Meal Planning 101

A series on the basics, the secret tricks, and ways to tweak meal planning to suit you and the way you live.

Last month, I received two emails in the span of five minutes that were on the same topic: Meal Planning.

Both readers were writing asking for help in how to improve their meal planning. Both were very eager to learn. And both desperately needed and wanted help.

I turned to readers on Facebook and they concurred. Meal planning is something we all need. Ya gotta eat! And yet, it’s an area that we can all struggle in from time to time. And there are folks who really don’t know where to start.

Enter: Meal Planning 101

I dunno, the teacher in me just woke up. So, we’ll be holding a little seminar on meal planning here on Good Cheap Eats in the coming weeks. We’ll talk about the basics, the secret tricks, and ways to tweak meal planning to suit you and your current situation. Diets, habits, and tastes change over time and there’s always something new to learn.

Let me know in the comments section all your peeves, questions, and concerns about meal planning. I’m taking careful notes. And we’ll address them all in the coming weeks.

I’ll also be updating this post with the series posts as they happen. Consider this the mother ship for meal planning.

What are your feelings about meal planning?

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Comments

  1. I do a monthly menu, not exactly by date but by the second paycheck of the month. So we normally shop around the third Saturday of the month (this month it’s the 25th). We’ll pick up eggs/milk/bread once every two weeks from Costco, and fresh fruit/salad fixings once a week.

    It saves us money, saves me time and headache, and I can plan more time intensive things on the weekends. There are always leftovers for us to take to work for lunch or finish up for lunch on the weekend.

    Like most every other person on Earth, crap happens. I forget to defrost something, I get stuck in traffic and am late coming home, etc. If that happens I always have fish sticks or breaded frozen fish available. It’s easy to use the potato french fry cutter to turn two potatoes into fries in a few seconds, throw those in the bottom shelf of the oven, then throw some fish in. There is also always waffles & pancakes in the freezer or cereal that we can eat.

  2. Doh! Forgot to add….

    I know what’s in my pantry but I do keep a spreadsheet of what I have in the big freezer downstairs and the one above the fridge in the kitchen. I use that to plan out what we’ll eat for the month. Someone suggested making a spreadsheet and it’s been great for me. I keep it on the side of the fridge marking stuff off during the week, then I updated it at work on Mondays.

  3. I never fail to plan, but without exception there will always be times where the plan fails to execute as expected. So I keep shelf stable items on hand that I can pull out and have ready in a few moments. And my favorite rescue item… In case of emergency, break out the tortillas! I use them for as a crust for individual pizzas, wraps instead of sandwich, huevos ranchos. etc. This is our version of fast food, and keeps us out of the drive thru lines.

  4. I think that a ‘course’ is a great idea – it can be so hard to figure out how to make meal planning work FOR you rather than against you. The thoughts that come to mind are:
    1. Plan with what’s on hand – not from recipes. If you don’t have enough on hand then shop the sales flyer at home and plan meals based on what’s at a reasonable price.

    2. Don’t get locked in. Life happens. Don’t throw your hands up and give up the whole thing because of it.

    3. Have some extra things available that can be instant meals – everyone’s house will be different in this regard. There are times when you just can’t follow the plan – forgot to defrost, ran out of time to cook, etc. I always have fixings for pasta and a salad on hand. I also usually have meatloaf in the freezer. These work for ME – find yours.

    4. Include defrosting in your plan – each day when I’m looking at my plan it also says what I should defrost for the next day, or the day after [some stuff takes longer] I have less mess-ups this way.

  5. I SOOOO need this! THANK YOU!

    I have four little ones (ages 9, 7, 5, and 2). Daddy only eats with us on Saturday and Sunday. My kids go to traditional school, getting off the bus at 345. Our eldest has autism and takes medication at bedtime,and that medication is time-sensitive. So, between 4 and 7, we have to accomplish homework and supper and chores and some fun and bonding and together time. We also have extra circulars, but only three out of five nights. I’m the troop leader for both girls’ girl scout troops, so two weeks out of the month, we have something four nights of the week.

