Meal Planning for Well-Ordered Days

by Jimmie Lanley on August 31, 2011

This post is part of the blog link-up Well Ordered Days: Honoring God in the Details.

Meal planning makes a huge difference in our lifestyle and helps my home to be well-ordered. It might seem like a small thing, but it impacts so many aspects of home life.

calzone slices and sauce

1. Meal Planning is Good for the Budget

Planning your meals means you buy what you need based on a list. Impulse buys are decreased because you are searching for the things on the list rather than browsing the aisle for inspiration.

When I plan well, I make fewer trips to the store. That saves gas and, again, prevents those impulse buys.

With a plan, I can factor in leftovers, slotting them for lunches or dinners later in the week. That means there is less waste — less money thrown away.

Without a plan, there is sometimes a temptation to eat out which we all know is a budget killer. Eating out deliberately because you want to and can afford to is a glorious thing. But eating out because there’s nothing to eat at home makes me feel really guilty.

beef roast ready to go into the oven

2. Meal Planning is Good for Time Management

The initial investment of meal planning pays off richly in the absence of dumbly staring into a pantry or freezer wondering what would be good to prepare. Planning your week’s meals truly saves time in the long run.

Because you have a plan, you also don’ t have to worry about “what’s for dinner?” You can devote yourself to your homeschooling or other creative tasks wholeheartedly without the threat of dinner hanging over your head. (Of course, you do have to actually cook the meals. The plan doesn’t do that part for you. I have been known to become engrossed in a project and forget to cook.)

chicken & asparagus

3.  Meal Planning is Good for Our Health

When you make a weekly menu, you can look at the overall picture of nutrition. Are we getting a variety of vegetables and fruits? Are our carbohydrates limited and spread out over the course of the week? Is there a run of junk food due to eating at church events or travel that I need to offset with a super-healthy dinner of salmon and spinach salad? (Fortunately, my family loves that meal.)

If the meals aren’t written down, it’s easy to assume you’re eating healthy. But with a written plan, you can clearly see the reality of your diet.

Meal Planning Tips

  • Do plan both main dish and side dishes (and desserts).
  • Do take your menu when you go grocery shopping or create your shopping list based on the menu.
  • Do write down when you will be eating out.
  • Do plan for leftovers (if you usually have them) in the week’s meals.
whole wheat blueberry muffins

I still shop the sales, stocking up on items when they are at their cheapest prices, especially meats. The beauty of a well stocked kitchen is that I  can begin my meal plans with what I already have. In fact, I normally jot down what frozen meats are in the freezer before I even begin my weekly meal plan. I try to make meals around those options before buying regular priced meats. Using what’s in the freezer also prevents forgotten foods being wasted due to freezer burn.

I use an attractive meal planning sheet just because it makes me happy. You can use boring paper if you like, but if a pretty grid motivates you, I think it’s worth the printer ink.

I make a very flexible plan. Although my meal planning page indicates the days of the week, I flip meals around if I’m not in the mood to cook or eat something.

I plan my meals with my regular calendar in front of me. If I know a certain day will be hectic, I plan for a dinner with less preparation time. But if I know I’ll be home all day, I go for the more elaborate meal. If there is advance preparation to be done (soaking beans, setting up the crockpot, allowing a dessert to set overnight) I indicate that on my meal plan so I don’t forget.

How many of my readers make regular meal plans? If you do, I’d like to know how strict or flexible they are.

Be sure to visit all of the Well Ordered Days blog posts and add your own if you’d like to join in the theme. Just click on the image below.


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen August 31, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Great tips Jimmie! I’m a pretty-flexible meal planner. I tend to make sure I plan for a certain number of main dishes and side-dishes and shop for those meals. Then I have a list of what meals we could eat and I go from there. :)

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Jodi August 31, 2011 at 11:17 pm

I am horrible at menu planning! BUT, I have found that if I am making something for dinner that you can freeze–ie, lasagna, rice casseroles, pasta casseroles, etc, I will make enough for two meals. One for dinner and one to freeze for that time that you have just had a day and want to go out, but don’t want to spend the money, but don’t have the energy to throw something together….It’s not that much more effort to make a second entree and then you have two meals and only have to clean all the dishes once! :0)

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Gidget @ Homeschooling Unscripted September 1, 2011 at 3:20 am

Great tips! You know the sad thing for me is that I actually don’t like to plan meals because of the lack of money – everything seems so expensive so i don’t want to spend money on it – but, then of course, you have to eat – so instead we end up at a drive thru and I feel GUILTY! I was proud of myself tonight though – stopped at the grocery for a few finishing items instead of going out – Yay!

Recent Post: Do Field Trips to McDonalds Count?

