Who doesn't like cooking every night? You know what? I don't either!
I mean, I like cooking. But it's not usually something I want to spend hours on.
Most of the time, I have other things I need to be doing, so I want dinner to come together as quickly as possible.
On busy weeknights, I start to get antsy and frustrated if something starts taking longer than 30 minutes.
And helping with homework.
And maybe even trying to watch an episode or two of The Office with my family before getting to bed at at a decent hour.
How to bring intention to your meal planning
One thing I've learned over the years is that a simple meal plan can save a lot of stress, frustration — and reliance on take-out — throughout the week.
This plan doesn't have to be etched in stone, and it doesn't need to be complicated.
However, it does need to be intentional. And it must be strategic.
Here's what I mean.
Ideally, I sit down to scratch out a plan (yes, I'm a paper planner girl) on Friday or Saturday. This gives me a day to adjust if needed, before I make a list and head to the grocery store.
Instead of starting out with a general question like “what should we eat?” I start out with intentions. For example, my goals for the week are usually something like this:
- Incorporate leafy greens every day.
- Get some nutrient-dense carbs: sweet potatoes, etc.
- Serve cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kale) most days.
- Keep the smoothie “bar” stocked with coconut water, seeds, nut butter, frozen kale, frozen fruit.
- Add beans to at least 1 meal per day.
After I'm clear on my intentions, I might flip through some cookbooks or hit up my notes for ideas and inspiration.
But I'm not ready to make my shopping list just yet…
What happened when I didn't have intention behind my meal planning
Having goals for the week is so powerful for me.
For years, I just went with my gut, but not in a good way. I'd ask myself, “what do I feel like eating?”
But my food “compass” wasn't working. I hadn't yet tuned into intuitive eating, and so my compass just kept asking for more of what I was already eating: lots of chicken and other animal proteins, and maybe some salad on the side.
I wasn't thinking about getting lots of fiber, or maximizing our antioxidant intake.
And I wasn't making a strong connection between my food choices and how they would make me feel.
I was thinking: oh, rotisserie chicken… butter… shredded cheese. I'll get that, because that's what I'm used to, and it's easy.
Needless to say, that lack of intention didn't get me very far with my wellness goals. No wonder I struggled with migraines and high blood sugar and infertility and excess weight.
Being strategic with your meal planning
So let's talk about the strategic part.
My meal planning session also includes actually looking at the calendar, and doing some thinking about:
- What do I already have in the produce bins, freezer, and pantry?
- Which nights will I be cooking from scratch?
- Which nights will I be making meals from leftovers or pre-cooked food?
- When will we be dining out?
- What will I be doing for lunches? (eating on my own or lunch meeting)
Let's take a closer look at #1 on this list.
I ignored this part for years. Seriously. I'd go to the store thinking I had a handle on things, but then I'd get home to discover that I didn't need to buy kale, because I already had some, or that there was no room in the freezer for my frozen fruit.
Or, I'd go shopping with the plan of making chili, believing that I had my favorite beans on hand. However, after getting home from the store, I'd figure out I was out. Frustrating!
So now I take a serious look at what I actually have on hand. I check to see what needs to be used, what I have a lot of, and what I actually need to buy. This includes scanning my potato and onion baskets to make make sure I have what I need, and that nothing is starting to sprout yet.
This approach saves me both time and money at the store, and it also reduces food waste. Once I have a feel for what I already have — and what I need — then I make a shopping list.
Meal plan: putting it all together
Ready to put it all together? Here's what my meal planning, shopping and prep looks like most weeks.
In case you're wondering, I try not to shop and prep on the same day. I split up those activities so they don't feel overwhelming on the weekend. I also do this because our son's sports schedule doesn't often allow for big gaps of free time on the weekend.
Okay, here's the at-a-glance plan:
✅ Make a meal plan on Friday or Saturday. Write it down! Be sure to check the fridge, freezer and pantry before deciding what to make in the week ahead.
✅ Make a list and shop on Saturday.
✅ Sunday: Rinse and chop some veggies and salad greens, and store in airtight containers. Make a stew with beans and veggies. Roast some chopped veggies. Make a salad dressing and/or sauce for the week's bowls, salads, and roasted veggies. Serve the stew for dinner.
✅Monday-Friday (breakfast): Make overnight oats and/or smoothies for breakfasts. I usually prep the overnight oats 2-3 jars at a time, and I make the smoothies fresh each morning. To simplify things, I make the same green smoothie 3-4 days, and mix things up with a berry smoothie on 1-2 mornings.
✅ Monday: Make bowls with beans, rice and the veggies I roasted over the weekend. Or make another stew. Serve with a big salad.
✅ Tuesday and Wednesday: Eat the leftovers, but rotate them so we don't eat the same thing 2 nights in a row. I also usually eat the leftovers (or use the roasted and chopped veggies for salads) for lunch. I don't care if I eat the same lunch 4 days in a row, because it's easy and tasty.
✅ Wednesday: I usually have to make a quick stop at the grocery store to get more greens and berries.
✅ Thursday: Make baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, with a fun sauce, chopped onion, etc. Serve a big salad on the side.
✅ Friday and Saturday dinners: no cooking! Eat out.
What about kids and picky eaters?
It's true — sometimes I'll make a simpler, separate meal for our son. Especially if I've made a spicy chili.
But I try to make his “extra” meal easy, too. Like warmed up beans and rice with avocado, and some berries for dessert. On those nights, he might also have a “tasting” portion of what we're having, and he always has some of the salad I make.
I used to make more complicated meals on the regular.
Something different, made from scratch every night.
But at some point I had to save my sanity.
And you know what? The meals are just as tasty, and my family is just as happy to sit down to dinner.
So what about you?
Aren't you up for simpler, faster meals on busy weeknights… planned with intention and strategy?
Please let me know if you have any questions on the way. I'd love to connect with you — I'm over here on Instagram.