A Meal Plan to End All Meal Plans

February 16, 2015 by Cat

meal plan

Almost as soon as I found out I got the job, I started thinking about how life was going to change. Each day I’ll have just over two hours of commuting time in addition to my hours at work. I’ve kept myself relatively busy writing from home and taking on little projects. I’m keeping an occasional weekend job, and I started volunteering locally a few months ago. When am I supposed to haul all of our stuff to the laundromat, clean house, meal plan, and grocery shop with the addition of a full time job? That’s the question, isn’t it? I know millions do it week in and week out, but I’m out of practice.

The way I allot my time is about to have a major shift, and I bet it won’t be easy at first. One of the ways I’ve prepared for my sudden drop in down time is by meal planning in advance. It takes me a solid hour to meal plan every week. Why does it take so long?

  • I’m conscious of balancing meat and vegetarian meals. I want different proteins, vegetables, and carbs each day for balanced nutrition.
  • Vegetables that don’t stay fresh as long and unfrozen meats fall into the meal plan earlier in the week.
  • I try to build the meal plan off the sale ad and coupons to save the most money.
  • I take our calendar into account; the busy nights need less involved meals or leftovers.
  • I attempt to minimize food waste by choosing meals to use all of a product (like a bag of celery when each recipe only uses 2-3 stalks). I also try to utilize anything we have in the fridge from the week before.
  • Multi-component meals take forethought in that we only have so much oven space. If I’m roasting a chicken I’ll plan vegetables and a grain to be made on the stovetop. Pan cooked fish will usually be accompanied by oven roasted vegetables.
  • I want some meals to make leftovers for another night or for lunches.

And sometimes I just feel uninspired. I’ve got cookbooks, a recipe box, and recipes are my absolutely favorite use of Pinterest. Occasionally I can sit down to make my meal plan and experience the equivalent of writer’s block. I can’t have that time suck once I start my job.

That’s why I sat down and went through that process ten times. I have ten weeks of balanced meal plans with corresponding grocery shopping lists locked and loaded. I think it’s going to work extremely well for me even if I have to do a little adjusting as I get into it. These ready made meal plans should save me time and energy every single week. Let me walk you through what I did in case you want to do the same.

  • Each week stands alone so I don’t have to follow them in order. Each week is lettered instead of numbered so they don’t have to correspond with a week of the month. This is definitely personal preference.
  • Each week has a different day where leftovers are planned. If I see we have a random social event on a Tuesday night this week, I’m going to scroll through and pick the week that has leftovers scheduled for Tuesday. No thought or careful planning required.
  • Most weeks have crockpot meals or large dishes on Sundays to give me lunches into the work week. I’ll purchase my lunch as little as possible.
  • Corresponding grocery lists don’t include things like olive oil and dried spices because I always have those. They also don’t include items outside the meal plan, which means each week I’ll add other basics like fruit, milk, bread, cereal, etc. My plan will be to copy the week’s grocery list into a new note and add or remove as necessary, but the bulk of my needs will already be there.
  • The side dish of some meals is left vague intentionally, like “sauteed veggie”. This is so I can pick a vegetable based on the season (asparagus in spring) or the sale ad.
  • There are special notes on some weeks that say things like “thaw chicken Tuesday”. Because the meal plans won’t be fresh in my mind, I can’t count on remembering bits like that.
  • Grocery lists are already written in the order that I walk through the store to optimize my time.
  • The ten weeks are written in a spreadsheet with the recipes hyperlinked for quick access- no searching required.

Here’s an example from my ten week meal plan:

Monday- Coconut Dal w/ Black Rice and Lemon Garlic Roasted Broccoli
Tuesday- Garlic Pork Chops w/ Barley and Frozen Veg
Wednesday- Pesto Quinoa w/ Chickpeas
Thursday- Leftover Pork Chops w/ Brown Butter Sage Cauliflower
Friday- Butternut Squash Linguine w/ Leftover Veg or Frozen Veg
Sunday- Sriracha Chicken w/ Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

Saturday is unplanned for a couple reasons. Saturdays will likely be my grocery shopping days. We’ll either eat leftovers from the week if we have them, I’ll plan something before heading to the grocery store, or we’ll have plans out with friends. Either way, one day won’t take long to plan.

Here is the corresponding grocery list:

cherry tomatoes
bell pepper
2 med carrots
2 pears
head cauliflower
cauliflower florets
2lb butternut, pumpkin, or kabocha squash
4 onions
pumpkin seeds
yellow split peas
black rice
coconut milk
12oz linguine
soy sauce
sesame oil
6 cups veg broth
1 lb chicken breasts
4 boneless pork chops (1 inch thick or more)
frozen peas
frozen corn
frozen veg for pork chops

So there you have it: a weekend sacrificed in order to save me time later. I think I’m really going to appreciate having this done in advance. As summer rolls around and my desire to turn on the oven wanes, I’ll likely go through the same process to add weeks that rely more on fresh vegetables.

I’m genuinely curious. What shortcuts do you take to save you time during your work week?


Photo courtesy of Life of Pix.

14 thoughts on “A Meal Plan to End All Meal Plans”

    1. I’m weird in that I don’t often cook the same thing twice. We could have loved a recipe, but I’m always finding new things on my favorite food blogs. I originally thought I’d do a meal plan for a month, but then I remembered that I’d get bored. I hope that 10 weeks will be long enough.

  1. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    As a stay at home mom, I can see why you’d want to get as much domestic stuff out of the way before going back to work. 10 weeks of meal plans is awesome!

    Our meal plans are usually me just writing on a calendar for the month (we shop once a week though). We use theme days so it’s easier for us to come up with ideas.

    I think the time you’re putting into these meal plans is worth it though. Everything sounds so yummy!

    1. I sure hope it’s going to work out like I think it will! I’m willing to consider anything to make the most of my time.

  2. Congrats on your new job!!! Oh, I have so many random time saving tips…I prepare lunches the night before. Sometimes I even go so far as to pour drinks in cups for the morning…or cut up fruit the night before for breakfast. I lay out mine and the kid’s clothes the night before, too. There are more I’m sure, I just can’t think of them right now!

    1. Thank you so much! Those are great! I will be packaging my lunches the night before. There was one day this week when I didn’t, and as expected, I ran out of time the next morning and ended up buying lunch. I think doing lunch the night before will be crucial.

  3. Finding time to do all the things that need to be done, balance a 50 hour work week and still have a life is an ongoing challenge for me. I think your meal plan will be a big help to you. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been able to make meal plans work for me…yet. I do try to plan my outfits for the entire week though. I have also had success in preparing as much as possible the night before so I don’t have to worry about it in the morning. I’m sure after a bit of adjustment you’ll get the hang of everything. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! I’m sure it will get easier once my body recovers from the shock of turning my schedule upside down. Every night this week I planned my clothes for the next day, but I think this week I’ll do more than one day at a time, or maybe even the whole week like you said. I completely agree with the night before method though. I am not a morning person, so I need that time to zone out, drink coffee, and slowly come to life.

  4. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Natalie, I love your meal plans. I actually copied it and will have it for my family. This may be the start of having meal plans. Thanks to you. Haha!

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