SPARK Day 13: Plan your meals.

Spark Jan 2014

Welcome to SPARK Day 13!

As you  know, I love my weekly review.  It has been a total game change for me, making me productive while also making sure that I have some creative and self-care time built into my days.  But there is another weekly habit I have that has served me- and my family- well and that is a weekly menu plan.  By planning what we’ll eat for a week at a time, I shop smarter, more efficiently, and more cost effectively at the grocery store; I don’t lose time figuring out what’s for dinner each night or chasing ingredients, and I have a system in place where I am completely replaceable in the cooking equation– which allows BF to take the lead a few nights a week while Happy and I play more Uno or take an early bath or I take off for a meeting.  

At first, you might resist a weekly menu plan.  It seems like a lot of planning up front (It doesn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes now and then, voila, I am set for a week).  How are you supposed to know what you want to eat on Wednesday night (fair enough but I address this by either just going with what I’ve planned anyway or swapping nights mid-week– Tuesday’s salmon gets swapped for Thursday’s Black Bean Pie if I am not feeling fish)?   But once you start living with the weekly meal plan, the relief it brings far supersedes any sadness over lost mid-week dinner surprises (and, typically, I do the weekly review from Sunday to Thursday or Sunday to Friday which leaves a night or two open for whatever).  Interested in trying it for yourself?  Here you go…   

Step one.  Figure out your grocery shopping schedule.  I go once a week– typically every Saturday morning while my boys are still in pjs and lollygagging around the house.   If I am leading a workshop or have  a Circle de Luz event on Saturday morning, I go on Sunday morning as soon as the store opens.  You may want to go 2x a week or 2x a month or something else entirely.  Or you may need to shop at different times at different places (maybe Farmer’s Market on Saturday Morning and grocery store on Sunday afternoon).  But what I do know is knowing when you wish to shop for groceries is an important first step towards having intentionality with your meals.


Step two.  Pick a planning day.  Since I go to the grocery store on Saturday morning, I plan our meals for the next week every Friday afternoon or evening.  I start by looking through what we have (especially perishables) and plan how to incorporate those into our dinners.  Next, I plan what other meals we need (for example, if I have an evening meeting for Circle de Luz, I plan for something really simple for BF and Happy to do like heat up some soup that I have frozen and pair it with steamed broccoli- or I send them to Subway).  On our family’s master calendar, I  write down each night’s meal on the coming week’s schedule.  I keep in mind how much prep time we will have for meals, meetings out of the house for either me or BF or practices for Happy, and other responsibilities as I plan.  As I do this, I go through my printed recipes and on Pinterest and put any recipes I need that week in a little plastic sleeve that only contains that week’s recipes that sits in the same spot on the kitchen counter every day.  That way, we can quickly reference what’s on deck for the week.


Step three.  The grocery list.  As I am planning our next week’s meals, I make our grocery list.  My grocery lists are made on the back of scrap computer paper but I organize that paper in sections that correspond with the grocery store where I shop.  Imagine the paper divide up into six quadrants– three across the top half and three across the bottom.  The top left hand column is for the produce section.  The top right hand column is for dairy and meats.  The middle section is for things in quirky sections of the store (I shop at a Target for a lot of our basics and so maybe I want a new candle.  That goes in that top middle column).  The bottom 3 columns are for canned, boxed goods (tomatoes, beans, applesauce, rice).  The middle column is for cleaning supplies– for both the house and our bodies.  So both Tide and Shampoo would be in that column.  And the far right column is for frozen goods.  This set-up works for me (it is kinda like zone defense grocery shopping).  It may not work for you.  I know some people who completely break their grocery list down aisle by aisle (man defense grocery shopping?) and that might be worth trying.  What I do know is that organizing your grocery list will save you mad time in the grocery store.  The other thing that saves me time is going through coupons right then and only taking with me to the store the coupons that I need.  That way I have less coupons to go through while I am shopping which helps me be more efficient.  One more note: as soon as I get home from the grocery store on Saturday, I start my next week’s list.  There is a spot where it sits on the corner of the counter (just on top of the weekly recipe file) and as soon as we come across something that we need during the week, we write it on the list.  So when it is time to menu plan on Friday night, several things are already on my list.


Step 4:  The nightly review.  After Happy goes down each night, there are a few standard things I do.  Clean the kitchen (with the help of BF who is our primary kitchen cleaner), occasionally make Happy’s lunch if I can stomach going ahead and doing that, and then pre-planning the next day’s meal.  I’ll go check out the command center and see what the next day’s dinner is and then do any prep work for it. It could be as simple as pulling out the non-perishable ingredients and putting them together on the counter with the recipe.  It might be marinating something or cutting up vegetables.  While the degree of effort varies, I do spend a few minutes doing some meal prep for the next day so that things are a bit smoother at an often busy time of the day.


What are your meal planning strategies?  What works best for you?  Where do you need more help?



Here are some easy meals and sides that we prepare on the regular at our house:

Mark Bittman’s Minestrone Soup 

White Bean Tortellini Soup 

Black Bean Tortilla Pie 

Taco Soup 

Spinach Ravioli Casserole 

Simple Salmon 

Sweet potato turnovers 

Zucchini Fritters  

Do you have a favorite recipe staple to share?

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