meal planning philosophy

by Laura on January 11, 2012

in food

Hi peeps.

People seemed to like the meal plan/grocery post I put up on Monday! In fact, my good friend Kelly had a GREAT question on the post. It was such a great question that I thought I’d post it for all of you, along with my response – because it is definitely something that I’ve been wanting to write about and something that may help some of you!

Kelly question

Okay – the short answer to this question is: Yes, I switch up what meals we eat every single week. But, I thought I should explain how/why I switch things up. It’s not hard for me at all to plan different things for us to eat each week.

First – I plan my meals based on three priorities, in this order:

cozi meal planner

1. What is our household schedule: Our schedule dictates everything. Admittedly, this week’s meal plan is not a typical one for us. I’m home this whole week with limited plans, so I’m cooking involved meals every day. During busy weeks, I do a lot of casseroles/make ahead meals (that Matt can throw into the oven or on the grill), crock pot meals or pre-made meals. So based on what our schedule is, it dictates the types of dishes I plan.

2. What fresh foods/large pantry supply of foods do I have to use? I plan next around what foods I have to use. Sometimes I might have extra ingredients that I wouldn’t necessarily keep on hand (right now I have a ton of cans of beans for some reason) so I’ll plan meals using these ingredients to save money and take back space.

3. What foods are we craving/recipes I want to try/feedback from Matt: Finally, I look at this factor and plan around that last.

At the end, if I need more meal ideas I turn to my cookbooks and recipe binder for inspiration.

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As for not making the same things over and over again – here’s my solution for that. I should first say, I’m not a big recipe follower. I typically look at a recipe, adapt it myself, then either write down my variation (which I typically blog for y’all) or just make a different variation the next time. Sometimes I do follow other people’s recipes to the T, but not often.

I subscribe to the Rachel Ray philosophy of “Learn a method, not a recipe”. What does this mean? In short, it means I’ve learned to make a risotto/burger/meatball/soup/whatever I want to make, and make a different variation every time. It also means that I like to take the same ingredients and just morph them into different dishes. There is actually little variety when it comes to the ingredients I buy every week, yet I make different dishes every day.

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For example, this week we had Lentil Enchiladas. The last time I made those enchiladas was in September. However, we’ve eaten Tex-Mex food at least once a week for every week since then. How? Here’s a list of different foods we may have each week that are all Tex-Mex, all using the same (basic) ingredients, and all delicious:

  • Tacos: could be turkey, bean, chicken chorizo, beef, veggie, hard, soft, on a salad
  • Tostadas: corn shells, wheat shells, just beans, beans and shredded chicken, beans and turkey meat
  • Burritos: again bean, turkey, beef, baked, with or without rice, in a bowl
  • Quesadillas: corn tortilla, wheat tortilla, cheese, cheese and bean, cheese and chicken, with/without bell peppers and onions
  • Enchiladas: lentil, chicken, cheese and onion, in a casserole
  • Fajitas – you get the point

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Right there we have 15+ different variations of Tex-Mex food. Many of these share the same recipe (if you’re making meat), which all give you variety – yet not the stress of finding new recipes, buying foreign ingredients, or checking with your spouse if they’ll eat it.

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Same thing with the meatballs I made this week. I make meatballs maybe once a month, but every time they are different.

Some recent variations I made:

  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Turkey with spinach inside
  • Chicken
  • Chicken Sausage
  • Asian style (pictured above)

You can put these meatballs on:

  • wheat pasta
  • spaghetti squash
  • italian bread as meatball sandwiches
  • plain with sides

These meatballs can be eaten with many different sauces. These are our main four:

Or you could skip the meatballs all together and put chicken parmesan cutlets, or just throw random roasted veggies and chickpeas on top of the pasta for an entrée or a side dish.

And this is just for main dishes, I haven’t even mentioned sides or vegetables. Alas, I could go on, but I’ll stop unless people want more ideas. Hopefully this method of meal planning helps some of you when you are stumped for new recipes or not sure what to make.

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If you are a dedicated recipe follower, just try switching out one or two ingredients in your favorite recipes. I’m the queen of this, so if you ever need help – please just email me, I’d love to help!

Let me know if this helps you Kelly and if any of you have more questions! If you’d like me to continue posting my meal plans, just let me know. I’d be happy to!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stina January 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

I meal plan pretty much the same way you do: consider my schedule, consider what i already have on hand/ need to use, consider what we’re craving.

Sometimes when I really get into a rut I’ll also choose a theme for a few different days of the week to make finding new recipes less overwhelming. For example, I might do “meatless Monday” or “pizza Friday.” Then all I need to do is look for a meatless recipe or pizza recipe rather than searching through an unending sea of recipes.


2 The Hippie Health Nut January 11, 2012 at 11:52 am

I wasn’t familiar with the Rachel Ray method, but what a great concept. I’m trying to do much better of planning a full week in advance these days and it is really saving me some time. I’m also eating even more, and a larger variety, of veggies than before, which I am SO happy about!


3 Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean January 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

LOVE the learn a method not a recipe idea. so me!


4 Kelly January 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Thank you for this, Laura! It definitely helped!

And I am definitely a recipe follower, but have started to get better (subbing ground chicken for beef, etc.) so that will help for sure!

Also – I would really like that veggie dipping tray that you have in the last photo right about now :)


5 Laura January 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm

The other thing you could always do is subscribe to a meal planning service. Since you are a recipe follower, this would take the guess work out for you. The service gives the recipes to you. I’ve never used anything like this, but I recently interviewed a lady who runs one. Robin has tried her service before and said the recipes were good.

Here’s the post with the link to her site and info on it:

OR for free you can plan your meals on Cozi and utilize their recipe box. You can also make your own recipe box and save recipes you find online (like on blogs and websites). Then you can move recipes straight onto your Cozi shopping list and use that on your smart phone at the store.


6 Kelly January 12, 2012 at 8:17 am

Thank you for the suggestions!! I will definitely check out Cozi! I like the idea of having my recipes saved all in one place online so I can access them from anywhere :)


7 Nicole Rodriguez (@Nicole2112) January 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Wonderful post about food and meal planning! I think we share a similar brain because I follow the exact steps. Mine is a little different because there are two meat eaters in our house and I’m not so I have to make meals that can include me or can add meat to it afterward.

I can’t imagine having another child to plan meals around too! 3 people is hard enough. :)


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