Meal Planning Series: Part 1 – The Planning

willowcrest lane meal planning

The following post is the first in a series of meal planning posts. Part 2: Freezer Cooking is here and Part 3: Wholefood Snacks is here.

Grocery shopping: there is no love lost between me and grocery shopping. Gone are the days before babies when I could go to the store and wander around the aisles, waiting to be inspired with a dinner idea by the beautiful fresh foods. Now my shopping trips are a little, uh, louder. More chaotic, filled with “outside voices” and straggling children begging for donuts.

That’s why meal planning is my saving grace. I carry out the meal planning for our family like it’s a special ops mission: with precision and skill to get me in and out and not headed back for another week.

Why Meal Plan:

Meal planning is one of the questions that I get asked about the most.Knowing my love of planning, it won’t be a surprise to you that I have meal planning binders all set up to help make the planning a breeze. I am a faithful meal planner for a few reasons:

  • To save money: Hello, this is a big one! Being a teacher, being a part-time teacher, being a part-time teacher and having three long maternity leaves, I can stretch a penny, let me tell you. Taking the time to meal plan every week ensures that we don’t waste food. Everything that I buy, I have a plan for, so at the end of the week, I’m not tossing out spoiled food. Meal planning also saves us money because I can plan for which meals make great leftovers or can be used as the base of the next night’s meal, which really helps stretch a dollar.
  • To save time: Taking 10-15 minutes each week to sit down and plan out our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners makes the rest of the week run smoother. I know that I will not need to run out to the store mid-week if we are running low on something, which saves me time and money.
  • To feed my family better: Eating whole, minimally processed foods is something that I strive to make happen for my family. Thinking about which snacks and meals to make for the week gives me time to think about what prep work I need to do to make sure that we are eating a mostly whole foods diet. This avoids the last minute scramble of throwing junk in lunchboxes. There is also no more wandering in from work or a sports practice and peering in the fridge, looking hopefully for something magically to appear for dinner and, finding nothing, piling in the car for dinner out.
  • IMG_3104

This is the menu planner that I faithfully use every week. When this gets lost, things get ugly around here. You can download it for free below!

These simple recipe binders hold all the bedraggled recipes that I rip out of magazines, off of containers (thank you, Quaker Oats chocolate chip cookies), newspapers, or print off myself. I hope one day, a long time in the future, my kids will want them to remind them of special meals and memories we have, like my sisters and I feel about my mom’s collection of recipes.

How to Meal Plan:

Every week, usually on Thursday or Friday, I set aside 10-15 minutes to meal plan. I make some tea, pull out my recipe binders, and my family calendar. I also like to pull up my good ‘ole Pinterest board with tons of ideas, and take out my weekly menu planner to get started.

These are my top favorite cookbooks that I use each week:

100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake – Lisa’s journey into eating whole, unprocessed foods changed the way I feed my family. Her cookbook is full of easy meals and snacks that are free of processed foods.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Dinnertime by Ree Drummond – there are some seriously good dinners that I have added to our rotation.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from my Frontier – I can’t pick just one of hers! I love them all for the delish factor and the feast for your eyes with her photos.

Ina Garten: Back to Basics I love Ina’s simple, rustic dishes. I’ve never had a bad meal when cooking with her recipes

Giada at Home by Giada De Laurentiis – Simple, flavorful, and quick! My kind of meals.

Ellie Krieger – The Food You Crave – Ellie focuses on healthy, whole food recipes. Her homemade sloppy Joe recipe is one of our favorites.

Melissa d’Arabian – 10 Dollar Dinners – need I say more? Perfect for quick, healthy, and inexpensive family meals.

First, I like to take a look at our calendar to see what nights we have activities or events so that I know what type of meal to plan for that evening. If I know that we have Cub Scouts or Tom or I have something going on in the evening, I plan easier meals like a crock pot meal, or I plan to have leftovers.

After marking those events on the meal planner, I think about dinner themes. Using a loose dinner theme helps me to not feel overwhelmed when looking at seven empty spaces on my meal planner. Although I have been known to toss out the dinner plan and cook whatever we feel like or even go out, this is what our week generally looks like:

  • Saturday: Saturday Special – Saturdays are the day that I try to make a new recipe, or I will make something special that the kids love since I have the extra time.
  • Sunday: Double Batch Sundays – On Sundays, I make a double batch of whatever we are having: meatballs and sauce, lasagna, a big pot of soup. We eat and then freeze the rest for a leftover night later on down the road, or I save the other half for Monday.
  • Monday: Leftover night – This could simply be the same meal that we had on Sunday again, or I will use the leftovers to make another meal. For example, if I make meatballs and sauce on Sunday, I will make meatball subs, meatball pizzas, stuffed peppers, or even chili with the leftovers.
  • Tuesday: Taco Tuesday – This is a favorite around here. To keep it fresh, we don’t just stick to tacos. We like to do burrito bowls, taco salads, fajitas, nachos, or quesadillas.
  • Wednesday: Pasta and fish – we like shrimp, haddock, and Costco has the best wild-caught Sock-eye salmon fillets that we love. They are frozen, so it takes just about 10 minutes to defrost and then they cook quickly. I usually make a pasta, quinoa, or rice side for the family with it.
  • Thursday: Breakfast for dinner – This is my favorite night because by Thursday night, I’m about thisclose to throwing my hands up in the air and letting everyone eat peanut butter by the spoonful for dinner….and sometimes I do! Other times we have egg sandwiches, pancakes or waffles, hash and eggs, or a veggie frittata with fruit.
  • Friday: Pizza Friday –  And we made it another week! Fridays we make homemade pizza, calzones, pizza bread or we go out as a special treat.
This is the monthly calendar of meals that I use to keep track of favorites and seasonal meals. This is really old – we don’t eat some of that stuff anymore, but I like to look back and see what I was cooking and we were eating.

Around the end of the month, I go back and write down any dinners that we tried that are good enough to make it onto the rotation again. I put these in a monthly calendar and keep it in my meal planning binder to make it especially easy to remind myself of any seasonal meals that we like to eat, like Greek chicken kabobs in the summer or pasta e fagioli in the winter.

Sitting down with this formula in mind and an arsenal of recipes, meal planning is quick and easy. How about you, friends? What method do you use? Can you share a tip to make meal planning even easier? I love hearing your ideas!

Please note that some of the links provided are affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission if you make a purchase through them. This does not cost you any extra.  I personally use everything that I recommend, and I very much appreciate your support of this blog!

Love Norah Pritchard from Willowcrest Lane


Pin it for later!


Interested in the latest news from Willowcrest Lane?

Join the Willowcrest Lane mailing list for  news and updates, sneak peeks, and behind the scenes views! 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

3 thoughts on “Meal Planning Series: Part 1 – The Planning

  1. Meal Planning Series: Part 2 – Freezer Cooking – Willowcrest Lane

    […] delicious foods! The first step to this process is to…plan! Check out my first meal planning post here to learn more about the meal planning that makes freezer cooking […]

  2. Meal Planning Series: Part 3 – Wholefood Snacks – Willowcrest Lane

    […] following post is the third in a series of meal planning posts.  You can find Part 1: The Planning here and Part 2: Freezer Cooking […]

  3. Three Healthy Habits for the New Year - Willowcrest Lane

    […] Meal Planning Series: Part 1 – The Planning […]

Comments are closed.