Meal Planning: How do YOU do it?

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There are all kinds of strategies for meal planning. Some are better than others. What’s your method?

Meal Planning: How do YOU do it? | Good Cheap Eats

Twenty years ago as a newlywed, meal planning was something I did every Sunday night. I didn’t know about using it as a money-saving strategy. Remember? I’m the lady who spent as much to feed two people in 1994 as I did to feed eight in 2008.

Instead, it was like clothes shopping or Christmas-list making, I just thought up all the things that I wanted to eat that week and wrote it on a list.

Boy, was I foolish?! I bought duplicates; I overbought; I paid full price. I also threw away a lot of food due to poor planning.

It took a tangle with debt to mend my ways, for that I am thankful. I like to think that I’m a better steward of my resources — and of the earth — nowadays.

Meal Planning: How do YOU do it? | Good Cheap Eats

How I meal plan:

Meal planning takes different forms at my house.

Obviously, I’m a fickle beast because I don’t do it the same way each week. I’m always happy to try some new method of meal planning.

How do YOU Meal Plan? Good Cheap Eats

So, that’s where you come in. I’d love to hear how YOU do your weekly or monthly meal planning.


  • Do you pay a service?
  • Do you buy meal plans?
  • Do you write a methodical list?
  • Do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Tell us in the comments:

How do YOU meal plan?


Meal Planning  - How do YOU do it? | Good Cheap Eats

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Jenni says

    i suppose I do much like you, however it ends up. There are weeks I don’t even plan and we figure it out as the week goes, pantry challenge style. It all depends on my busyness and energy at the time. ????

    • I totally get that. I sat down yesterday to plan the week and my brain just wouldn’t cooperate.

  2. I start off by planning for a couple of recipes for my blog. After that I ask my husband for suggestions, then go through a list of recipes that I want to try from my cookbooks, highlighting them as I put them on my menu. Finally, I look through pins. I try to plan for at least 2 meals of leftovers.

  3. Amy P says

    I write out a list of meals for the next five days (things always change too quickly to plan seven). This means I don’t plan on a specific day of the week, just whenever I want to plan ahead a bit farther. Inevitably some things get switched around due to more leftovers than I expected, or my husband suddenly getting night duty at work, or what have you. I usually start by making a list of things that need to be used up, then work my meal plan from there. I usually incorporate at least one new recipe because I love trying new ones! And I struggle to eat up my freezer meals – it’s both wanting to save them for when I’m ‘really busy’ and also selfishly wanting to cook even when I’m too busy. My two young kids don’t like a lot of our freezer meals (they’re in the phase where they don’t like their foods combined into casseroles etc and prefer them all separate), so I do them on the nights my husband is home, yet those are the nights I have time to cook something more fun. I guess I have to focus on finding more freezer meals my kids enjoy instead of ones we do.

    • I understand littles not wanting casseroles. I do A LOT of freezer meals that are not casseroles. And I find that if I’ve got the main dishes in the freezer, I can spend more time on a fun side dish, dessert, or bread. You really can have it all. 😉

    • Sara says

      I do basically the same thing. I plan on, at least, one dinner and one breakfast (or lunch) out on the weekends. We don’t have any kids, so weekends out are very social times for us. My husband and I also eat out at lunch once a week. Other than that, we bring our lunches and eat breakfast and dinner at home. I try to plan a week in advance and our lack of fresh fruit and vegetables after that time make it a necessity!
      I would love to follow sales flyers but generally never have the interest to do so. That said, if I show up to the store and pork is on sale and chicken isn’t, we may have pork fajitas instead. I try to choose recipes that are pretty flexible with seasons and ingredients so I can make these types of substitutions. Finally, I stock up when I find good deals or buy in bulk so I only have really costly trips once a month or so.

  4. Stephanie M. says

    It all depends on what’s going on in my freezer. If it is overcrowded in there, I usually decide each night what we’re having the next day. Sides are never a problem because I always have fresh veggies and frozen ones too and I also always have rice, potatoes, and pasta and all kinds of things in my canned goods section. When my freezer starts getting low and it’s time to buy some things, I decide what I want for the week and buy accordingly. Then we eat all of those meals on whatever day I choose to make them. Sometimes I make a list of what we’re eating each day. Sometimes that works and other times, something comes up and I have to change things around but if I have a list, we do usually eat what I’ve written on there.

    • Sides are where I have the problem. I don’t buy much canned goods and I’ve been afraid to stock up on other stuff since the owners of our house are trying to plan a time to tent the house for termites. 🙁 I don’t want to have to bag up all that food.

