How To Meal Plan – Part One: Pre-Work

If I had to pick one organizational tip to shout from the rooftops to anyone who wants to save time, stick to their health goals and cook AMAZING food it would be this: Plan Your Meals.

How To Menu Plan

I used to resist this idea thinking it seemed a bit restrictive — Why plan, I’ll probably end up wanting something more exciting than what’s on the menu! I don’t want to be boxed in! Nobody puts Baby in a Corner! — Well, you get the idea right? But inevitably I would come home from work too tired to be creative and would end up spending lots of time standing in front of the fridge sighing and ultimately slapping together one of the same old recipes (or if I was lucky, talking Garrett into going out to dinner!)

Having no control over creativity is one of the most common concerns I hear about meal planning, but after a few years of doing it successfully, I can honestly say I cook more exciting things (and more often!) because I take a little bit of time to do some planning once per week. This week I thought it would be fun to break down how I do it, and today we’re going start with the Pre-Work that ensures your Meal Planning becomes and efficient, well-oiled machine.


These are the 3 small habits that you can easily cultivate that will help inspire an awesome Meal Plan that you will want to eat.

1. Set Aside Time and Make A Routine Of It

I spend 30 minutes to an hour meal planning every Sunday morning and then I shop Sunday afternoon — the same routine each week. Sundays work for me, but maybe Tuesdays work for you. Cater it to your schedule but keep it consistent because carving out a bit of time makes it easier to stay in the habit. Sure I have to deviate when we have other stuff going on, but since it takes the same amount of time to Meal Plan as it does to watch an episode of Real Housewives, I know I can find the time.

It may seem super luxurious to have an hour to yourself to sit down and think about What’s For Dinner, but really when you factor in the time you spend standing around and wondering what to cook, moving things around in the fridge, figuring out if you have the right ingredients, asking your partner what they feel like eating — over 7 days — you are actually saving time here.

2. Read Your Grocery Circulars
How To Menu Plan

Ours come every Wednesday and usually I flip through them to see what catches my eye as soon as they arrive. It’s the lazy-man’s way of figuring out what is seasonal and bonus points if you can find a few good deals to score. I’m not an extreme couponer and we have lots of room for improvement on our grocery budget, but I find starting with the grocery circulars give me some inspiration for what types of protein/veggies/fruit will be in abundance for that particular week. Then I just marinate.

I start brainstorming potential menu items that might sound good. Peaches in abundance? Maybe it’s time to try that Peach BBQ Sauce I’ve been eyeing. Is chuck roast on sale? (Buy One Get One Free this week – HEY-O!), so maybe I can bust out one of my good chuck roast recipes. Let the circulars spark your creativity.

3. Continuously Curate A Recipe Arsenal
How To Meal Plan

There is nothing I love more than finding new recipes, whether it is on the internet, from a cookbook, from a magazine, or from friends. While I do use electronic bookmarks like Delicious and Pinterest, I also keep a recipe binder in my kitchen with printouts, cutouts, emails, and old school recipe cards. It’s my catch-all of cooking inspiration.

It’s just a 3 ring binder with dividers and a few plastic pencil pouches (for index cards and scraps of paper) and whenever I print out a recipe to make (or cut one out of a magazine) if we end up liking it, it goes in the binder. That way I always have a large database to pull from.

Do what works for you — read food blogs, call your grandma, talk to your coworker about what they had for dinner — whatever will get you excited about dinner!

Then of course, it’s time to sit down and get to planning…

Check out: How To Meal Plan Part Two: Getting Down to Business

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8 Responses to How To Meal Plan – Part One: Pre-Work

  1. Brittany says:

    Ohh! Great tips! Thanks!!

    • Holly says:

      I think the binder single-handedly keeps me meal planning. It’s not a pretty binder, but dang it, it’s USEFUL!

  2. Maureen says:

    A bit off topic, but I love your handwriting. You don’t see nice handwriting that much anymore-yours is really eyecatching. Oh, and of course the meal planning is a great idea, I finally bought a binder-now I just need to start hole punching and put my recipes in it. Baby steps!

    • Holly says:

      Thanks Maureen!

      Yeah, the hole punching is the worst part. I’m guilty of letting recipes stack up in the front/back folders and hole punching a million at once. Baby steps are good!

  3. Carla says:

    This is awesome, thanks! I plan meals for my family, but since I’m the only one who eats Primal, I just slap together whatevers easy & am getting very bored of eating the same things. I also have a lot of food allergies, so don’t have too much variety either, which makes things harder. Anyways, I love your blog! 🙂

    • Holly says:

      Thanks Carla!

      I find meal planning extra helpful when Garrett is eating things that I’m not (maybe a bit like your family.) Right now I’m skipping dairy so I plan a whole dairy free menu and then find places to add it back in here or there for him. Then I don’t feel like I’m cooking 2 separate menus, and he doesn’t even know the difference!

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