4:45 pm

We’re the opposite – I cook and Brandon does the dishes. Sometimes I’m super spoiled and he does both!

I find that planning our meals out in advance definitely help us eat in and saves a lot of money. A lot of the ingredients end up being needed for more than one recipe, so it’s nice to know that ahead of time.

This year I’ve started planning meals on my blog which is nice to have to look back at as well as to link the recipes for easy finding.

November 27, 2013 12:52 am

This is really interesting. In our house the kitchen is basically my domain. I make a rough plan of our meals before we get to the supermarket based on how many days we’re eating in, then firm it up once we’re at the supermarket and I can see what’s on offer etc. I love cooking, and don’t often use a recipe so I find it easy to get inspired once I see the food. Once we get back home I then write what meals we are having on the planner in our kitchen so Sam has some idea what’s coming! I bring in leftovers and my husband doesn’t so I think about that quite a lot when planning our meals.

Victoria B
November 27, 2013 9:48 am

I do something similar. I am pretty much in charge of all of it. The planning, shopping, cooking, and we typically split doing the dishes. On Sundays I ask my husband what he has going on that week, so I know if he’s working late, or has an event with or without dinner. I try to plan Monday – Sunday every week. In a perfect world, I cook 4 nights, my husband cooks 2, and we go out or take out 1. I don’t love cooking, so the more planning I can do the better, haha. I like one of my meals to be a slow cooker meal and then I also do as much prep work as I can for my husband as the kitchen isn’t his strong suit, but he cooks fish way better than I do. A lot of the time the plan falls through somewhere, but I think being flexible is the more important thing.

November 30, 2013 2:20 pm

I LOVE this post!! You’re so insanely organized (and your writing is so super cute as well). As my sis and I are in our twenties and still living at home “meals” are slightly a nightmare. I’m picky, my sis will eat the same thing every day and my mom likes to cook but doesn’t always feel like it. Meal Planning sounds awe-some!! I have to start thinking this way!

Ashley R
December 1, 2013 1:06 pm

I LOVE meal planning. It makes me feel like a real wife (or…fiancée, as the case is)! I do it all on Sunday (we almost always go out on Saturday night), but we have a similar procedure. I ask J what sounds good to him, I grab any new recipes I’ve found over the week, and make lists and go!

We work at the same office (and commute together) so work plays a HUGE account in what we eat – I do all the cooking (he does the dishes), so if we’re at the office late and not home until 8 or 9, I am NOT cooking. For this reason, we keep a lot of super fast/easy stuff at home (frozen pizzas, sandwich/salad fixings, leftovers). Usually Sundays I’ll make a big pot of beans/soup/chili and we’ll have that as needed throughout the week.

I do all the cooking in our house, and J does all the dishes/cleanup. I prefer it that way because I’m picky and I hate cleaning (and his idea of a well-rounded meals is making it a combo and his standard of cleanliness is WAY higher than mine).

December 2, 2013 10:47 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! I have been feeling the need to start meal planning for a couple of months now but have never done it so I was feeling a little lost. You post helped me see that it’s not as hard as I thought. My husband is also the cook of the house – YAY – but I’m starting to get more interested in helping out. He will love to start planning ahead specially because we have 3 kids. Ouch! :)
Thanks again!

December 5, 2013 11:10 am

In our house, Matt does the majority of the cooking. He loves to be in the kitchen & it really helps me to able to tackle business-related tasks (since I work during the day) while he’s cooking. Since he cooks, I normally do the dishes. And, like you, we sit down on Sunday and plan Sunday-Saturday meals. It’s so nice to have this be our “shared” domain vs. just mine or just his.

July 1, 2015 11:12 am

[…] actually wrote an entire post about how we meal plan and how it fits into my Home Base Binder, but the short version is that John and I choose meals […]