Meal Planning

Being a working mom, I HAVE to meal plan. I literally stress about it during the day if I don't know what I'm cooking or what we're doing for dinner.

There are many mornings when I make my breakfast, pack my lunch, and put dinner in the crock pot before 7 AM!!!! But those days seem to go so much smoother because I have a plan. 

I stepped away from meal planning for a while. I made sure our cabinets were stocked and I just grabbed whatever I felt like eating and made that for dinner. Josh is great about helping in the kitchen, but I am a fairly picky eater. I need to feel "in control" with food because that's just how I am. I don't like food surprises... I guess it goes back to hating change. 

I meal planned a few years ago (when I was pregnant and right after I had Luke). But then I got into couponing. I couldn't figure out how to balance meal planning and couponing effectively. With meal plans I like to plan by the month. I prefer to grocery shop by the month. We get paid monthly. Months just work better for us. Coupons/store sales change weekly.  It was hard to keep up and I flew by the seat of my pants most months. I even found that with careful couponing, I would spend more money per month- I don't even know why? But shopping the sales EACH WEEK just didn't work for us. 

As I prepared to figure out a new method, I jotted a few things down. First I made a list of ALL the meals I make. Almost like a dinner bank. Then I categorized it by how I cooked it: grill, oven, crockpot. (that part really didn't help me- so I went back and categorized it by meat type- chicken, beef, seafood, vegetarian).

Then I made a list of all our "staples". I'm talking more than bread and milk. Our staples are EVERYTHING I want in our cabinets at ALL times. Amazingly after I got my list of staples together, I found out most things don't usually have coupons. So all this time I was trying to meal plan around coupons- no wonder it didn't work!! And these are things I am willing to buy at full price- because they are our "go to" foods.

Here's what I started with.... I know, not much to look at right??

I imagined it a beautiful shade of blue with boxes added for the days. I didn't take pictures while I went because I wasn't really sure if it would work. Most "fly by the seat of my pants" projects typically end up  turning out the best. I'll show the finished product, then break down how it works. 

I started with the calendar squares. This is vinyl cut from my amazing Silhouette cutting machine. The month, food types, and dates are all printed on magnetic paper (straight from my printer). 

I arranged the numbers on the calendar first. Then (since I had it all written down on paper) I added all the meals. I tried to include the "main meal", a side, and a veggie. Some meals I don't need a side (like chicken and rice-b/c the rice is cooked with the chicken), or Mexican night (because it's assumed that the lettuce and tomatoes are added to that). 

Each main meal is color coded. The source of that inspiration came from a post on iHeartOrganizing where she highlighted this post. What an inspiration both those ladies are!! 

VEGGIE main course meals are light blue, BEEF meals are red, CHICKEN meals are purple, SEAFOOD meals are orange, and sides are teal. Then I just started arranging them. I tried not to have too much chicken one week, or too much beef another. I mixed it up to get a good variety (but I wasn't super anal about it). 

I added the sides (which include the veggies too), the OUT days, C (which stands for crock pot meal). NEW (which are new recipes I want to try), and LO which are LeftOvers. 
Here it is closer: 

The best part? All the "extras" fit on the back- ready for next month:

I cannot tell you how much easier this has made my life. Even when I have to change meals (because it happens) It's super easy to switch the magnets around. 

I made this back in April to prepare for this month, and I have done my grocery shopping for the month (I buy all my meat out of town at Publix and Sams at the beginning of the month). I have so much meat frozen and our fridge is still pretty much stocked.

Like I mentioned earlier I do a huge monthly shopping trip, and then go about once a week (on average) for fresh veggies, milk, fruit, etc. I check the staples list before I go to make sure we have everything. Also if something from the staples list is on sale I stock up (NO MATTER WHAT!). For instance Ragu was on sale (BOGO) the week I went shopping. This is something I KNOW we'll use. So I bought 8 jars (even though I know we won't use 8 jars in a month) since I don't know when it'll go on sale again (I'm guessing between 6-8weeks). 

Our new menu board hangs out on our fridge- held on with an oncommand hook/ribbon. Sometime I just stand and stare at it :) And it's so great to know that regardless how I feel at the end of a 10 hour day, there IS something for dinner. No more groaning "there's nothing to eat"!

P.S. I posted an update to this here. The updated post goes into details about how this works over a month later- and the pros and cons. I'm still really loving this method of meal planning!


  1. hey caroline!
    love the meal planning tray idea :) super cute. i just stumbled upon your blog today so i will check back and see what other cool stuff you come up with.
    feel free to visit my blog too (it's just getting started) at

    1. Thanks!! I will check you out! I love reading blogs!

  2. I am in awe and I'm totally making one of these. I'm working on the list of staples right now. Is it me, or does this make grocery shopping 9876786578696787 times easier?

    Thanks for this blog!!! You have no idea how many awesome ideas you've given me.

    1. A kajillion times easier!!! I LOVE it! I no longer feel like "I forgot something" or "oh, I need to go back to the store!" Also since I whipped up the list pretty quick, I left some blanks b/c I knew I'd inevitably come across something I'd need to add. Hopefully in 2-3 months it'll be perfect!

      I am so glad it gives you ideas! I LOVE making things, and I LOVE writing about it!