natural living : meal planning

i get really overwhelmed easily. i'm not sure what it is about me, but i have a million things swirling in my head at all times. to prevent from feeling overwhelmed, i have become a serial list maker. i have lists for everything. if it's not written on a list somewhere? i won't remember to do it. this has only gotten worse post-motherhood. if an event isn't written on my calender, i will not be there. i have to have my life and thoughts organized on paper or i'll get to feeling like i might implode. 

in light of this, every single week i write out a meal plan and grocery list. if i don't know what's for dinner ahead of time, i will start panicking by dinnertime. i'm not an improviser. i get stressed easily. and we all know about "the witching hour". that's no time to be unprepared. 

because i sit down on sunday evening to plan the week, all i have to do is look at the calendar and know what i'm making, and know that i'll have all the ingredients because i made a list and shopped for them monday morning. i actually don't mind cooking, and i think that has a lot to do with planning ahead and feeling prepared. i also find that if i don't have things planned out and prepared, i'm less likely to stick to any type of nutritious plan. i'll just grab what's easiest and most convenient. weeks like that, we eat a lot of processed junk and a lot of take out. 

so, like i mentioned, every sunday evening i sort of force my mind out of weekend-mode, and i start thinking about the week to come. i either use a cute meal-planning calendar or a regular old piece of paper. i'll note the days that my husband won't be home, or cross out days that we're eating somewhere else, and then i'll get started...

which pretty much means i just stare at the paper and hope an idea comes to mind that we didn't do last week. which rarely happens so i make the same five or six things a lot. 

my goal is to write up a list with a bunch of meals on it, so i can consult it when i sit down to plan the week. i haven't made one yet, but it's on my ever-growing to do list. [i have lots of good ideas. about 25% of them ever actually get done.]

so i plan out the week, and as you can see, my meals are very basic. one main item and one side. we're not too fussy over here. we do eat meat, like i mentioned yesterday, so there's some kind of meat each night, and some kind of veggie each night.

once i have the meals planned, i look through my pantry and fridge and write down everything i'll need and i estimate the price of each thing on my list [i just put little numbers next to the item and add it all up after]. that's because i get $90/week for groceries. and that's it. i can almost always make it work within that $90 budget.

once i've copied down all the ingredients i need for dinners, i'll add all the staples that i need to restock, the stuff i use for breakfast and lunch, and the stuff i generally always have on hand. [i'll go over my pantry/fridge staples tomorrow, don't you worry.]

once i have my list, i do whatever it takes to go grocery shopping monday morning. sometimes it doesn't happen, but 90% of the mondays, it does. and honestly? i enjoy it. so i like to get out there first thing monday morning. i do 99% of my shopping at trader joes. if you don't have one, i am truly sorry. i drive about 15 minutes to mine and it's worth every minute. i used to think it was some kind of silly specialty store that had some yummy frozen pre-made meals but that was it. until i started comparing prices with the regular grocery stores [Ralph's, Albertson's, Vons are the three main ones here] and realized everything was much cheaper, and there are only a few things they don't carry. so i was completely converted. two tips about navigating and finding things at Trader Joe's [in case you have one in your area and it's intimidating to you like it was at first to me]:
1) get used to the fact that their labels are different [and way cuter] than the usual brands at the usual grocery stores. it'll just take you a few visits to recognize the thing you're looking for. 
2) they don't carry 16 different brands of the same thing and they also have less shelf space. if you're looking for something in particular, look slowly at every single item on the shelf. if you scan too quickly you may miss what you're looking for.
occasionally i'll have to stop in Henry's [now Sprout's] for a few things they don't normally have at Trader Joe's. stuff like coconut flour, a better vitamin selection, organic kefir [sort of like a more potent, more liquidy yogurt] and other random things. and i'll occasionally grab some things at target or ralphs or Costco. but in general, i try to shop for everything at one place because it's just less overwhelming to get it all done in one trip, especially toting the kids along with me.

i make a plan. i make a list. i stick to my list and stick to my budget. and then i enjoy myself as the 5-7pm witching hour passes and the dinner practically cooks itself. ha! don't i wish? but seriously, i can't tell you how much meal-planning and shopping once a week has completely revolutionized this part of my job. now that i've been doing it for a few years, i'd never not do it this way.

oh, and i searched high and low for some cute menu planners, in case you need something to motivate you:
from anthropologie [this is darling in person. i was thisclose to buying one sunday]
from Ruche
from Etsy : The Calling Bird. [personally, i like to support small business]
from Etsy : Clip and Pin [a cute magnetic chalkboard]
from Etsy : Mavora Cards [quite a few to choose from, so i just linked to the whole shop]

free printables:
from Life in Yellow
from Money Saving Mom
from Real Simple [this one is cute]

please let me know if you have any questions, or any ideas that i'm missing out on!
i'd love input on how i can streamline this whole process even more.


  1. oh my goodness, this is such a great little series you're doing. i get overwhelmed easily too and then when i try to get organized, i get even more overwhelmed. womp womp. i love to see how others do meal planning/eating healthy. we can only really afford to do walmart and organic and whatnot is limited there. we also don't have a trader joe's so i've never experienced all its glory... sad day for me.

  2. I am the exact same way -- if I don't have a plan for the week, then life gets unnecessarily stressful and rushed! I use the "What to Eat" fridge magnets from Knock Knock, but there are so many cute ones out there! I especially love that Anthro one... maybe when it goes on sale. :)

  3. the anthro ones are way cheaper than when we saw them at the store, right?!? why does that happen??

  4. I've been meal planning each week because on the odd week that I don't, we end up scavenging for food and mostly eating out/ordering in. It is such a simple yet brilliant idea to price it out ahead of time - thank you!