    So, I guess my challenge might be more how the heck so I fit it all in than meal planning!! ;) (Hence my homeschool pipe dream that I have yet to prevail upon my husband. But, I digress.)

    I have been planning meals one week at a time. I do almost everything make-ahead (meats prepped and seasoned on shopping day and then freeze for the grill or oven, fried and Spanish rices made ahead and freeze, sweet potatoes in big batches and freeze, huge batches of your pancakes and freeze, etc.). My goal is really to do nothing more than heat and serve on school nights. I have also started washing, cutting, and prepping all produce on the weekend so that I have it for the week. I do my baking once a month, wrapping individual portions in dry waxed paper and freezing in gallon ziplocks so I can pull and dump in lunches.

    I sometimes feel hamstrung by the meal plan. And, there are some nights, honestly, where even the thought of heat and serve is too much for me. That means I have to put it out, clean it up, and load the dishwasher (with help, of course). Takeout trash just has to be thrown in the garbage.

    So, those are my challenges (‘er, excuses). I would say we go in cycles. From takeout only one every other week, to take out up to three times a week. My real concern about that is our health, of course. And, things go smoother when mommy has a plan.

    Ah, yes, and I am gluten free and two of my kids have anaphylactic nut allergies.

    Looking very forward to this, Jessica. Thank you!

  6. I’ve done meal planning off & on. The thing I struggle with the most is cooking for just three. (Hubs, a 6 year old boy, & myself) I cook way too much food & we get sick of eating it as leftovers & it usually gets pitched after a a few days. I have tried freezing leftovers but they don’t always keep so well. Help!

    • @Cathi,
      I’m with Cathi- I have a 6 yr old daughter and she and my husband are Very picky eaters. I thrive on trying new recipes and when I prepare something new it’s met with “Ehhh, it’s ok”… type responses. I am trying to plan to cook in the crock pot 2 nights/week. Lots of nights I make sure we have plenty of salad and I make a big one and thaw cooked chicken to heat up but some nights I am too tired to thaw that… I keep white meat chicken nuggets on hand and can heat them while making the salad. We are blessed with no allergies but I do try and keep away from TOO many additives.
      I have problems with starting and stopping and would love input on keeping with it. I need tips on keeping it simple as I’m Really organizationally challenged.
      Thanks Jessica for doing this. I’m really looking forward to it.

      • @Cindy, I’m almost in the same boat as you. Just me, my husband and almost 5YO boy. They’re definitely pickier than I am, but then again, I’m cooking so I probably lean toward things I like, even unintentionally. I almost always have leftovers and I almost always make them into lunches for some or all of us. I definitely think about what they like, but I also don’t give it major attention. I figure I’m doing my best to keep it working and if you have a lunch you’re not in love with, it’s not going to be the end of the world, so to speak. It’ll do for a day and next time maybe you’ll like it better.

  7. I plan meals weekly on Wednesday, which is the day my CSA box of fruits and vegetables arrives. When planning I factor what’s in my box, what’s in my freezer and pantry, and what’s on sale at my two favorite stores. I don’t have any difficulties with main dishes; we use up leftovers and have almost no waste. My trouble is with side dishes: I over-make and end up throwing away. I’m starting a compost pile for the raw scraps and trying to remember to freeze bits of vegges for soups, but I’d like to get better at planning and preparing the right amount of veggies and side dishes.

    • @Nancy,
      Nancy,

      I’m interested in getting boxed fruits and veg, but don’t know how to get started. Where does yours come from?

      Thanks

      • @Shannon, Shannon, try a website called Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/). You can enter your zipcode and get a list of sources that deliver to your area. I’m near Sacramento CA and get my box from Farm Fresh to You. Some farms deliver to a central location and you have to go pick up your box. Farm Fresh delivers right to my porch. They also provide a lot of flexibility: I can exclude items, choose the size box, and select the frequency of delivery. I also can pay monthly. With some farms, you buy a season’s share up front. I hope you find a supplier that works for you. I swear the carrots in my most recent box are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.

  8. I do a 2 week meal plan. I need help with planning snacks. So many times the only thing we Have to eat is a meal that requires time & patience when you just don’t feel like putting forth the effort. I’ve got the dinner part down, I just need help planning snacks, treats, etc.

