how to succeed at menu planning

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

Two years ago, I decided to start meal planning. My husband, Dan was on board and it couldn’t have been easier… LIES! Reality: a little over two years ago we decided to meal plan and it was incredibly difficult but we got there and I’m going to tell you how.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The process went like this; set goal, decide goal is not achievable, revert to bad habits, reset goal – and repeat. Our goals were to eat healthy, waste less food and spend less at the grocery store.


Organizing Vehicle

Pinterest is a lot more helpful than people give it credit for. For a visual person, it can be used like a list or notebook. Like most people, we had a lot of recipes, both on paper and online. The problem was cataloguing and categorization. That’s where Pinterest came in. Full disclosure, I am not the chef in my house and so I had to make sure that Dan was on board with this idea. Thankfully he was.


Next Steps

It took 16 different boards – yes, I am anal retentive, thank you for pointing that out - and because I know you’re dying to know, I’m going to list the categories: Dinner Misc., Slow Cooker, Soup, Healthy Snacks, Chicken, Salads, Sides, Dessert, Holiday Cooking, Breakfast/ Brunch, Lunch, Drinks, Fish, Sauce/ Dressing and finally, Recipes Made.

When Dan or I are perusing the Internet and come across a recipe we like, we add it to its rightful board. And once a recipe has been used and enjoyed, it is added to the Recipes board. On weeks when Dan doesn’t want to sift through all the different boards, we go to our fail-safes on the ‘Recipes Made’ board.

What about the recipes on paper? If it comes from a magazine, I look it up online and pin the online article. Yes, this does take effort. No, I don’t love doing it but I’m committed to the system and it really doesn’t take that long.


Plan Into Action

What actually made us go through with it? We have more self-control than you, obviously… not! It’s taken a lot of practice and we’ve had to course correct a few times.

After a lot of trial and error, here’s how it works: on Thursday or Friday night Dan asks me when I’ll be home for dinner during the coming week. Then he chooses his recipes and writes the names down (including on which board or in which recipe book they can be found). This is done on a magnetic notepad (see below) that has spaces for what we’ll eat each night at dinner and for breakfast, lunch and snacks as well.

At the same time, he makes a grocery list on the notepad we keep in the kitchen. We use that same notepad to write food needed throughout the week. When something runs out, it goes on the list.

On Saturday morning I go grocery shopping and I arrive at the store no later than 7:59 am. You’re crazy, you’ll exclaim. I live in NYC and I don’t want to wait in a line that runs around the block, I respond.

On Sunday, Dan usually cooks a bit for the week. My job is to clean up what he cooks. That’s the deal, folks. And the truth is that I’d much rather clean.


99 Problems

Is this a perfect system? No. Some weeks we eat out when we’ve planned a dinner or one of us (cough, cough, Dan) forgets to defrost the chicken for a recipe. Sometimes he forgets ingredients or I choose poorly with the produce (like I said, I’m not the cook).


Take Away

Like any habit, meal planning has gotten easier over time. I’ll be honest that at first it sucked and it was hard but it was worth it. The best part is that we achieved the goals we set out to achieve. It’s easier to eat healthy when you know in advance what you’ll be eating, there is a lot less waste when each ingredient has been purchased for a specific recipe and we spend a lot less at the grocery store.

Good luck meal planning! And if you have any questions, feel free to email me at toritheorganizer@gmail.com