Meal Planning Made Easy

A household with two teenagers and their wacky parents can be hectic especially when it comes to planning and preparing meals.  I’ve come up with a solution that has served us well.  It requires about 2 hours of up front thinking, but then meal planning only takes 10 minutes a week from then on.  Here’s how we do it.

The Preliminaries

  1. Create a list of 21 meals you and your family enjoy.  Include the protein, vegetable, grain, beverage, and dessert.  Pull out a favorite cookbook or a few food magazines to get ideas.  Write down the page number of the recipe on your list and put a sticky note on the page for easy retrieval.
  2. Once you’ve made your list of meals, look at each recipe and jot down the staples you need to have on hand. (non-perishables like pasta, tomato sauce, rice). 
  3. Check your shelves for staple items you need to purchase and put them on your shopping list.  Once you have all the staples, you can choose any meal off your list and only need to pick up the fresh items when you’re ready to prepare the meal.

Planning the next few days’ dinners:

  1. Go down your meal list and choose the meals you’ll want to prepare.
  2. Make a list of the fresh ingredients you’ll need to buy.
  3. Buy the fresh ingredients. 

Since you already established an inventory of non-perishables, you don’t have to worry about them at this time.  It’s a good idea to check your inventory on a regular basis like once or twice a month.

Sample Plan for five meals


  • List the meals and ingredients
  1. hamburgers on buns with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles; Salad with dressing; milk, wine, beer, decaf coffee, cookies
  2. roast chicken with lemon and rosemary,  olive oil,  onion, garlic, white wine, Italian herbs, Cous Cous, green beans, frozen yogurt,
  3. baked salmon, dijon mustard, capers, lemon, chicken broth, red potatoes, dill, asparagus, angel food cake with strawberries
  4. beef stew with red potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, crushed canned tomatoes, beef broth, red wine, hot pepper flakes, red peppers, paprika, oregano, cookies and frozen yogurt
  5. turkey chile- ground turkey, onions, garlic, canned chiles, canned jalapenos, taco seasoning mix, black beans, corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, guacamole-(avocadoes, garlic, lime, salsa, cayenne), sour cream, black olives; lemon sherbet for dessrt.
  • Create the Staples list: ketsup, mustard, mayo, pickles, bottled salad dressing, wine, beer, coffee, cookies, olive oil, Italian herbs, cous cous, dijon mustard, capers,canned tomatoes, beef broth,canned chiles, canned jalapenos, taco seasoning, oregano, black beans, corn tortillas, canned black olives.

At this point I am now ready to prepare any of the meals I listed (plus a number of others I didn’t list).  All that is required on any given day is to choose the meal I want to prepare and buy the fresh ingredients.  I usuallydo this for 4 or 5 days at one time, including leftovers.  You can further steamline things by purchasing some of your fresh ingredients on a regular schedule like hamburger buns (freeze what you don’t use), Hamburger patties, chicken, and other meats to freeze.  In this way you can add them to the staples list.  You’ll always have the makings of a full meal in  your house.

Bon Appetit!

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