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Gidget September 1, 2011 at 3:23 am

oops – PS I’m a new subscriber! Since I also have a bit of loose Charlotte Mason style I figure we’ll get along great :-)

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Mary September 1, 2011 at 4:46 am

I am going to print out a meal planning sheet right now – I am using one I got at Michael’s (in the $1 section) and it’s ok, but could be better! I agree with you – it saves money and everyone is HAPPIER when meals are planned and healthy. I notice my husband is so much more relaxed!

Great post!

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Annette September 1, 2011 at 10:31 am

I find that taking the time to plan actually frees up time each day. Instead of me standing in front of the fridge or freezer each morning stressing over what I can pull together, I just check the menu and get the meat out to defrost. I used to plan for specific days. Now I make a list of seven dinners for the week and each day pick what will go with the schedule, weather, feelings (some days you just need comfort food). There are several pantry meals that I always have the ingredients on hand for, just in case (tuna noodle, taco soup, etc). I also plan my husbands lunches that I pack each day.

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CeAnne September 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

What seems to work best for us is writing down a list of all those things we make often (I actually typed them up according to type of ethnic food) and then the planner I use has a meal planner write with our lesson plans. I just go to my list and pick out something and add it to our menu plan while doing my lesson plans. We have about 30 things we usually eat and it keeps it simple without too many odd ingredients. Occasionally we add a new one or try a new recipe. It’s handy to have it all in one place!!

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Julie September 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I also make a menu and actually post it up on a dry erase board on the refrigerator. It actually helps everything to run smoothly. The girls can look and see what our choices are for the week. We usually pick what we want for the day or what I feel like making, though sometimes I like to use up something before it spoils, so we make that first. I can always stick to my budget, sometimes 20 dollars less, as I always make a list. I do get a few extras like snacks, fruit, and veggies. It has helped us immensely, and helps me keep my sanity!

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Jen September 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I’m a planner! I usually use a blank calendar, but I love some of those you linked and I’m going to give them a try!

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Melanie Grant September 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I absolutely agree, though I find if I put the list up the children get quite demanding especially when I move the menu around. And especially when its one of their favourite meals:)

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Melissa Telling September 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

This sounds exactly like what I do. In fact, I actually started to make a lens about it on Squidoo, but for some reason my computer doesn’t like that site right now and I can’t save anything I write over there. I plan my menus two weeks at a time then go shopping. However, I often end up needing to stretch the groceries for an extra week or two so I’ve learned to cook creatively using what is on hand. It’s amazing how many meals you can “find” in your pantry, freezer, etc. Maybe I ought to write a blog post on that. :-)

All the foods in your pictures look delicious, BTW.

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MarshaMarshaMarsha September 2, 2011 at 12:15 am

I have never been much of a meal planner. With David’s work schedule, I have to be very very flexible. So instead I keep a running list of dinner items that I can make… it’s all about the quick cooking! Here in Guam, he is home a lot more. With the limited selection at the grocery store, I am forced to plan my meals with what I find at the store that week… and I’m truly sad that I can’t really factor in sale prices. Since we aren’t a military family with base access, the most difficult part is finding fresh produce… it is either not available at all or mostly rotten.

That asparagus looks so good! Back in my TX days, I would buy it at 1.99 lb… here it is 7.99 lb… so no asparagus for us! boo hoo

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Ruth Rodriguez-Nelson September 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I love this idea! I’m printing a copy of the planner so that my son can share his meal plans…he always says to me “mom, whatever comes out of our fridge is good!” little does he know…I put it together…jejeje

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Charlotte Mason in the City September 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I’ve stumbled with my meal planning…ugh. I used to be much better about it, and my days were smoother because of it. Meal planning is actually next on my list of habits to improve. With the crazy-busy schedule we have in the fall, I NEED to plan and prepare or life will be far to hectic to be fun. Thank you for this encouragement.
And, like you, I’m motivated by a pretty page….so I will check out the links you provided. Happy eating!

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Alex September 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I am good at meal planning 3 seasons out of 4! In the summer I am not at all, which drives me crazy! Meal planning does make a huge difference, I have seen that again and again, on our health and on our wallets. It also gives me less stress as you mentioned, not worrying about “what’s for dinner”!

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Angie @ Many Little Blessings September 4, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I’ve been really struggling with menu planning lately, so I really needed to read this. Thanks for the great write up about menu planning!

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kelli-AdventurezinChildRearing September 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm

your meal planning is makin me hungry! great photos- and terrific article too-

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sagerats September 6, 2011 at 11:43 am

I do this too! Except I get my meal planner template from Family Fun.
http://familyfun.go.com/printables/meal-planner-703254/
I looked at a lot of templates before choosing this one. It’s the one that made ME happy!

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Anastasia September 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I generally plan one meal at a time. :) But I just wanted to write you a note and tell you how much I love your blog and all the wonderful homeschool ideas I am planning to implement!

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