money management

Meal planning: what works for you?

meal planningLately, I’ve been thinking it might be time for The Hubby and me to start meal planning. It would help our new quest to cut back on food waste and probably wouldn’t be all that hard since I tend to eat the same things out of habit anyway. 🙂

What I’m wondering is: Where the heck do I start? With only two of us, I know it won’t be nearly as complicated as it would for a whole family, but what’s the best way to go about it? Weekly planning? Monthly planning? Should we take into account recipes we can make with our new crock pot? I’d like to also save money by syncing our plan up with current grocery store sales, but what’s the easiest way to do this?

Once we get a system in place, I’m sure it will start to make things run a lot smoother, but it seems like it could also take a lot of extra work.

I know that normally I’m the one giving you guys the ideas (or at least giving you some ideas and then asking for yours as well), but this time, I’m totally at your assistance.

Do you recommend any meal planning sites/apps that would help someone just starting out? How much time does it take you on average, if you currently meal plan?





photo credit:  LizMarie_AK


  • We meal plan for a week at a time. It’s better for our budget and health than eating out (which is what invariably happens when we don’t have a plan), plus it cuts down on grocery trips. The most time consuming part is browsing recipes to decide what to make (maybe an hour each week). Then I list all of the ingredients in my phone notepad, grouped by grocery store section. That way I know I have two onions on the list, for example, and can delete items as I go through the store.

    We heart our crock pot! It makes our busy workweeks so much easier. We avoid crock pot recipes that require too many extra steps, like browning meat before putting it in. We prefer the set-up-and-go type recipes.

    I read about a blogger who plans for her whole month and only goes to the grocery store two or three times per month, but we are not there yet (if ever)! That does not have enough flexibility for our lifestyle and it relies heavily on frozen homemade meals and canned items toward the end. She is better at making use of all of her ingredients, though – rotisserie chicken one day becomes chicken enchiladas the next.

    Good luck with your meal planning! 🙂

    • Thanks, Marie! Great tips. I’m especially beginning to see how our crock pot can really go hand in hand with meal planning!

  • I meal plan, without fail. I use a free app called Cozi – and it syncs to your phone, and your husband’s phone too. So, when DH wants to make something specific, he puts the ingredients on our shopping list from his phone. I’m at the store, and can see the list (and it updates fast).

    It also has an online only meal function – you can grab recipes from their ideas, or create your own and slide them in to each calendar day.

    I use the online grocery flyers, pair it with any coupons, and make my list while thinking about a possible plan. ie, scan the ads, pair the coupons, inventory the pantry – and make a list from there, with corresponding meals.

    I meal plan for crock pot meals (I actually left a comment on your old post about your new crock pot – it’s cute, by the way). I make freezer packs ahead of time, defrost overnight and throw in the next morning. Great for chili and beef stew.

    • Ooo, I love the idea of an app that syncs to both our phones! We are constantly trying to remind each other to put things on the grocery list at home…if we could both update it wherever we are, that would be so much more convenient.

      Just commented on YOUR comment on the crock pot post…I think your freezer packs are brilliant!

  • There’s a website called Deals to Meals that will let you know about the sale items in your area and has recipes that include those sale items. I think there’s a free two week trial too. Otherwise it’s $4.95/month, which is less than you’ll save using it. I don’t think its in all parts of the country yet, bet certainly most of the west coast.

    • What a cool idea! I’ll have to see if we’ve got access to that site here yet…it sounds super-convenient.

  • weekly planning. Because then you only have to visit the grocery store once a week. Or well, we do twice a week. Once on mondays when I buy all the groceries for the week, and then again on friday, if we want something extra for the weekend like chips, beer, chocolate, sodas etc. We can`t buy it on mondays, because it`ll probably be gone by tuesday is over;P (Yes, I am a chocoholic!)

    anyways, I ususally don`t spend more than 15 min on sundays preparing a meal plan. What I do is search various recipe sites, and think about what I would like to eat! I try to have one fish dinner, two-three chicken dinners, one meatless, and then groundbeef/ground turkey dinner. It might take some time in the beginning, but what`s smart to do is to have one notepad where you write down every meal you have. This way you can easily get some ideas and see when you had this or that last. And you could also just copy a meal plan when it`s been a couple of weeks.

    • Yeah, I think ours will have to be weekly, too, simple because we eat so much fresh produce that shopping ahead further than that doesn’t really work. (Plus I like to see if any new coupons have come out that week, and I’d be afraid of buying something two weeks in advance if a coupon is going to come out for it next week.)

      I like your idea of thinking of meal planning in terms of different kinds of meals. Maybe if we assigned days (like Mondays are chicken meals, Tuesdays are veggie dishes, etc.) it would be really easy for us to plug recipes into those slots.

      You’ve got me thinking!

  • I always meal plan, and have been for about a year now. I started out with just planning dinners, but in an effort to save more and eat out less, I’ve started to plan for brunch/breakfast on weekends as well as lunches. I take one trip to the store every week, but just this week I experimented with going once every two weeks. I read a blog where the mother of two only shops once a month. Her reasoning is that it saves on the “extra” items you put in your cart because each time you go you generally pick up some things that aren’t on your list. We’ll see if I can make it a whole two weeks. So far we are only 5 days in and I have a whole list of stuff we are running out of. I guess it will test how creative I can be in the kitchen! There is no way we could go for more than 2 weeks though, my fridge, pantry, and freezer were stuffed!

    • That’s a good point. I didn’t realize it, but I’ve only been thinking about dinners, too. Guess I’d better start remembering I also eat breakfast and lunch! 🙂

  • Em – I’d say where to start, is just to start. Its just two of us too, and the easiest way to meal plan for me is weekly, on Sunday before I go grocery shopping. I plan a crockpot meal if I know we won’t have time to make dinner on a certain day. I also try to buy whats on sale… but haven’t gone so far as to try to match up all our meals with the sales that week. I am very flexible though… if I’m at the grocery store and the mushrooms are dirt cheap (haha) I’ll throw them in the veggie lasagna. And if there is a manager’s special on chicken that expires soon, I’ll make that tomorrow instead of the fish I was planning.
    I don’t use an app at all, we just keep the list and the plan on the fridge.

    • Dirt cheap, lol. 🙂

      You’re right…I’ve gotten some great ideas from people, now it’s time to just start and I’m sure our system will evolve over time as we figure out what works best for us.

  • I use an app called ziplist. I first started using it to keep track of my recipes so if I was at the store I could check a particular recipe to see if I needed anything but I found it has a ton of other useful features including a meal planner which can sync to your google calendar. It also will let you select the recipes you want and then add them to your grocery list, even suggesting which items it thinks you may already have and which you probably don’t, cutting down on duplicates of items. I then check the ads and make our list in evernote combining everything. I find it most useful for holiday meal planning where you may have a lot of things to make although combining ingredients can be a bit tedious (it adds them individually, by recipe so if you need 2 cups of flour for one recipe and 1 for another you have to combine them yourself).

    We go week to week, allowing ourselves two nights out and try to have a few quick convenience meals in the freezer in case we forget or get lazy with the planning.

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