    Thank you!

  9. I love to meal plan, but sometimes I feel like I run out of time to prepare the meals even. So, I try to keep basic foods in my pantry that mean I can throw a last minute dinner together without having to run to the store or spend more money than I have for meals.
    Our budget has always been very tight, but I think one of the things I struggled with on meal planning, was the time when I had no idea if there would be that food around when I had to prepare the meal and there was no more money to buy more. I had to learn to be creative with what I had and try to make things taste good on a really skinny shoestring!
    Things are not as tight anymore, but I think that I am always thinkings they could be again!

  10. I have written down meals on a calendar multiple times… My problem is actually making it to the store for the things I’m missing and actually making the meals. Last wk I made a lil more progress and actually went to the store, so now I have everything for a wks worth of meals… my problem now is that “life has happened” every night since I went to the store. :( I have yet to make one of those meals.

    My one success was when I made up some chicken in the slow cooker, seasoned and everything and froze the leftovers. My husband would pull it out to throw on quesadillas, burritos… whatever he wanted. It lasted quite a while and ended up being really cheap.

    My MIL makes up a few diff. soups in the slow cooker and freezes them in individual portions so they can have whichever soup they want for a quick meal on busy nights… I’m excited for fall/winter so I can do the same. :)

    Oh and on the meal plan I did make I left a few nights outta the month empty for leftovers or “life” so I didn’t get so frusterated when life happened… although life happening b4 I’ve even started is really starting to bug.

    :) Excited to learn!
    Leslie

  11. I am a meal planner and my latest challenge has been planning meals to take with us to the football field during practice. We do not eat fast food so stopping along the way isn’t a viable option. And since my husband doesn’t get home until we have to leave for practice, I need ideas for things I can prepare and then take the the field to eat. I am sure there are lots of families in the same spot right now so any ideas you can pass on would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks!

    • I know this comment is a year old but I figured I would reply for people who read articles from the archives, and maybe the original poster will get it!!!

      My saving grace is my crockpot, Especially during football season (fall/winter). I have a traveling crockpot I bought from Walmart about three years ago for 20$. It was a lid that clips into place. You can make chilli, soup etc in it. Then bring it with you. Then invest $12-20 in an adapter that will allow you to plug your crockpot into your cigarette lighter. It’s also at Walmart in the electronic section (I believe it’s called an AC adapter). This will keep your food warm and at your finger tips. With a small investment and some paper bowls/plastic spoons life has become sooooo easy!!!!

      I don’t have kids who play football but I do this all the time tailgating and people always comment about how smart it is.

  12. I do a simple plan (usually each week), but my problem is that we’re in a rut. It seems as if we have spaghetti and burritos every week (not on the same day, of course. Ha!). While we like these foods (and my son could live on pasta, PBJs, and burritos), I’d like to have more variety while keeping things frugal and fast.

    • @Roberta, I feel very similarly. I plan weekly, but I’m tired of everything that I make. It’s hard coming up with new recipes that can fit into the regular rotation, so over a period of a couple of months, I might find one new recipe that we like eating occasionally… I would have to say, hands down, that my biggest challenge is having a meal plan I’m excited about!

  13. With a newly gluten-free hubby, and a kid in extra-curriculars plus a younger preschooler who is picky…meal planning this school year will be a bit more difficult. I love to meal plan each week, but this is going to throw some kinks into the works. :)

  14. I plan meals for a month at a time. We have standards on the menu. Sunday nights are homemade pizza, Tuesday’s are Mexican (family favorite), and Thursday’s are leftovers (church night no time to make big meal). We also eat out about once a week. I try to ask everyone what they would like to see on the menu and I fill in the gaps. We do 1/2 a cow so many meals are based on what we have. I also try to be mindful of things like roast on one day means we can have beef and noodles later in the month with the leftovers that I freeze. I still have to shop about every 10 days to get perishables. My trouble comes when I buy fresh produce, the plan changes due to life and then I have 2 heads of lettuce go bad. Ugggg.