  5. Tiffany R says

    I have a core set of about 25 recipes that we eat every month. I have them set up in iCal to repeat on the same date every month. Then beforeI go grocery shopping for the week coming, I take a look at the calendar and see what needs to be tweaked due to sales, schedule or preference. I also switch things around if we have more leftovers than I thought we would or I find a deal on something. Lately my kids have wanted to try a few new things so I have been trying some new recipes. If they are a hit, they get added to the repeat list. As for sides, we pretty much rotate through the same vegs (broccoli, green beans, spinach, sweet potatoes) and then add in carbs as needed (rice, pasta, white potatoes). I eat a salad with grilled chicken on it about 4 nights per week due to food intolerance issues so there is always that.

    • How great that your kids want to try new stuff! Did you do anything special to make that happen?

      • Tiffany R says

        No, I think that as they get older they just get more adventurous. My daughter had been a “white” food kid for almost all of her 13 yrs – only eating white potatoes, white bread, white rice, etc. And then one day she decided to venture out and try some new stuff. I think she saw her friends eating different stuff – never discount peer pressure. It has been a pleasant change.

  6. JenP says

    I keep my meal plan on my google calendar. Near the end of each week, I look at the next week’s schedule to figure out which nights we’ll be eating on the fly, which nights need a quick or crockpot meal and which nights I will actually have time to cook. Then, I think through what I have in the freezer or pantry that I want to use, what’s fresh at the farmer’s market or store, requests from the kids, etc. If I can make one thing that will make the rest of the week easier, I plan that out, too. Then, I plot out my week of meals and make my grocery list. I do my grocery shop on Friday, usually, and am all set for the week to come.

    • I have been wanting to make Google calendar work for me for meals. Somehow it doesn’t because my kids want to know what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ha!

  7. Crystal says

    I used to be so much better at meal planning, but sometimes I think it waxes and wanes with the seasons of our lives. I have Multiple Sclerosis, and whenever the seasons change, I don’t function very well. In this season, I am not very good at meal planning (or making!), so we are eating fairly simply, but staying out of the drive thru. Its much easier to eat this way in Spring, when vegetables are so much more plentiful- a simple salad for dinner, pasta with vegetables, tacos, etc. We eat well, and so far we aren’t wasting food, but its mostly unplanned. Some day I hope to get back to a plan and being more creative in the kitchen!

  8. Nancy B says

    I guess I’m fickle, like you. It depends on the week. Some weeks I am more organized than others. And, I must confess that now that the kids are moved out and it’s just the 2 of us most days, it’s much easier to fly by the seat of my pants. If the girls announce that they’re coming home, then I prepare a full spread! 😉

  9. Megan D says

    I sit down with my calendar & the sales flyers once a week. If we have an after school activity I plan a super simple dinner or something that can go in the crockpot. I also pick things that we have in the freezer or that are on sale that week. I put at least two CORN (clean out refrigerator night) on our meal plan so we have some flexibility if something comes up. If I end up needing another meal, I can find something in the freezer.

  10. Cherie says

    There are times I don’t – but mostly I do . . . at least for the weekdays.

    I usually go to the freezer and see what is inspiring for me – with an eye to things that are going to be for busy nights and those for easier nights. Then I plan using my calendar – there are days when I have some time at home to cook earlier in the day, times when I’ll have a little time to cook after coming home and before we need to move elsewhere, there are times when I’m frantic and will need a meal waiting for us in the crockpot or ready to be nuked [maybe meatloaf – with some carrot sticks and such thrown in]. That’s my story 🙂

  11. karen J says

    My goal every Sunday night is to slap up an index card on the refrigerator with meals for the week-Monday through Friday. It doesn’t always work, but does encourage me to at least take meat out of the freezer. On super stressful days I usually have a frozen pizza where I just need to add a salad or beans and rice, which we love.

  12. I started meal planning years ago in response to the growing pile of cookbooks that I never cooked from I would flick through the books after getting home from work, but never have the ingredients or the time to cook from them. It went from there. Now I sit down once a week with my recipe folders and cookbooks and plan out the menu. I consider the schedule for the coming week, and work out meals that can go in the slow cooker or be made in advance and just reheated. I shop according to my grocery list so our food wastage has gone waaaay down, but I also have a few store cupboard meals that will get me out if trouble if the day doesn’t work out as planned. I’m now hoping to expand this to freezer meals 🙂

  13. Mona says

    Every Sunday I plan out the week and add an extra quick meal incase we need a meal in a hurry. Our freezer is usually at least half full so I don’t have to think about running to the grocery store for meal planning, only for items on sale, which definitely helps save us a few dollars. I also try to prep as much as I can on Sunday so everything is ready to throw together quickly. We also have a day or two of CORN nights every week and Thursday are usually pizza night so no thinking needed. I love to try new recipes so its not like we are eating the same thing on a regular basis even though it may be the same ingredients involved. And I do like to make two of some things so one is for dinner and one is put in the freezer, for those nights that we have some thing going on or just need something quick!

