How to Plan a Meal

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I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky, spontaneous kind of MOM. I have never been one to schedule naps or stick to rigid time frames. I like to go with the flow. However, as our family has grown, I’ve had to learn to embrace structure. The children do better. I do better if at least some things are planned or predictable.

As my husband says, “You can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime.” And as large as our crew has become, it’s become necessary to look ahead and plan.

One area that I see success is in meal planning. I don’t always make what I plan. But, I know from experience that actually having a plan helps me be focused and gets dinner on the table at a reasonable time.

You’ve probably read all the ladies magazines that tout the importance of planning your meals. Sometimes they even provide you with a plan to follow. But, if Lentil Salsa Soup and Fried Green Tomatoes aren’t your bag, their plan might not exactly suit you. You need to know how to plan.

You know the saying, “Give a girl a meal plan, she can cook for a night. But teach her to meal plan and she can cook for a lifetime.”

So, here’s my quick and dirty guide to planning a meal. Each week I sit down with a piece of paper and I ask myself a series of questions:

1. What do we have? I know after a quick glance in cupboard, frig and freezer, that I have mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, a couple frozen lasagnas, pasta sauce, spaghetti, and pork country strips. So, I know I can serve pizza, lasagna, and pasta without having to add anything to my grocery list. (3 dinners down, 4 to go.)

2. Is there a special event this week? We like to commemorate St Patrick’s Day with a simple Irish stew, soda bread, and Dubliner cheese. So that’s my 4th meal. I check the storehouses and see that I have stew meat, potatoes, carrots, and flour. So I just need to add the cheese to my list.

3. What’s on sale? Looking through the ads, I see that sauerkraut is on sale. That goes well with the pork. So, Sauerkraut and Pork go on my list. Five meals down.

4. What’s a no-brainer meal? Beans and Rice and Grilled Chicken with Rice Pilaf are both easy ones at our house. I check my cupboards again and see that we’re good to go, just need to get some salsa fixins’ and some lettuce to make a salad to go with the chicken.

5. What sounds good? I know that FishPapa is not crazy about the sauerkraut meal, but the kids and I are. So, I’ll bump that to lunchtime and throw in an easy crockpot dinner that I know everyone enjoys: Chicken Chili and Cornbread.

Easy peasy. Here’s my plan for the week:

The usual breakfasts

soup and toast
chinese chicken salad (cabbage is on sale for $.09/#)
tuna sandwiches and fruit
pasta salad and veggies
sauerkraut and pork and fruit salad
snacky lunch
salmon, rice, and steamed veggies

grilled chicken, rice pilaf, grilled veggies, and salad
beans and rice and chips
pasta with meatballs, salad, and broccoli
Irish stew, soda bread, and Irish Vanilla Sponge Cake
Chicken Chili and Cornbread

Got a trick to make meal planning successful? Share it in the comments.

For more meal-planning ideas, visit $5 Dinners this week for Menu Planning Monday.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. BusyMom says:

    I find that in menu planning that letting the family participate makes the meal plan more of a success. My husband is more willing to eat one of my favorites if one of his is included as well.

    Sometimes, I make a split meal – but never two separate meals – like this week, we will have #54 (a favorite from a local Mexican restaurant), which with Pablano Pepper and a Chipotle Pepper sauce is rather spicy, so I will pull out some chicken before adding the peppers and sauce and since I am cooking up rice and beans, those that don’t want the spice will have chicken tacos instead.

  2. Amanda from Faith, Food and Family says:

    Great post! I totally agree about even if you don’t completely stick to your plan it still helps to have a plan. Last week was my first official planned week and even though I didn’t stick to it 100%, I felt more organized and less stressed about meal times. I can’t recommend having that plan in place enough.
    God bless,

  3. Katie @ goodLife {eats} says:

    Those are some great tips! I usually try 1-2 brand new recipes each week, cook 1 meal using leftover random things that will otherwise end up going to waste. We eat leftovers on busy nights since we are a small family, most recipes make more than enough. I also look at the adds to get ideas for ingredients I want to cook with. I use to help me plan my grocery lists.

  4. LaVonne Long says:

    Thanks for the tips. I just started MPM and in my post I linked to this post. you gave such great tips. thank you.

  5. Kara says:

    Great tips! I’ve meal planned my dinners for years, but I’m in awe of those who meal-plan lunches, too. I need to start that, as lunch is all-too-often a scramble at the last minute with hungry girls peeping at my feet!

  6. Sherry says:

    Love to meal plan! I incorporate a beef/pork day, no meat day (fish or pasta), breakfast for dinner, chicken day, pizza night, kids cook one night, and dh grills on sunday after church. 😀

  7. FishMama says:

    Great ideas, ladies. And GLE, I gotta check out that cozi thing.

  8. Christina says:

    Thanks, that was really helpful. If you can believe it, I never have gotten this down and still fly by the seat of my pants. Now that laundry is under control, maybe this is the next area?!

  9. Meal Planning Mommy says:

    Mmmm, Beans a rice, one of our favorite protein meals! I used to plan my meal on paper, etc. but I have been using a meal planning website called plan to eat over the past month and have found it extremely helpful. It's nice because it creates the shopping list from the meal plan and it keeps all of our favorite recipes in one place which is a huge time saver.

  10. TheRoosterChick says:

    I'd be a total wreck if I didn't plan my meals. It's one less thing that I have to think about.

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