  15. Being a mom with older kids, I have done many kinds of menu planning over the years and have even myself taught classes in the community on how to menu plan for the last 4 years- but recently have found myself moved past it. It’s a strange new endeavor in my life, that just happened with no real thought about it. Basically I have stopped planning menus and have stopped using recipes and it is a freedom I am really quite enjoying truth be told. When I go to the store now I usually just have a very short list of items that I must have, other than that I shop from whats on sale, what looks good and then take it home. (Funny, that this is how I started out as a new wife and mom-but no idea what to do).

    For me, I have started to love the daily challenge of creating whats for dinner based on what I have in the home and garden. This freedom has been like a weight lifted from my shoulders and its exhilarating! Please note that I am not newbie, I have been cooking and planning for many years, so this comes easy to me- for those who are new to feeding a family or have never quite honed your skills – learning to menu plan and basic cooking skills is key to saving money, having nutritious and balanced meals and keeping yourself sane!

    • @lisa, I find I am like you, Lisa…after years of doing menu planning and shopping, I’m now “winging” it more…but doing well with it because of all my past experience. It is freeing!!

  16. My hardest problem is what to make as a side dish. I find a main dish that I would like to try and then can’t think of what to serve with it. We get in a rut of; green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts.

  17. I am interested how your meal planning will evolve now that you and your husband are eating differently. This has been my challenge since my daughter, age 12, decided to eat vegetarian and the boys are wanting their meat.

  18. harriet dodson says:

    As I have posted before, I work outside the home at a surgery center. Therefore, I have to be at work at 6AM. The only way I can do this and come home at 3 and still have the energy to put a meal on the table for the 5 of us, is to cook on the weekends. Most people I know think this is horrible! But I know that with the extra 2 or 3 hours I spend doing this during the weekend, the more $ I save because we eat at home and the more time I have in the evenings when I am tired from being on my feet all day.

    I throw something in the crock pot on Saturday’s and Sunday’s that we do not eat until Monday and Tuesday (my busiest days at work). After it cooks all day, I put it in a glass Lock ‘n Lock to easily reheat later. (We usually grill on the weekends so the crock pot is free to use.) Also, I try to grill some extra meats to use in wraps for lunches during the week. (We eat between patient loads, so there is not a lot of time to eat “involved” food.)

    I only meal plan one week at a time. I use the meats I have on hand for the meals I plan this week. When I go to the store on Saturday mornings, I buy the meat that’s on sale and use it in my next menu plan. Since we are blessed to have an extra freezer, this works well for me. (We also are still eating on the three deer we put in the freezer last fall. This helps fill in the gaps.)

    I really look forward to hearing how others meal plan so that I might incorporate new ideas into my planning :) Love this idea!

  19. Rachael M. says:

    I love to menu plan, but, unfortunately, I have fallen short on the follow through the last few years, yes years. As my kids have gotten older they have also gotten busier. I have the best of intentions each week, but something always seems to come up and throw me for a loop.

    We recently moved and in I have promised myself to stay organized and make plans for each meal. I just asked my girls and hubby if on Fridays we have breakfast for dinner. I think one or two nights a week as a designated theme night will help take some of the work of menu planning. Also, since we are all home on Sundays, that is my designated day to try a new recipe for dinner and desert, the hard part is choosing which ones to make, but I hope to let everyone take a turn picking what they would like to try from a few different choices.

    One other thing that helps me is having a list of our favorite meals handy. I can quickly add one of those to the plan if nothing seems to be inspiring me.

    This is perfect timing for me, can’t wait to see what great ideas you come up with.

  20. Each week, I make a 7-day dinner menu and then make a shopping list accordingly. I then add to the list those items we usually eat for breakfasts, lunches and snacks since I don’t plan these meals out in advance. I would like hints on making all 3 meals and snacks part of my plan as I lately have been wondering last minute what to make during the day. I also feel like if they were planned, breakfast and lunch would be much healthier and more well-rounded. I also would love to have more pointers on shopping the ads. I have never been able to figure it out- the minute I open an ad, my brain shuts down. It’s overwhelming! I’d love any tricks in this area, as I’m sure I would save money if I utilized ads. I am considering Grocery University as well.

