Today I'm sharing 10 meal planning tools I can't live without. These simple, accessible tools make meal planing easier, helping to streamline the process and get you meal planning with ease.
Even before I started Real Food Whole Life I meal planned for our family.
In the early days of our marriage, when I worked full-time and attended graduate school and Andrew often worked late, I made meal planning a priority so that we didn't have to eat take-out several nights a week (trust me, the take-out options in our small town were limited and not very good; you would have wanted to avoid it at all cost too!).
These days I find that meal planning is even more essential, as it helps me stay on track with my healthy eating goals. Over the years I've found tools to make the process easier, and today I'm sharing them with you.
1. Google Calendar. Before meal planning I pull up my calendar on Google and preview the week. I use Google calendar because I can view all our schedules at once (I have a calendar for work, one for the blog, one for social events, and one for Elle’s school and childcare). I can also view Andrew’s work calendar, allowing me to get a complete picture of the week's events. Knowing what’s happening during the week helps me decide what meals make sense each night. For example if Andrew and I are both working late I’ll plan a slow cooker meal or if we have a work event that requires that we eat out I’ll plan one less meal for the week.
2. Meal Planner Printable. I use the Real Food Whole Life Meal Plan Printable to map out the week’s meals. Once the plan is completed I stick it to the fridge so Andrew and I both know what recipe is on deck each night.
3. Weekly Meal Plan Newsletter. Each week I create a Real Food Meal Plan and share it with Real Food Whole Life Newsletter subscribers. Want to be added to the list? Subscribe here!
4. Pinterest. I think Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to meal planning. On the one hand, it can be a great place to store and organize favorite or “must make” recipes. On the other, too many recipe pins can be overwhelming and distracting. I like to keep things simple by maintaining one board for recipes I’ve made and loved, and one for recipes I plan to add to future plans. I keep pins on these boards minimal, and include just those I have actually made or plan to make in the near future. P.S. Check out my Real Food Whole Life Pinterest for tons of real food inspiration!
5. Grocery Store Weekly Specials. Before I select recipes for a meal plan I do a quick online scan of my favorite grocery store’s weekly specials, making note of sales. Then I select recipes that make use of sale ingredients.
6. Farmer’s Market and CSA Basket. I also do my best to meal plan around my CSA and farmer’s market basket, especially in the summer month, often planning a stir-fry or soup night toward the end of the week to use up random veggies.
7. Post-Its Page Markers. I have a few tried-and-true cookbooks I use for meal planning. I keep these books in my kitchen so I can grab one quickly for recipe inspiration. Over the years I’ve marked my favorite and “must try” recipes using Post-It page markers so I can easily flip to recipes that will fill out a meal plan.
8. Categorized Grocery List. Once I have a meal plan sketched out for the week I use the Real Food Whole Life Grocery List Printable to map out a grocery list. I start by dividing the paper into 6 sections: produce, pantry, bulk, frozen, deli, dairy, and protein. Then I go through each recipe for the week and fill in the master grocery list. That way I can hit the grocery store one time and have everything I need for the week. If that’s not possible I'll at least have a master list I can reference throughout the week.
9. Pencil with Eraser. I like to use a pencil to create each meal plan, as it allows me to erase and make changes easily. As the schedule shifts during the week I can update the the order or recipes in the plan.
10. Flexibility and a Sense of Humor. Sometimes I meal plan with the best intentions only to realize half-way through the week that some of the recipes I selected were overly ambitious. Or we end up staying out late and eating out. Or someone gets sick and the entire plan goes out the window. Each week I do the best I can to plan while staying flexible and keeping a sense of humor no matter what life throws at us.
What are your must-have meal planning tools? Share them with me below!