Meal Planning Made Easy

Today I'm gonna talk about something that has changed multiple aspects of our lives for the better: meal planning!

I know. Few things sound quite as boring or middle-aged-soccer-mom as meal planning. But hear me out. This annoying, seemingly tedious task has seriously improved everything:

1) It's allowed us to stay within (and even sometimes under!) our monthly grocery budget,

2) It's ensured that all of our meals and snacks are healthy and as minimally processed as possible,

and, perhaps most importantly,

3) It's saved us from having to endure the #1 most-despised daily argument-starter of all time:

"What do you want for dinner?"

Oh, first world problems. 

When you have a week's- or even a month's- worth of meals planned out, you don't have to worry about any of that junk. It's already taken care of. 

So, let's start with the basics. A meal plan is simply a list of your meals (and snacks, if you're really rockin' it) for the week/month. You can be as basic or as detailed as you want. For instance, we started out by listing our nightly dinners on this magnetic dry-erase board from the dollar section at Target:

But now, on the 21 Day Fix, I've kicked it up a notch. I've been using Excel to map out our breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even snacks (which I'd never done before; I think it's really been the key to weight loss success here). And yes, I even included our workouts into our advanced weekly plan (it's a good idea to have it on a calendar and, well, it's very satisfying to check it off!):

So that's the meal list. But the list is only part of it. You gotta have recipes to choose from to make that list. And when Thursday night rolls around and it's time to make Spicy Garlic Shrimp with Capers, you'd better make sure you have that recipe handy. 


A DIY recipe binder system!!!

Step #1: Get two cheapo binders, a packet of sheet protectors, and a set of index divider tabs (I got all of these things for less than $5 at Dollar General).

Step #2: This is the most time-consuming part. Print allllll the recipes (or gather recipes you already have printed or written out somewhere). Obviously, you'll need at least 31 or so different recipes to give you a month full of dinners.

Step #3: Put alllllll those recipes inside the sheet protectors. 

Step #4: Put these sheets in Binder #1. This binder will be your starting point at the beginning of the month.

Step #5: Label your index tabs/dividers for five weeks and place in Binder #2:

Step #6: Now you're ready to map our your actual meal plan for the month. Go to Binder #1. Pick out seven recipes for Week One. Transfer them to Binder #2 under the week one tab. Repeat for weeks two-five.

It's so easy. Just flip through your recipes, pick some out that will bring a little variety throughout the week, and stick them in the binder with tabs. Then you can make out a weekly list for the fridge like I did on my magnetic menu board.

When the month is over, put all of the recipes back into Binder #1 and start over again, replacing the recipes you didn't like with new ones to try.

It's been working wonderfully for us. Here are a few more miscellaneous tips we've used to make this system work:

1. Use your binder to make your grocery list.

As soon as we're finished putting recipes in their designated tabs, I flip through and write out a grocery list. That's how this method saves money. You only buy exactly what you need to make your recipes. 

Plus, when you're planning a month in advance, you can make one big list for the entire month and only have to go shopping once! (Well, except for things like fresh produce. But you can buy canned/dry goods way in advance, and meat can always be frozen.)

2. Plan for leftovers.

I don't know why some people hate leftovers. They're a huge time and money saver! Make sure you select a handful of recipes that make extra servings (if there are two in your household, pick a couple of recipes that serve 4). Then add "Leftover _____" to your menu board!

3. Try creating a weekly "template" to guide your recipe choices.

To keep from getting overwhelmed by recipe options, we've decided to set up a "template" for 7 days worth of dinners: 1 chicken recipe, 1 seafood recipe, 1 red meat recipe, 1 soup, 1 vegetarian, 1 leftover, 1 dinner out at a restaurant. It makes planning the individual weeks go super fast; you just flip through the binder until you find one of each of those. It just gives you a good place to start, ensures variety, and keeps you from wasting time overthinking your meal plan. 

Those are just a few ideas. I'm sure many of you could add to this list. Share your meal planning tips in the comments! 


Regine Karpel said...


mark lawrence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark lawrence said...

I love Spanish food and usually visit popular Spanish venues in NYC regularly. The best part is their secret menu items as they are really delicious. I think everyone should taste secret menu of their favorite restaurants or food chains.