Meal Plan Like a Boss

I am an optimizer (as I’d imagine a lot of programmers are) – I am constantly experimenting to simplify my life, minimize time spent on chores and maximize fun time for my family. At the same time, I love cooking and I love eating good food. Some people can eat the same 3 meals every day for a week, that is not me.

This is also the time of year for resolutions. I’m still not sold on the idea of New Years resolutions, but these cold, dark winter months are a great time to reflect on where we want to be in the next three months. Often resolutions revolve around health and nutrition, so it seems an appropriate time to share how my husband and I have optimized our weekly meal planning and grocery shopping to under an hour (to be honest, it depends on the number of kiddo interruptions, but if they are focused on something that does not involve destroying the house, we can be done with everything in about an hour).

The key is to be prepared before you sit down to plan your meals for the week.

We shop at King Soopers (a Kroger store) and love their mobile app and ClickList for grocery pickup. As we run out of things during the week we immediately add the item to our cart in the app, if we don’t we are going to forget it when we are interrupted by kids 3 minutes later. They also have an option to add ‘Staples’ (items you buy every week – milk and bananas for us) with one click. Great, our grocery list is started now.

The hardest part is usually figuring out what we are going to eat for dinner. We usually plan on 6 meals, with 1 night of leftovers / fridge clean out. Most lunches are also leftovers from the night before so we usually double to triple recipes.

**This right here is the key to keeping our meal planning quick**
My husband and I share a ‘Reminders’ list on our iPhones that we add to as we see a yummy dinner photo on instagram or find a new recipe online. Two things I like about the Reminders list:
1. We can directly add web links from Safari making the link easy to open when cooking the meal the next week.
2. We can view ‘Done’ items to review meals we have made in prior weeks for ideas. We can also Delete meals that were total duds.

I like to review the weekly meal plan on for new ideas or if I have an easy night during the week I might flip through a cookbook at home and add to the list. We do a Summer and Winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through a local farm and try our best to eat seasonally, so often whatever vegetables that are in season help drive our meals. Some weeks I ask the kids for ideas (usually just noodles and pizza at this point, but I like to keep them involved) or to flag pictures in a magazine of what they want to eat for dinner (usually pictures of desserts). We also check any produce, etc. we have left in the fridge that we need to incorporate into meals the next week.

Below you will see the Meal Plan Template we use each week. We printed it out and laminated it at our local FedEx print store. We use Extra Fine dry erase markers (hidden from the kids). It is easily erased with a dry paper towel or a dry paper towel with some rubbing alcohol and reused every week.

(20min) Now that we have at least 6 meals (usually more) on our Meal Planning Reminders list, we select the meals we want to eat the following week. If we don’t have 6 meals yet, we go back and review the ‘Done’ items to fill out our dinner plan. Using the template, I write down any activities we have each day. If there is a particularly busy day, that might be our leftover day or might spark a search for a crockpot meal we can start in the morning to have dinner ready at the end of the day. It helps us to see the week mapped out so we can tailor our meals to our schedules for that week. I write down on each day, which meal we are doing, if it is a link or in a cookbook with page number, and additional notes regarding sides or prep the night before. Most of our meat is in our giant chest freezer so I also make a list of what we need to defrost for the week.

(10min) Now that we have our meals I review each recipe and add the ingredients to our ClickList. We usually schedule the pickup time for 8a the next day. If you schedule your grocery store pickup for the following day usually all the time slots are available.

(30min) Pickup our groceries for the week. The grocery store is about 10 minutes from our house, and sometimes there is a little wait for our groceries to come out. Some key things to note –
1. You can use coupons – just let the attendant know when you get there before they bring out your groceries.
2. You can bring your own reusable bags – just make notes on the items before you place your order.

It boils down to a couple minutes here and there during the week to add to the grocery list or add to the meal ideas list combined with 30 minutes of finalizing the plan and 30 minutes to pickup the groceries.

Do you have any other tips or things that you do?

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