  21. Meal planning has saved my sanity. My husband and I work full-time. In addition to going into the office during the day, I have night meetings that I have to cover for my job as a newspaper reporter. We have a nine-year-old.
    I was trying to plan dinners a week ahead and it just wasn’t working. So I bit the bullet last December and began planning our dinners 30 days out. Planning a month in advance seemed insurmountable to me for some reason but my seven day method wasn’t working for us.
    The month ahead has made a huge difference in my peace of mind. It eliminated a lot of running around and the ever loving, what’s for dinner question. And the great thing is, because I’m cooking more than I was, we always seem to have leftovers around to eat or morph into “new meals.”
    My next goal is to get breakfasts and lunches planned a month ahead also.
    But, I will tune in to your series. I’m very new to meal planning and can use all the help I can get.

    • Kim in az says:

      @Jennifer Osborn,
      My current goal to tackle breakfasts and lunches is to make a 2 week plan that we can repeat twice in a month.it would cut the ingredients list in half,just doubling quantities plus you could make ahead and freeze some things when you make the first time to plan for the second half of the month (ie make enough breakfast burritos or ground beef burritos for two weeks later and freeze or make up biscuit and pancake mixes). Just a thought I wanted to share as it is something I really feel will work but need time tonopah and execute.

  22. Marleena A says:

    Never done it and right now I have no idea what I even have in my freezers or fridge.
    When I was a kid we had the same seven dinners every week, breakfast was whatever mom felt like making and lunch was whatever the school was serving, summers were sandwiches made with whatever meat was leftover from the night before.

  23. That’s great you’re doing a series on this. I think it will be really helpful. I do a weekly plan and it works out pretty well. I’d like to see how others do it and am definitely open to tips and new ideas! Thanks :)

  24. Okay, here’s my sticking point on trying to do a successful meal plan… I am not a confident cook enough to work without a recipe, so that means that I’ll get a small container of sour cream for one recipe, and then the rest goes to waste. Or, if I decide that I need to do lots of “sour cream” recipes to use it up, I end up having to buy other ingredients in sizes larger than I need (parsley? I only need a tablespoon, but they only come in big bunches). I feel like I can’t use up everything, and if I try, then the recipes all seem kind of the same that week (all sour cream based with parsley). I’ve tried those “a week of recipes” plans, but I end up with the same problem with wasted food. Help?

    • @Andrea, when you’re meal planning, look at the meals recipe… then think to yourself “Ok, I’m going to have xx.. left over.” Roll it into the meal the next night. Did you make a roast chicken and potatoes with salad for dinner ? Have chicken and lettuce wraps for lunch the next day. Plan the fact that you’re going to have things left over. As far as spices go, girl, stick to dried! So much more economical.

  25. What I try to do, is have everyone sit down and tell me what they would like to eat… that way everyone should be happy at least ONCE that week… the problems are, A) Everyone (including me) HATES doing this! (But we LOVE it when it is done!!!) And B) our goofy schedules right now. (M-TH the kids have once practice or another) Our goal is also to eat together as much as possible, but on days like this what can we do? Besides everyone fend for themselves… and eat a bunch of garbage. HELP!
    THANKS!

  26. I have been planning meals for years, but my biggest challenge is planning meals for evenings during the school year when my boys have activities. I have a few quick and easy recipes/ideas, but we quickly get tired of them. Would love to hear what others are doing for quick ‘heat and eat’ meals. Love this idea!

  27. I have been menu planning for a while now by just picking out recipes from my folders and cookbooks and plugging them into the days of the week. At this point, I need help in trying to make more streamlined menus – Instead of 7 days of dinner recipes that are completely unrelated, I’m trying to make more things that overlap (i.e. using leftover chicken from Sunday to make chicken salad for lunch or chicken noodle soup for dinner another night).

  28. I struggle with the changing seasons. It seems like just when I get a good rhythm going, the temperature or the available produce changes. We don’t have central a/c here in New England, so I really like to make cold stuff on the hot days. Also, I need to organize my favorite recipes so that when the season changes, for example, I can quickly locate that wonderful beet soup I made last spring… or the best way to cut up and use a whole turkey when it’s on sale.

