My Method to Meal Planning – and a Sample Menu and Grocery List

Let’s continue this conversation…about grocery shopping and meal planning! I loved your questions and comments! Just to set things straight I need to clarify that I really don’t love the entire process. Some weeks I just dont feel like planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. Some seasons of life are harder than others. But the way I see it is I’m going to either work on the front end when meals are planned in advance, or I’m going to work on the back end when I’m stressed and dragging my kids into 5 o’clock traffic to find food.

I do enjoy the creativity it takes to make a plan come together…. and the fantastic home cooked food.


My first and most important step is to pour a drink. Coffee, cup o’ tea, diet coke, big ice water. Why not make this event festive?

Then I attempt to get into the right mindset. Meal planning is quite a task. You have to have your thinking cap on. I give myself a pep talk every time. I tell myself just do it. Like Nike.

Then I begin. I make mental notes of all the food I have in my pantry and freezer. And with those items in mind I make a list of possible meals I could make with the ingredients and leftovers I already have in the house, especially fresh produce I need to use up.

{sample meal plan and grocery list}


Inevitably, someone doodles on my list.

Next, I get a shiny, new piece of notebook paper and I write down the the dates and days of the week (from Sunday to Sunday) in the top left hand corner. I immediately make a note of any evening plans we might have that week that involve dinner i.e. church, supper club, dinner out, work, Stephen out of town, me working, etc.

Next, I fill in evenings with meals I can make from leftover ingredients or stuff out of my freezer and pantry. Then I schedule the remaining days with “new” meals, the meals that I will have to go to the store for in order to prepare.

After I have listed all of our dinner plans, I write to the side any food or dish I have to prepare to take to a …. party, church function, tail gate, etc. Example: Thursday I took dinner to friends with a new baby. Sunday I was responsible for sending a dessert with Stephen for a church lunch (that I did not attend b/c of work). And Monday was Stephen Small’s turn to take a snack to his preschool class.

Once I have established all my dinners and food responsibilities, I make my grocery list at the bottom of the page. I go through each meal one by one and write down the needed ingredients. Then I add items for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and replacing kitchen staples. Many true meal planners plan every single breakfast, lunch, and snack. I just plan my dinners. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks are pretty basic around here. I shop at 2 different stores, so I make a Publix list and a Costco list.

That’s it.

I never execute the plan perfectly. And that’s okay! It is important to me to be flexible. But having a plan at least gets proper ingredients in my house and is better than the alternative (no plan). I still have lots of mishaps in my planning, but more often than not the plan pulls through!

Hope this inspires. Keep your questions coming.

P.S. I always write my plans and lists in pencil. So I can easily make changes 🙂

Grocery Shopping, Meal Planning – Working on a New Game Plan

I’m at a grocery crossroads. For many reasons. 1- My family has grown and my kids are eating more. 2- I’ve been trying to prepare healthier foods, lean meats and lots of produce, fewer sweets. I was doing this for while but then pregnancy. Boom. Nausea. Pass the Cheese Its. Which leads me to …. 3- I was so nauseated for the first three months of this pregnancy, and I completely got out of the habit of meal planning. It has thrown me all out of whack. 4- I joined Costco. And I love it. There are lots of great savings, but shopping at two places (Costco and Publix) is tricky and I have yet to master it.

All of these changes have me desperately needing a new game plan.

I used to meal plan/grocery shop for two weeks at a time. It worked well for a season of life with a newborn. And it was also great for winter foods – soups, stews, and casseroles that freeze so nicely. But I find the two week method challenging in the warmer months when we try to take advantage of fresh produce.

So I’m working toward getting back in a good grove. My game plan is still very much in progress. One pattern I have noticed is that I over buy and overestimate how much food we actually eat, in general and per meal. A little food can go a long way when carefully planned. So I’ve decided to scale back on the quantity of food and buy some higher quality items instead – good coffee, fancy dark chocolate, fish, better cheese, pricier produce we love and eat like mangos, avocados, raspberries, red and yellow bell peppers.

Sources that are greatly influential in this new chapter of my grocery and cooking life are….
Small Notebook (Great food budgeting advice)
Good Cheap Eats (Very detailed methods for grocery shopping, meal planning, cleaning out your pantry and freezer. Inspiring.)
100 Days of Real Food (Very informative about real food and avoiding processed food. Lots of good tips.)

Also, I just ordered Why French Kids Eat Everything. I hope to get my kids to eat the meals I laboriously prepare and stop begging me for snacks

My goal this week has been to put off going to the store and eat what we have. Sunday afternoon I sat down and wrote out a very detailed meal plan and shopping list. Then I thought Wait, we have so much food already. What am I doing? So the past three nights we have been eating from the freezer, pantry, and leftovers. And I know I could get two more meals out of stocked items. I’m amazed at how much food we have when I thought we were out. I did go to the store for some lunch stuff – turkey and cheese for sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, etc. But I probably bought a third less of the amount of food I was originally planning on buying. Less food wasted and money saved!

Yesterday my goal was to make some breakfast and snack foods from ingredients I had on hand. I made homemade granola and a double batch of chocolate chip banana bread muffins, which of course Stephen Small helped me make. He is a total stud in the kitchen. It was such a good feeling to use the 7 frozen overripe bananas I had in my freezer.

My long term goals are to—
1- Scale back on quantity and cure myself of my food hoarding syndrome
2- Buy more quality (the cost will hopefully be off-set by decreasing quantity)
3- Continue to slowly implement a healthier diet. Because I really love healthy food.
4- Eat through our deep freezer and defrost it by the end of the summer. I want to clean it before I start stocking up the freezer and preparing for the new baby (due in December – whoop, whoop!).
5- Aim for once a week grocery shopping. My motto is “Make a list, stick to the list, make plan, stick to the plan.”
6- Get better at staying within the budget and aim for a surplus ($$) at the end of the month to stock up on sale items and deals. My goal this month is to have a minimum of $100 remaining at the end of July to spend on meat at Costco.

So have I completely freaked some of you out?!

I am a tried and true grocery NERD. Can you tell? I could go on grocery retreats, host seminars, have meetings, etc. I have so much to learn.

What are your grocery/food goals?

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