Weekly Meal and Menu Planning

This past weekend was the first weekend I’ve had nothing scheduled for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time in PA with my family (last week was our annual reunion), or spending the weekend in California with The Man, or visiting with my sister and her husband, but I also enjoy the weekends when I have time to myself to go grocery shopping, work on some new recipes, clean, and most importantly, make a menu for the upcoming week.

menu 1

I’ve had this awesome magnetic meal planner for at least three or four years, back when I started following Tosca Rena’s “Eat Clean” diet. (Please excuse my cluttered refrigerator. I collected magnets until I ran out of space. Literally.) Before that, “grocery shopping” meant running to the nearest store several nights a week (usually while I was starving) and leaving with a cart full of junk – bread, cheese, and wine made routine appearances in my weeknight dinners, as well as pasta dishes and microwaveable meals. Suffice to say, it was seriously unhealthy and seriously expensive. Finally, I got smart and realized I needed to change the way I was eating – I felt like junk from all the junk I was eating, I would workout sporadically and halfheartedly…I just wasn’t happy in general. So, I changed my entire lifestyle. I bought a magnetic meal planner. On Friday nights or Saturday mornings, I would sit down with my cookbooks and a list of the current contents of my fridge and freezer and create a weeklong meal plan that included breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner. I would work the items I already had into my menu and keep a grocery list of what I needed to buy, and also made sure that if for example, I was having a chicken dish on Monday that only used half of a head of broccoli, I would plan another meal on Wednesday or Thursday that also used broccoli.  And every Saturday morning (after breakfast, so I wouldn’t be hungry and therefore prone to impulse buys), I’d go to the grocery store, buy only what was on my list, and head home. Then, similar to my current routine, I would pack everything in my insulated lunch bag the night before, get all my stuff set up for the next day’s dinner, and be set. It was amazing how much money I was saving, the amount of food that wasn’t getting wasted, and I never had to worry about my meals because they were all planned out in advance. Brilliant!

I’ve been doing this same routine for the past several years, and the only thing that has changed is that now instead of following the “Eat Clean” diet, I now try to follow the paleo diet, which eliminated grains and legumes from my diet. This way of eating keeps me fuller longer and I no longer need to pencil in a morning or afternoon snack into my menu, although I do usually plan on one snack to bring to work each day, just in case.

So on this lovely Monday I decided to share with you my menu planning process and what I’ll be up to this week!

menu 2

As I mentioned, I start by checking out the contents of my fridge and freezer. As you can see, I’m pretty well stocked right now, because I broke my own rule and went shopping on Thursday night to get some stuff for some blog recipes and ended up buying more than I intended. So I wrote down what I had and sat down at my kitchen table with my menu planner and my list…

menu 3

… and used what I had to plan my menu for this upcoming week! Now, the only difference from my normal routine is that I purposely created meals that used what I already have because of the aforementioned impulse shopping trip. Otherwise I would have made a grocery list as I planned, making sure to incorporate my list ingredients into more than one meal to make sure everything got used up. I hate wasting food.

And after about 20 minutes of careful planning, this is what I ended up with:

menu 4

Now I don’t have to worry about coming home from work and wondering what to cook that night, because it’s already planned out. You’ll notice there are a few question marks or options (for example: fish tacos OR stir fry on Wednesday), which sometimes depends on what I have left by that late in the week or just gives me some flexibility. I also have a snack planned in for each day in case I need it.

Not only does this save me tons of time and money, but it gives me peace of mind to know what I’m packing for lunch the next day, or waking up knowing what I’m doing for dinner that night. Granted if I make plans or something comes up, I have to tweak the menu, but overall this works wonders for me.

Do you follow a weekly meal plan?

How do you plan your week of meals in advance?

6 thoughts on “Weekly Meal and Menu Planning

  1. As organized and how much I plan ahead as I am, this is one area I need work. Problems I encounter are 1)Letting my emotions rule me, i.e. even if I have dinner planned ahead, if I come home dead tired from work, I’d rather skip making dinner and eat a bowl of cereal instead. 2) Even when I go to the grocery store with a list (which is 90% of the time, I love lists!) I shop off my list if I see really good sales, especially on normally expensive items that I purchase, such as meat, or Lara bars. Still, making meal plans based on what I have at home and always going to the store with a list and sticking to it as much as possible would really help!

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