  29. I have been planning weekly lately, usually making my plan Friday, and shopping sometime on the weekend. We get a produce box on Tuesdays, but the contents are emailed to me on Thursday afternoons so I can plan meals around it. This month I also bought an assortment of meat from a local butcher at the beginning of the month. That has helped tremendously, as I can look at what meat we have in the freezer and what produce is coming and use those as my jumping off point.

    For actually selecting the meals, Pinterest is a life-saver, as I am very visual and I will just go through my “to try” board and see what looks good and uses ingredients we already have. I also have a few themes that we repeat weekly. Monday is generally meatless, Thursday is something in the crockpot, Friday is pizza (usually homemade but we sometimes order out). We also tend to have breakfast at least twice a month, and Saturdays are often reserved for a more time-intensive meal (if we’ll be home).

  30. Count me in as a mother who is managing multiple food allergies and busy kids. I have tried several different ways of doing my meal plans, but nothing sticks. I do manage to go through stages of making things ahead and freezing it, but I’m not a marathon day of cooking person. I also am learning how to shop produce with the seasons, something that I’ve never done really done before. This is because I am choosing to try to eat local as much as possible.

  31. I can’t wait to read your words of wisdom. Great idea!

  32. This is a wonderful idea. We can have all the recipes in the world, cookbooks, websites, print-outs , but can you please shed light on how to organize this aspect?

  33. Okay a good friend sent me over here….I am really really trying to get stuff set up to have stuff planned out. In the past I have just made sure to have the stuff together to make meals (several to choose from) not a set menu…BUT I really really need to get on track! I’m all for home cooked meals (when I get time)! I have 3 kids and I work a full time job, so when I come home at nights sometimes easy is better!! I’ve thought abt cooking up meals on the weekends to freeze up, so all we have to do is throw it in the oven! I am also sending my kids school lunches this year, So i have been trying to coming up with ideas for supper that can be packed the next day for lunches that are tasty withOUT being warmed up! Looking forward to you ideas!

  34. Wow! what a timely post! I have loved all the comments because there’s something of me in almost all of them. I was directed here from another blog – who knows which one?? – a month or so ago and have enjoyed each post. I’m really looking forward to the series on meal planning. I tried it several years ago and actually seemed to spend WAY more money, so I stopped. Then I just continued with my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of meals. I’ve recently gone wheat/gluten-free to support my daughter who has sensitivity issues. She plays in the hs band and with football season starting next week, I need ideas on what I can pack for her to eat during the break (at the game) instead of eating pizza or nachos with that icky cheese poured over them. I’m also desperately in need of side dish ideas. I’m like another commenter and tend to serve the same thing ad nauseum. The ONLY reason I’m looking forward to cold weather is that I love soups and thankfully so does my family.
    I’m rambling…. looking forward to the series :) thank you for putting all the effort into it!

    • @Carolyn, My dd is also gluten-free, as well as few other things, so I have been packing lunches and snacks for years for her. Maybe we can help each other. What does your daughter like or want to take? I may have some ideas for you.

      • @Cheri A.,
        Hi Cheri :) Oh, what a question…what does my dd like or want to take? Her tastes are limited as were mine when I was a teenager! She said she’s willing to take turkey and cheese roll-ups since bread is out (we haven’t tried br rice bread yet), carrots, fruit…We found gf pretzels that are really good. Stumbled on Schar brand snack crackers the other day that are really good. Since you’ve been doing this for years I’m not sure I can be of any help to you, but I will take any suggestions or help you are willing to give! You can just email me at cdstutz@yahoo.com – would love to hear from you.Thank you :)

  35. We live 45 minutes from church (well, from almost anything but a grocery store), so bring meals to eat on the way home. We’re stuck in a rut, so ideas for more in-car meals would be great!

    • @Lindsay, I’d love some more ideas on in-car meals too! We live far enough from work/school that with evening activities we do not have enough time to get home and eat in between.