  14. Diana says

    Meal planning is something I do almost without fail. If I don’t, I can’t make a grocery list. If I don’t make a list, I get overwhelmed at the store. Then I buy weird stuff that I don’t actually cook and we would eat out all week and feel awful. 🙂 (And honestly, meal planning is pretty much the only housekeeping chore that gets done every week. I am no super-person. 🙂 )

    But anyway, I list out the days on a pad of paper and write L and D next to each one for lunch and dinner. I plan out the dinners and usually end up writing “sandwiches” for most lunches unless I know one of the dinners will make good leftovers. As I write down the meals, I think what things I need to buy at the store for those and write them onto the grocery list. Then I treat it like a list of meals–usually I end up making stuff on the day as planned, but I don’t worry if I want to switch something around or eat pancakes instead. If something special is going on (get to church early, late night for hubby, etc.) I can make a note of that on the list too.

    Nothing special, but it works for me! I have to say, I was surprised as a newlywed at how hard menu planning was! I was still learning how to cook, and I was determined to do it. Yet, every week it seemed like I ended up one or two nights with nothing to make a meal out of and we’d go out to eat. I felt like such a failure–my mom never did that! Little by little I improved my cooking and planning skills, and now it’s second nature. There is hope for those of you who might feel like it’s too hard!

    • Leslie T says

      Diana, I loved your comment, “…my mom never did that!” It made me think about how my mom handled meal time. I think she did some meal planning in her head. I never saw anything written down, but dinner was almost always cooked at home. i do remember that my dad used to work late two nights a week and we’d get McDonalds or something simple at home those nights. I also remember that there wasn’t a lot of variety on the menu. I think she went to the grocery store a lot, too, since it was close, so she probably didn’t do a lot of planning in advance.

      I’ve really been enjoying this topic and keep coming back to it to see new posts.

      • Diana says

        Thanks for sharing! I know my mom wrote down her plan but I think she often lost the list before the week was up 😉 She must have had a good memory 🙂

        My husband is late two nights a week right now too, due to grad classes. But it’s funny that instead of doing simple meals I’m more inclined to cook something a little fancier those nights (we end up eating around 6:30 and my husband gets home around 7). I think I feel like I have to do SOMETHING to break up the monotony of the rest of the day, so cooking it is! Also, my 3 year old enjoys helping (or eating snippets), so it gives him something different to do.

        I’ve enjoyed all the comments too!

  15. Alison says

    My Dh gets paid twice a month, so I try to plan for at least 2 weeks worth of meals. I go through the sales flyer for the grocery store where I shop to get some ideas of what we can do. I consider my basic meal list, and look at the calendar to see if we have any special occasions coming up. I then list out our dinners, and breakfasts. Lunch is the one meal I just don’t do- kids make leftovers, pb&j, quesadillas, etc.. So I make sure to have those items on hand.
    My shopping list is pretty good at this point that if I just shop my basic list we can fly by the seat of our pants. Your site has been a Godsend to stretch our pantry & food budget even further!
    I will say that if I am being very frugal, I really, really need to menu plan to come in at our two week food budget (about $400-$450 for 9 people). My Dh travels so he has a separate food budget for himself for healthy snacks and water while he is gone.
    One thing I don’t do is go to multiple stores or use coupons. By the time I factor in gas & time I don’t save enough money to make it worth my while. I find that there are never cupons for the things I buy- flour, milk, eggs, butter, etc

  16. Vicki says

    I’ve been using a calendar-type document I created a few years ago; it sits in my Gmail Drive & I just update it as I go along each month; that way I don’t feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every month. Bonus, I get to be reminded of last year’s events – wow, it’s been a year already since the last time we had those friends over for BBQ! Stuff like that 🙂 I like to look at the whole month while planning, not just each week because then I know we won’t accidentally be having spaghetti – again!! And we do breakfast for dinner every Wednesday; I like the predictability & I know it’s a meal everyone at the table will eat! I usually pick my meals from a list of meals I know everyone generally likes & then a few from Pinterest that I’ve saved.

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