Are you looking to streamline your dinner routine in the New Year? See our meal plan tips that will help get you started.


Meal Plan Tips to Get Started


Today is the first day back to “normal” (or the early 2021 version of normal) and I am planning our meals for the cold, dark days ahead. I typically create a base plan for two-weeks. However, as I started in on our plan, I ended up with THREE weeks worth of meals. Having this ready is a huge RELIEF. Things will change and shift, but at least we have a solid plan in place.

I used to plan one week at a time but shifted when I realized there were often more meals that I wanted to make than days of the week. The easiest solution was to shift to a longer plan duration.


Meal Plan Tip 1: It’s about the food


Is that obvious? Yes, but in order to plan your week you need to take stock of the food you have and the food you need.


While doing my planning, I take a few main considerations into mind. 


What you have on hand  This is especially important if there is fresh food that needs to be used. I’ll also take stock of proteins waiting to be defrosted or meals I made ahead and frozen.


What you need to buy or order I than fill in the gaps with any items that need to be purchased or added to a grocery order


Balance cuisines and feel This also extends to the kind of “mood” we are in. Do we need a warm, cozy kind of meal or do we need to break out of hearty winter fare with a bright and light dish? I try to create a balance each week; it’s important for me to feel bored. 


Meal Plan Tip 2: It’s about your life


Balance of easy and hard nights even for those who love to cook, not every meal can be elaborate or prepared just before dinner. Each week, our plan includes a range of efforts. Some are prepared right before eating, others are simple reheats from frozen (either something we batch cooked previously or a prepared meal from Costco or Trader Joe’s) and takeout.


Awareness of Time and Schedules Admittedly, this year is very different. But some evenings are more hectic than others. This is an important factor in planning. I keep a column in my meal plan spreadsheet to write down our track activities and slot meals accordingly. Dishes that need a long time to heat in the oven (lasagna, enchiladas, I’m looking at you) are planned while I know someone will be home to put (and watch) them in the oven.


Meal Plan Tip 3: It’s about your planning style


Keeping all planning related items in a Google Sheet work for me. I know many others who prefer written methods and those are great too. Whether it is a dedicated notebook, a digital system, a chalkboard or even a scratch pad, the important thing is that it meets your needs.


More about my Google Sheet 


I also use this Google Sheet to keep inventory of the food we have on hand. This is especially helpful to track the food that is in our garage chest freezer, where the food that is out of sight could easily be forgotten. 


The sheet also includes a growing list of “meals to try.”  The tab is invaluable when drawing a blank on new ideas.


I start filling in the gaps of the plan. If my initial pass does not offer enough variety in any capacity I’ll shift things to another week. 


Looking for Some Inspiration?


Want to learn more about these inspiration sources? Read my other post. 


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