One of the most popular emails I receive is from busy mamas asking me how I meal plan. So, today, I thought I’d share how I do it…and then maybe you could share your tips and suggestions too? Sound like a plan?
Every Monday, I post this here on my blog…
But typically, when someone emails me, they want to know more than just what to make…they want to know when I meal plan, when I grocery shop, how I prep for my kids’ lunches and how often I stock up. So, today, I thought I’d share my methods.
And…don’t forget, I actually wrote a book on Meal Planning that you can buy HERE. #becausethatshowmuchilovetomealplan
First up, where do I get my dinner ideas for the week?
I keep two lists of possible ideas.
Instead of deciding what to make (and coming up with ideas), I keep a list of ideas on my phone and another list of ideas in a notebook on my desk. If I eat something out and it was delish and I want to recreate it at home, I’ll jot it down. If I think of a recipe in my head, I jot it down. If I remember something I made awhile back that I haven’t made recently, I jot it down. If I see something on Pinterest that sounds good, I jot it down. I just keep two big lists of of recipes that sound good (either original recipes that I could also blog or other recipes that my family would just enjoy). I write them down (or type them into the list on my phone) for two reasons: first, so I don’t forget them (because sometimes they’re seasonal things and I know that I don’t want to make it now (in April), but it sounds like something that would be really good in the fall or vice versa) and second, because when it’s time to write out my grocery list, I don’t want to also have to come up with ideas. This way, the ideas are already there and I can just look over my lists and select what sounds good for that week.
I do not like to have to come up with ideas on the spot when I’m meal planning, so I always pull out my trusty little lists and then it’s easy to decide what to make.
This is a notebook that I keep on my desk and inside, I have my running lists of meal ideas. This way, when I’m making out my grocery list, I can just open it, skim through and pick out what sounds good.
When do I actually sit down and write out my grocery list?
I started making my grocery lists on Fridays, but I don’t shop until Tuesdays. This gives me a few days to add things to my list if I forget them (because I ALWAYS forget something). On Friday afternoons, I pull out my calendar for the next week and check it against my grocery list and then start jotting down what we’ll have each night of next week (beginning on Tuesday night through the following Monday night). I keep a list of “favorite” items on a Word document in my computer and always print that off and write my grocery list right on there. The favorited items include weekly staples at our house like berries, apples, yogurt, paper towels, milk, eggs, etc. I print that list and then hand write at the bottom Tuesday through Monday and then fill in which days we’re not eating at home and then add what we’ll eat on the other nights. I refer to my lists if I’m looking for ideas.
And a picture of my planner just because that’s what I always pull out when writing my meal plan 🙂 . Both my notebook and my planner are from Erin Condren.
Walmart Grocery Pick up verses the actual grocery store.
Now, here’s the kicker…back in the fall, I started using Walmart’s Grocery Pickup as part of my shopping routine…
…and it has revolutionized my little world. You go online, you place your order (I “favorite” many things to make it really easy to find what I need), you select a pickup date and time and then you show up, call the number and they bring your groceries to your car and load them. This means…I do not have to get out and shop with my little kids. I can pull up and pull out all within five minutes. IT IS AMAZING. That being said, I personally, want to select my fresh ingredients (meat, dairy, veggies, fruit, bread), so I do not use Walmart for my complete shopping. Instead, I order only packaged items from Walmart and then swing by about twice a month to pick that stuff up (like cereal, detergent, paper towels, garbage bags, diapers, flour, baking soda, canned tomatoes, frozen veggies, yogurt, etc).
This was me waiting for my Walmart groceries just this past Saturday morning. I read my book in the car while I waited. #winning
I always jot down things that I will order from Walmart’s grocery pick up and then I try to bulk order that stuff so that I only need to run by about twice a month. Everything else, I get from my local market fresh. I do the main shopping on Tuesdays and then Andrew goes on Saturday mornings to grab a few things (because some things just don’t keep all week, so you have to swing by mid-week to grab something to use Saturday through Tuesday). We do not like to freeze and then thaw our meat, so it helps to go twice a week and get that stuff as fresh as possible.
Why do I shop on Tuesdays?
I get asked this question a lot, so here’s the answer: at our store, by Sunday night, everything is picked over from the weekend and then on Mondays, they’re restocking…so on Tuesday, everything is stocked, fresh and in place. Plus, I find that it’s just not that crowded on a Tuesday. I go either that morning or I go in-between picking up Ashby from preschool and getting the big kids at their school (there is a 45 minute window of time there).
How do I make my kids’ lunches?
Okay…this was one of the very best mom decisions I’ve ever made. Right before my kids’ Christmas break, I decided one Sunday to go ahead and make all of my kids’ school lunches for the week in advance instead of making them every afternoon for the following day and it CHANGED MY LIFE. For us, after school time is kind of nuts. Everyone wants a snack, they want to talk about their day, they want to do homework and then run off and play, some days, they have after school activities and then I need to get dinner started and it’s just fast and furious…and stopping to make lunches was just annoying. So…I started making them in advance and it’s been MAGICAL. I take about 30 to 40 minutes each Sunday afternoon and make all of their lunches for the week and then stock up our garage fridge with their lunches, their school snacks and their drinks for the week. This way, after day after school, they grab tomorrow’s lunch, snack and drink, we add it to their lunch boxes and within 2 minutes, everyone is set for the next day.
We started off with one Yumbox each but that was too complicated for us because I would have to wash and then dry it each day before filling it for the next day (making it hard to prepare lunches in advance for the entire week). So, we invested in one Yumbox per school day for each kid (so Kensington and Smith each have five and Ashby has two). Yes, it was a BIG investment but one that has been paying off! No more baggies, no more disposable containers…I just pull out all 12 boxes and fill them with their food for the week. This week, I had pasta, carrots, blueberries, yogurt, Trolls gummies, trail mix and tortilla chips in the boxes. I fill them, then stack them all up and put them in the garage fridge for the week.
Andrew was making his lunches for the week at the same time this last Sunday. He was grilling chicken in a pesto marinade and then roasting some frozen veggies. He packs them away and then takes it to work each day.
And at the end…12 lunches ready to be stored in the garage fridge for the week. As my bigger kids outgrow the size of the boxes, I’ll pass them on to Ashby and Madeley.
So, that’s a bit about how we meal plan around the Shull house. I hear this from women all the time…the hard part is not cooking, it’s coming up with the ideas and then making sure you have the ingredients on hand when you’re actually ready to cook. I hear that all the time and couldn’t agree more!
Don’t forget, you can check out all of my recipes HERE. I have so many simple and seasonal recipes for busy ladies 🙂 .
Share your meal planning tips below please!!