  36. I have wanted to meal plan for quite awhile and have even come up with menus (max was 2 weeks) and every single time it fails. My husband is in the military and follows a flight schedule which means we do not know what our next day looks like until 6PM the night before. So he may go in at 3 AM or noon or 8PM. Depending on when he goes in I try to throw together some form of family meal before he leaves. This always throws me off and it’s hard to get back on the meal plan band wagon! I find that my strategy has morphed into a buy staples and work off that. But that’s not really working because I start to venture in my grocery shopping (like the $8 goat cheese I was just curious about) and the bills have been a little too high. Would love to get some tips. In particular I’m curious how the month at a time works. Do you freeze for it? Do you shop all at once?

  37. HeatherDB says:

    I love meal planning. It helps me when I get groceries. My biggest issues are fussy eaters and using what I have. we live on a dairy farm so I literally have a freezer FULL of meat – red meat that is. I also have some whole chickens that I hate cooking but will use. Actually, I hate picking them apart more… blech!
    I also find that a lot of recipes in the magazines ect are WAY too fancy for our house. We are a meat and potatoes family. Simple and easy for me! I would like to know how to cook the basics a bit healthier and some yummy baking ideas.

  38. I need all the help I can get! I know the basics of meal planning, or so I thought, but I can’t seem to get it all together. I need help in planning meals that are healthy but very inexpensive, and since we get paid bi weekly, I need to plan for at least two weeks at a time. Maybe a step by step process would help

  39. I think it would be really great to get some ideas about ‘instant meals:’ when the day didn’t go quite according to plan, and what you were planning to make just didn’t happen. With a new baby at home, my (previously efficient) meal-planning process has been thrown out the window because I miss the time making the meals I had planned.

  40. ThatRedheadGal says:

    I desperately need help with menu planning! I just don’t know how to make my situation work…I eat a predominately whole foods vegan diet due to new egg and dairy allergies developing within the last year and I’m sensitive to additives. My husband is incredibly picky, he doesn’t like anything! He doesn’t eat fruit or veggies and it’s extremely hard to get him to try new foods, even variations of food he likes! He pretty much eats nothing but junky, fried, greasy food. Our 3 year old son eats much, much better, but he’s getting to where he doesn’t want to try anything and he is more frequently not eating what I cook.

    So essentially, many days I end up putting together three different “meals.” I’m a full-time student and preschooler mama. I don’t have time to be spending hours in the kitchen like that! We are also on a pretty tight budget. I feel like I’m drowning here! Any help or tips would be awesome! Thanks for all you do!

  41. Stephanie says:

    I am excited to learn more about meal planning. With school starting, this is a good time to get better organized. I would like to see information on planning, budgeting (limited budget, feeding three teen boys) and doubling/freezing meals for future dinners. Also snack planning (filling after school snacks). Thank you!

  42. My husband and I have two teen sons. Everyone has busy schedules between work and schools. Less than a month ago, my 52 yr old husband had a stroke. Even though we were already eating pretty healthy with plenty of vegetables and fruit, now we have to be on a low sodium and low fat diet (American Heart Association). I think my biggest problem with planning our meals is trying to think of something creative. My boys are tired of the regular rotation of meals and I struggle with finding recipes that are heart healthy that we don’t eat together as often as we could. I just need/want some simple, budget-friendly, heart healthy recipes that don’t take a lot of effort. I know it is asking a lot but I’ve never been able to plan my meals more than one week at a time and now with grown kids, they’ve become much more picky when they can just pick up fast food if they don’t like what my offering for the evening meal let alone breakfast and lunch. I look forward to following the lessons in the weeks to come! Thanks – Alicia

  43. I struggle with menus-taking the time to make one, and stick to it!! We homeschool and I find that lunch is the hardest meal of the day. Any suggestions?

