The 3×7 Meal Plan

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Planning a 3×7 Meal Plan means thinking ahead to all three meals for a week. It takes some work, but the time and cost savings are huge.

One of the things that I’m doing to make the Pantry Challenge a success is to be very thorough in my planning. Last weekend I made a 3×7 meal plan, mapping out 3 meals a day for 7 days.

I used to do this all the time, and somehow, I just fell away from it. While it forces me to be more on my toes, it also helps me stick to the plan better.

And it also motivates me to be a little more creative in my meal planning, too!

How to create a 3×7 Meal Plan:

1. Write it down.

I used the meal planning sheets in my ebook Organizing Life as MOM. You can use a simple spreadsheet on your computer or buy a copy of the book. You could also use Google Calendar or some other type of grid.

Just make sure to write it down and consult it frequently throughout the day and week.

2. Create meals based on what you already have.

Consult your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have and design menu ideas using those items. If you’ve got a CSA delivery, check that, too.

You can make lists for each of the three meals and draw from them throughout the week, or just drop them into the days you want to use them.

Remember that you can be flexible about when you actually serve the meals. If you’ve got a written record, you can very easily move meals to different days. Google Calendar will let you drag and drop.

Here’s what last week’s meal plan ended up looking like. Mostly. I made some undocumented changes near the end. But, you get the idea. (You can catch up on how we’re really eating during the Pantry Challenge over here.)

3. Look at the sales.

Consult sales flyers to help you fill in the gaps with more economical items. I had enough proteins to fill out this next week, so I won’t need to buy anything more. But, if I didn’t, I’d be basing other meals on what was on sale.

4. Make planned leftovers work for you.

Since you’re planning the entire week, you can plan for leftovers to work into other meals. For instance, if you’re having roast chicken one night, plan for a chicken pot pie a day or two later.

You’ll use up what you have — and save yourself some time and money.

5. Create a grocery list as you go.

Since you’re already thinking about recipes and menus, make use of your brain power to create a grocery list of the things you might not already have.

We’re eating down the pantry this month, so I don’t need much. But, I created a grocery list of little sale items that might make meals nicer.

6. Design a plan of attack.

Cooking three meals a day is no small feat. But it’s a great way to save money and use your resources. Help yourself bring this all to fruition by creating a meal prep to do list for the week.

I did this for the first week of the Pantry Challenge and it worked like a charm. So, I did it again this week:

While I was in meal planning mode, I wrote down the steps I’ll need to take to make this meal planning gig work this week. I have a list of steps for each day, what to pull from the freezer, what to prep, etc.

This chart will serve as a great daily reminder so that 5pm doesn’t roll around and I’ve got frozen meat and too much prep work on my hands to serve a homecooked meal in a timely manner.

Our 3×7 Meal Plan for the Week

Breakfast Bar
Baked Chicken, Veggies, and Fresh Fruit
Beans and Rice with Toppings

French Bakery (gift card meal)
Picnic lunch: Sandwiches, Veggies
Vegetable Quesadillas, Chili Burritos, Fruit Salad

Cinnamon-Zucchini Waffles, fruit, whipped cream
Field trip day: pack it or grab it out
Chicken in the Crockpot, Green Beans, Potatoes, Corn on the Cob

Muffins and Hot Cocoa
Chicken Pot Pie, Salad
Sandwich Bar

Pancakes, Ham, Fruit
Dress Like a Cow Day
Pizza Night

Breakfast Sandwiches
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers, Veggie Tray
Sausage and Squash Saute, Roast Potatoes

Meal planning is work. I grant you that. It’s not always super easy. It takes forethought and follow through. A trip through the drive-through is much easier, but at a long term cost.

A 3×7 meal plan can help you make ends meet, eat well, and enjoy life.

Do you plan for three meals each day?

This month we’re eating down the pantry. Check out our family’s goals for the “Pantry Challenge” and see what we’re really eating every day here.

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. Steph says:

    I really need to do better at this. I go in spurts. Sometimes when I’m making a meal list I get so frustrated and want to give up, but it’s so nice to just look at a piece of paper and know what we’re having for dinner.

  2. Julie says:

    I go back and forth on the 3 meal-a-day-plan. I always keep a selection of breakfast foods on hand, ready to go ( cereal, oatmeal, pancakes/waffles made ahead and frozen) as well as lunch fixings. I don’t normally like to assign them days because I like to be flexible and my OCD doesn’t like it if I have to keep moving things around on the schedule. ;). So I have a plan since I have enough on hand and know what we’re eating…maybe just not when. Now dinner, I make a plan for that and stick pretty close to it. I also make lists of what I need to do for the week and try to do a lot of meal prep on the weekends (like boil eggs, make breakfast items, cut up fruits and veggies, etc).

    I always enjoy reading your meal plan info…thanks for keeping it real when so many other food bloggers don’t. 🙂

    • Jessica says:

      @Julie, sometimes I make a list of choices; sometimes I just mark up the calendar with lots of arrows and cross-outs. LOL

  3. cherie says:

    I don’t do this in summer, our lives are more relaxed, but I do during the school year! I find if I don’t do it I serve the same breakfasts repeatedly, and I struggle terribly with packing lunches [always a struggle no matter what LOL]

    The nice thing about this is that I can write it up and mostly repeat the breakfast and lunch choices – or adapt those choices easily depending on what’s not working or what I haven’t had time to make!

    So the first time is more daunting than the rest kwim?

  4. jen says:

    I don’t usually but I did this week. I love having it all planned out.

  5. Sarah says:

    I have a 5 x 7 notebook that I use. I just do dinners for 7 days on a page. The beauty of it is that one notebook has lasted me almost 2 years! So when I need a little inspiration, I look at last years meals…My family would never know if I repeated a year! I should probably start with breakfast and lunch – since I have a kindergartner that needs to pack a lunch everyday and can no longer wing it. But it’s what works for me at this point.

    • Jessica says:

      @Sarah, how great to have such an organized record. I suppose I do, too. I can just read my blog. Hehe.

  6. I haven’t planned all 3 meals yet. That’s something I might work up to eventually but for now I’m just happy to have dinner & snacks planned.
    Here’s my plan this week:

  7. BeckyB says:

    I’ve been using the site Say Mmm to plan our suppers as planning all three meals often left me feeling too restricted. But, since I’m doing the pantry challenge, I am going to try doing all 3 meals plus 2 snacks/day. You can put all into Say Mmm as well as load up any recipes you’re using.

    Thanks for the inspiration and ideas!

    • Cheri A says:

      @BeckyB, I just wanted to thank you for mentioning the Say Mmm site. I checked it out yesterday, and I’m going to try it out, too.

  8. Cheri A says:

    I loosely plan breakfasts and lunches. My kids are teenagers and on different sports schedules and activities, so I let them decide what they want to have that day. Sometimes I’ll make some homemade mac and cheese or spaghetti for lunch, but mostly it’s cold sandwiches, salads, leftovers that they can pick from.

    I do plan our dinners, but I haven’t done a weekly prep list. I think that could definely be helpful. Thanks for the idea. 🙂

  9. Trina says:

    I struggle with getting meals planned out and it is showing in our family (budget and health)!!! This is goal for the next 3 weeks to get it figured out and work out the kinks out of it!

  10. Kristi says:

    It helps me so much to have 21 meals planned! Lunches especially tend to be my bugaboo. I have been using your Menus-Grocery-List printable for some time now. I love it!

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