Meal planning 101: How to prep a week's worth of food


Meal planning

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Whether you have a hectic job that keeps you at the office until late, or you’re wrangling kids from school to sports, two things always seem to slip through the cracks of our busy lives — eating healthfully and maintaining a budget.

Thanks to the drive-through and takeout, preparing balanced meals at home all too often gets put on the back burner. We’ve collected a few ideas to help you combat this problem — meal-planning guides, freeze-ahead dishes, prep days and printouts — that will help you stick to your goals and grocery budget.


Organize your meals

According to Steph at Modern Parent Messy Kids, meal planning is easier if you keep a few things in mind, such as your budget, schedule and culinary skills. She suggests keeping a recipe stash, such as magazine clippings or a Pinterest board. And don’t forget about breakfast, lunch and snacks — it’s not all about dinner, although planning that meal alone will make your evenings go smoother.

Kirsten at Sweet Tea & Saving Grace plans her meals for a month at a time. She posts her monthly menu on her refrigerator, with the recipe cards she needs for that week. She says she’ll keep an eye on grocery sales to see when she might need an item for the month, so she can buy what she needs when it’s on sale.


Use free printables

If you’re a list-maker, these handy printouts are for you. The blogger at A Thrifty Mrs. has weekly meal planners, cookbook markers and shopping lists. Danielle at Sew Much Crafting provides colorful monthly and weekly meal planners in different formats.


Keep a stocked pantry

Having what you need on-hand will make sticking to your meal plan much easier. While you’ll have to replace such items as fruit and vegetables, meats and dairy fairly regularly, some items can be stocked for future use. Heather at My Life Well Loved has a “clean eating” list for her pantry that includes:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Olive oil
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta and quinoa
  • Frozen fruit and veggies
  • Canned goods, such as black beans, chick peas, tomato sauce

Six Sisters' Stuff also suggests stocking items such as chicken and beef broth, canned tuna, bread crumbs and spices you use often — cumin, basil, sage, oregano, red pepper and, of course, salt and pepper.


Pick a day to food prep

People who are most successful at sticking to a meal plan and making their budget stretch far do a lot of work ahead of time. If, for example, you grocery shop on Sunday, take time when you get home to clean and chop vegetables and fruit. If you can take your lunch to work, use individual containers to bring chicken breast and salads that you can prepare all at once before the week begins. Sia Alexis at Diary of a Fit Mommy even makes delicious-looking clean-eating breakfast sandwiches. 

Snacks are just as important to keep on hand. Try Darling be Daring’s lunch and snack ideas, such as apple slices drizzled with nut butter and cucumber sliders.