the meal plan routine

January 12, 2016

Sooooo, I feel like I am due to write another post about how — for the second and likely final time — I quit eating paleo.  However, this is not that post.  Several of you asked about menu planning and go-to meals.

Readers from years back may remember that I like to cook.  In fact, I did a “cook-through” once, christened “Doin’ Time with Martha“, where I went through all of the recipes in Ms. Stewart’s cookbook Great Food Fast.  It was fun and I would do it again.
But not now. 
I don’t cook very much now.  I do miss it, actually, but there is not an easy or practical way to fit it in on weeknights right now, so I don’t.  I have started to cook more for dinner parties or Sunday potlucks — usually fitting this in during C’s nap.
However, I still place a high value on healthy food made from good ingredients.  And I am (incredibly) lucky to have a nanny (G) who is not only willing to cook, but adventurous enough to make most of the recipes in Practical Paleo and Well Fed when I was heavily into the paleosphere last year.  
Despite the fact that I am not the one actually whipping up our family meals, I still do all of the planning.  Every Monday morning (usually my workout rest day, because it’s sacred weekly planning time), I sit down and create a weekly list of meals & an accompanying grocery list.  G shops for us on Monday and does the cooking during the week, typically while C is napping.
This week (for example):
M  shrimp, green beans, plantains (kids fave)/sweet potatoes
T – taco soup (made with hominy & shredded chicken, topped with avocado) from Dinner: A Love Story cookbook.  Tortilla chips & salsa on the side.
W – leftovers
F – leftovers
Typical rules:
1. The kids eat what we eat.  No separate meals.  If Annabel really really doesn’t like or want the meal, she can have carrots & hummus.  (Generally Cameron will eat almost anything if hungry, but A will flat-out refuse in certain circumstances.  Usually she is pretty good about eating what is served, though.)
2.  Leftovers are usually 2x/week – Wednesday & Friday.  
3.  Monday is usually a simple meal of fish or seafood, veg, and sweet potatoes or plantains.  Because I looooooove this meal, feel like it’s healthy, and it’s one less thing I have to come up with.   Although Cameron may or may not be allergic to some fish (but not salmon or shrimp.  Thank goodness!).
4.  One night I am going to aim to make vegetarian (yeah I know, 360-swivel from paleo.  Thank you Cowspiracy.)  
On the weekends, I don’t meal plan.  We either eat leftovers or go out (sometimes date night) on Saturday, and Sunday is usually some kind of social occasion.  This used to mean takeout, but as C has gotten a bit older I’d like to do more cooking some weeks (although . . . takeout can be pretty great, too).
I get many of our recipes from magazines – Cooking Light, Real Simple, etc.  Or online, like the butternut mac ‘n’ cheese recipe from this week.  I have a few favorite cookbooks, but my collection is super small, particularly since I gave away several books in a fit of paleo pride last year (and also: Kon-Mari).  
Do you have a similar method?  Do you shop once per week, or more?  What is your favorite go-to meal, if you have one?  I feel like I can never have enough ideas in this realm . . .


  • Reply nicoleandmaggie March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    We meal plan before shopping on the weekend. We go through new cookbooks systematically when we’re not doing a CSA. Currently we’re going through Martin Yan Quick and Easy Chinese, though not every day since we do different cuisines throughout a week.

    Favorite go-to meal, spaghetti, of course. (Also though chili, egg dishes, grilled cheese, mac and cheese with tuna and peas, pizza.)

  • Reply Lindsey March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    We meal plan on weekends before our grocery trip and try our best to only go once/week. When our community garden is in full swing (May-Oct) we meal plan based on the produce available there. Our go to meals=slow cooker pork BBQ with vinegar-y coleslaw; chicken breast, salmon, and pork chops w/ roasted sweet potatoes and brussels; chicken fajitas; a pinto bean and cornbread casserole; and chili.

    My kids love fish, so your post (and our steelhead dinner last night) reminded me to get in the habit of a once per week fish dinner again.

