Fall Meal Planning: Tools & Hacks




Summer was fun. We traveled, we ate at food trucks, we brought over all of our random scraps and melded them with another families random scraps and called it dinner. We grilled things with two ingredients and called it dinner. We got away with murder. It was good, but it’s time for things to get real again.

I love the rhythm of meal planning, the knowing, the doing, the never scrambling, but I know that it can be very overwhelming for some, and so I want to share some of the things that have worked for our family.

Our goals are to:

  1. Cook once, use it or eat it twice (or more)
  2. Eat healthy, diverse food
  3. Minimize processed ingredients
  4. Minimize waste

I think our goals are the same goals that most people have, but achieving these requires a little bit of work at the beginning of the week, a willingness to eat leftovers, and a general rule that everyone in your family eats the same thing. People ask me all the time about how I feed my kids, how I get them to eat what they eat, and my answer is very simple: I only make one meal. Period. Ever.

You can tell me “my kid will never do that” – but I will say to you, if you only ever make one meal, and there are no alternatives, your children will eat what you eat, and they will be omnivores within a matter of weeks. Will there be tears? Maybe. In the long run, you will save time and money, and you will raise tiny humans who eat more than fries and chicken nuggets.

This plan works for our family. I would love to hear what works for you family.

Saturday and Sunday: Lay out your week, visually, and see which nights you need meals. Factor in business trips, nights out, and if you’re cooking for another family this week.

Sunday: Slate your meals into your schedule, and make your shopping list and grocery shop (if you can) or plan to shop early Monday or pick up groceries. I am a huge fan of the pick-up spaces at the grocery store – they come and load my car. I am picky about produce, so usually don’t order it. We buy most of our meat in bulk at Costco and we rarely eat processed food, so grocery shopping is a little easier.

A typical schedule for us looks like this:

Sunday: Cook something more elaborate/homey-something I wouldn’t make on a weeknight, it’s a good night to try a new recipe

Monday: Cook twice. I make a soup in the InstantPot that I will eat for my lunches all week. Cook a meal for that night.

Tuesday: Cook a meal with leftovers.

Wednesday: Cook a meal

Thursday: My MIL coined the phrase “Ditto” night – it’s when you empty all of the leftovers from the fridge onto the counter and you let everyone choose what they want. This means that everything gets eaten before the weekend, minimizing waste and maximizing freshness.

Friday: Either pizza night at home – we use Cali’flour pizza crusts and keep jarred sauce and toppings on hand always, or we do a no-cook charcuterie and cheese board with a good bottle of wine.

Saturday: Eat out

If I’m following this plan, I need five recipes a week, one of which is almost always a soup. I keep a list on my phone of my family’s top 10 recipes – at least two of my recipes are almost always repeats that vary by season, and usually two recipes are new. This minimizes the amount of new recipes I’m trying per week and how much time it takes to find them. One of my favorite hacks is taking a cookbook to the playground (either from my collection or the library) – I take photos of the pages of things I want to make and upload them to a shared album on icloud so they are easy to find when I’m making my weekly plan.

Last, I use this pad and this one for my Saturday/Sunday week and meal planning. And really last, we use the Our Groceries app to make our grocery lists by store. The app syncs to my iWatch and to my husband’s phone, so even when we’re grocery shopping together we can both be crossing off items. It organizes our lists by store, and keeps us from overbuying.

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