  44. I need help with meals that can be cooked from frozen….sometimes I forget to pull something out the night before!

  45. I’ve gotten so many great ideas just from reading the comments!
    I’ve always been a menu planner (learned from my Mom, who would plan a month at a time), so I don’t have a problem with the basics. The problem I have is making a cohesive menu (ie: similar items to buy or maybe using leftovers for another meal at the end of the week). And I’m finding out that lunches are starting to be a problem; I’ve been relying on leftovers for a long time now, but lately it seems that either there aren’t any or enough leftovers or the meal has bombed and no one wants the leftovers. I need to start making lunch menu plans but it feels daunting to add more to my weekly planning!

  46. I’m new at meal planning, and I’m not in love with it. But I love saving money when I do it. Usually I just buy the things I know we’ll normally eat and try to make sure I use them up. I guess I do it backwards as I’ve mentioned on this blog before. My biggest struggle is time–I really have lost the will to cook lately. It’s not that anything’s wrong, but I just don’t feel like it. I’ve been working on losing weight, spending time exercising, and I think my own meals have become very simple and very small, and I’m not sitting around thinking about great food. When I do, then I want to eat more. So I hardly feel the need to cook dinner for myself, but my family wants to eat, obviously. It’s been a struggle because I’m making the same things over and over if they’re quick to make. I have had a few breakthroughs when I’ve found healthy and quick meals. One is the tortilla wrap sandwich. Anyway, I know menu planning is probably a good idea, and I’ve tried it, but I haven’t stuck with it well.

  47. I just need to know how to plan a cheat but healthy menu for my family. My family consists of my granddaughter (2 yr old) her mother that is expecting and myself. I am the sole provider for our family and money is so tight after paying bills that I barely have enough money to buy groceries and make it last for about 2 week until my next pay check.

    Thanks in advance for the advice and helpful hints.

  48. Question??
    First off I love what you have to offer here as it is EXACTLY what I need help with.
    Next. What do you do when you kids refuse a meal? As this is my stumbling block to getting started. I cringe at the time effort and money I spend on meals just to throw it all away.
    Do you …….
    Say too bad this is what’s for dinner? Go to bed hungry if you like?
    Make them “try” it and then make themselves whatever they like?
    Say ok and make an alternate meal for them?
    Thanks for your support
    Dina

    • I don’t make them alternate meals, but I also try not to make things I know they hate. In the old days (like last year), I would let them fill up on the other dishes, but since reading French Kids Eat Anything, I’ve enforced the 1-2 bites rule. Refusal is not an option. If it happens, then there’s no dessert and no extra food. But, I make sure there are lots of sides to compensate for the minimum 1-2 bites if they hate it.

  49. Anne Keats Smith says:

    I could not imagine life without meal planning now. It can be a lot of work to start but the whole week just goes so smoothly when it’s done!

  50. Rochelle says:

    I am teaching a class on meal planning and using your print-outs. I hope that’s okay. Will, of course, give you credit. In fact I plan to refer them to your blog. It is the best “how-to” that I have found on the web and trust me, I have been looking. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Are you using the worksheets? If so and it’s a free class, please make sure that they have goodcheapeats.com marked on each one. If you are charging for the class, however, please email me. jessica@lifeasmom.com

  51. Hi Jessica ~ you are amazing! Meal planning to me is like anticipating a root canal ?/;! I sort of plan the sides by having 2 options a day available, like 2 veggies or 1 veggy and a fruit. Beyond that I buy the meat that’s on sale at the grocery store every week and put it in the freezer? Everyday about 2:30 I get a horrible dreading feeling come over me I look at the schedule for where my kids need to be and realize I should have planned a meal? Ugh….. thanks Jessica I read you blog religiously!

  52. WOW !!!! THIS WOULD BE AWESOME !!! WE ALL NEED HELP OF SOME SORT !!! I AM ON BOARD…….dolores

  53. I am happy to find your Meal Planning 101. I need it! I would rather eat as closely to vegan as I can; my husband, on the other hand, doesn’t think he’s eaten unless he has MEAT. He is also one of those people who can just throw stuff together and it’s great. I AM NOT one of those people. But I want to be the one doing all the cooking and I get flustered when it come time to put a menu together. So, I look forward to learning the magical Menu Planning 101 way to plan decent meals. Thank you.

  54. Help I’m lost and trying to find the way back to eating, healthy at home like we used to do.

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