  • Reply Sara B. March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Our baby girl is now 1 (!), and I’ve been thinking a LOT over the last few months about how to improve the quality of our dinners. We used to eat out most of the time; when we cooked at home, we mostly did tacos/fajitas or burgers. I’d like Claire to eat what we eat, so we have to eat better. We aren’t very adventurous eaters, either, and hubby doesn’t consider vegetarian food a meal most of the time. But we’ve made a TON of progress, especially since I’m ER and we don’t have the most regular evening routine as sometimes I am gone until after Claire’s bedtime or not home until 6 or 7, which is too late to start preparing a meal from scratch for a toddler.

    I plan every week out the Friday before. Usually there’s one casserole or crockpot meal (which my nanny can handle – sometimes I prep it and sometimes it’s so simple she’s comfortable with it). Usually there are leftovers from that, for another night. I try to put these meals on nights I’m either late or gone so that Hubby and baby girl are taken care of. I cook once or twice a week and have been choosing recipes from the week’s HelloFresh or BlueApron selections. Just to clarify – we don’t actually get either delivery service – 3 meals would be too much most weeks – but the recipes are available online for free and are relatively healthy and provide decent variety and new things to try. I usually do these meals on days I have more afternoon / early evening time at home. I do keep a list of things hubby will cook (if we are both home). If I don’t want to shop I can have the groceries delivered from our local store, but I rarely do. I can make more or less so there are leftovers. And we still eat out about once a week during the week and for much of the weekend (often including Pizza once). This has actually been really good for us and isn’t that much work beyond the actual cooking, and I find HelloFresh’s recipes to workably simple (and more palatable to the less-adventuresome Hubby.) I do wish I lived close to a Whole Foods for the hot bar – we would try a larger variety of veggies that way.

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve always wanted to do a cook-through, but definitely not in this season of life! maybe in 10 years my kids can help me with it! I’ve also never done a CSA and want to try it this spring/summer.
    we meal plan on friday night/saturday morning, shop on saturday, and cook/prep on sunday. we do usually have to pop back to the store mid-week for fresh fruits, and maybe milk/eggs.

  • Reply beth March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I’m a meal planner and a Sunday afternoon prepper.

    I bake and freeze breakfasts and each night I just pop something our of the freezer and it is ready in the morning. That way the kids and I can sit down and have a quick meal together in the morning. (My kids get up at 6AM and the bus comes at 7:10 so quick is key).

    My make 10 lunches (for me and my husband) on Sunday. It’s usually the same thing 10 times though, so a lot of boring repitiion. (Grilled chicken or fish, potatoes or rice and steamed veg).

    Our dinner tend toward the easy because after working, picking up 2 kids at 2 locations and getting home I don’t have much time or energy. And my husband isn’t home until the kdis are in bed during the week. Once a week I have eggs, once soup and sandwiches, homemade pizza on Friday and weekend leftovers the other days.

    Emergency "meal": hummus on tortillas with grapes and cucumbers on the side. (Have used this many, many times).

  • Reply Jenny March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Sigh…right now we don’t cook much at all. I do miss it. We make all weekend breakfasts and lunches at home, but dinners are almost all prepared for us from Let’s Dish and we just heat them up and add lots of extra veggies to bulk them up a bit. We stretch out those meals by interspersing simple stuff like tacos, hamburgers, spaghetti, grilled fish and veggies, etc. We shop maybe 1-2x a week at a little local grocery store <5 mins from our house for stuff like eggs, milk, bread, cheese, fruit, and yogurt.

    In the summer we cook way more, but what that really means is grilling. I have a huge stack of recipes I want to try and no sense of when we’ll ever get back to them.

  • Reply Erica March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I am impressed that the kids eat what you eat! I always said thatI would not be a short order cook and prepare separate kid meals. My parents never did! We had a very successful baby led weaning experience but unfortunately Griffin has become a little picky (although he eats a lot of different flavors, and things that a lot of kids don’t, he doesn’t like things that are mixed together like casseroles). So we usually serve him some deconstructed and less spicy version of our dinner. One of my 2016 resolutions is to have Griffin eat what we eat as long as it’s not spicy or completely inappropriate.

    I heard the author of Dinner: a love story on AMR podcast and checked out her blog – the recipes are fantastic ! Our favorite is some spaghetti with carmelized onions, spinach and parmesan.

    We hav become a little lazy lately and have a rotation of the same meals over and over: spaghetti or spagheti quash and meatballs, thai red or green curry with tofu, channa masala or dal mahkani, japanese pan noodles, fajitas, and burrito bowls. We have favorites that are easy but then we forget about them! I’m actually planning to make some kind of spreadsheet with all of the meals we cook (rather than trying to organize it on pinterest) for easier meal planning.

    All of Hello Fresh and Blue Apron recipes are online for free! We got both services for awhile last year and I still remake a lot of those recipes!!

    • Reply beth March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

      I don’t mind doing a deconstructed version of the same thing I am eating. I like to make burrito bowls where everything is mixed together. However my kids like their burrito bowl contents separate. So I plate the same stuff onto plates instead of mixing it all in a bowl. I don’t consider that short order cooking but if it is I definitely do it.

  • Reply Another_Sara March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I live alone (and my boyfriend and I are on such different schedules that we rarely eat together) so I can get away with minimal meal planning. However, this post as well as similar articles I’ve read recently have inspired me to think about how I can tweak my barely existent meal planning routine. I usually make a huge pot of some kind of veg soup/stew on Sunday and eat portions of it throughout the week. All other meals are cobbled together on the spot and are fairly boring/repetitive/snacky (hummus, salad, pita, veggie burgers, etc). There’s an article in the current Real Simple about meal planning and it has this crazy long list of things to cook and/or prep on Sundays, which supposedly takes three hours and would cover most of the week (presumably for several people). I’m thinking I could do something similar on a MUCH smaller scale so that I’m at least cobbling together some different options each week… in addition to my weekly soup. 🙂 I’m also going to check out some of the recipe web sites referenced in the above comments.

  • Reply Young March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I usually meal plan on Friday or Sat morning, shop at TJs on Sat and at our local health food store on Sunday. My husband is a good cook and has a more varied schedule than I do, so he’ll cook a couple times during the weeknights, also. Easy go-to meals for us are penne pasta mixed with broccoli, black olives, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, and feta cheese (adopted from my favorite children nutrition book, Feeding Baby Green by Dr. Greene), crockpot chicken mixed with a jar of salsa verde and spices (an old Fitnessista recipe from 2012), already marinaded meat that I can just throw on the skillet along with some greens, and a lentil curry recipe I got from Allrecipes. That last one is a little more involved but still quite easy. I sometimes will cook a more involved meal, like a big soup or a new-to-me recipe on Sunday evenings that will yield leftovers for lunch. oh yeah, and salmon sauteed with greens is always a super simple dinner, too.

  • Reply Erin March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Could not survive without meal planning for sure. Since it’s below zero here right now, we’re all about soups, chilis, and other warm comfort food. I doubt those hold much appeal for you in FL! We keep all of our meals on our blog (” target=”_blank”>” target=”_blank”>( and now use that as a resource for planning.

    We usually plan meals Saturday morning and shop on the weekend – often going to Costco (every other week), Whole Foods (weekly, mostly for produce and their generic stuff), and Target for a few other items.

    Right now since I’m nursing our baby, my husband cooks, but normally we’d trade off and we definitely have the kids eat what we eat! Sometimes that fails but whatever – usually we have at least one thing on the plate that we know they’ll eat, like a half piece of PB toast if I know the meal will be a challenge for them.

  • Reply Health Program March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    When things are actually getting done, you will always be moving closer to your goals, be it life goal, career goal, educational goal, etc. Also, being in a routine will also help you track how fast are you heading towards your aim.

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