My 5 Step Week-By-Week Meal Planning Strategy

weekly list mean planning

     I have to admit the title of this post is a little bit clickbait-ish, because truthfully I don't really know what meal planning the "hard way" would look like. I get quite a few questions about meal planning, and occasionally I will see one of my friends asking their Instagram friends & family how to meal plan, because the concept just confuses and overwhelms them.

 I started meal-planning when Jack and I got married, and have been doing it ever since, but it DID take a while to get into the natural rhythm of doing it every week. There are quite a few other resources for meal planning out there, but I wanted to just share my basic process, hopefully to help someone who is sick of over-spending at the store multiple days a week, eating out all the time, and/or just looking for a starting point to meal planning! I think you'll find that it's a lot more simple than you may think.

how to meal plan


#1 - Define Your Budget

    This is the first and most important step in getting into a regular habit of meal-planning, simply because this will define your menu & grocery list moving forward. And the easy part: you only need to figure this out once (unless of course in the future your budget changes). Once you figure out how much you want to spend per week, you can move forward with your menu.


#2 - Determine Where To Shop To Get The Best Deals AND What You Need

    This is probably the part that takes the most time, and for me, this step came with a lot of trial and error. If I go to one grocery store, sometimes the prices are jacked up so much that I can walk out with 5 things, having spent $60. Other places, I can spend $60 on most (if not all) of my shopping list. It all depends on what stores are in your area, and what kind of deals AND products they offer.

Trader Joe's is my store of choice for a number of reasons: they are consistent in quality, their prices are reasonable for what they're offering, and I can buy everything I need in one location. However, since many of their products are store brand, they do not offer store coupons (they DO however accept manufacturer coupons!). Stores like Sprouts, Harris Teeter, and Food Lion offer weekly deals, store coupons AND accept manufacturer coupons, and also most likely have a deli counter and hot foods, which Trader Joe's does not offer at this time (at least that I know of!) SO, with all of that being said, find what works best for you & your budget.




#3 - Put Your Week In Writing

    This is the easiest part of the whole thing. You don't need a checklist, a printed-out calendar, a shopping list with 156 tiny checkboxes, all you need is a notebook and a pen. This is exactly what I do:
how to meal plan


   If I'm going shopping on a Saturday, I begin with Saturday, because that night's meal is going to be dependent on the groceries I get on that shopping trip. Got a soccer game on Tuesday and have to eat out? Put it on your plan. Got a work meeting that will run a little later than usual? Put it on your plan. Anything that's going to either interfere with or determine your dinner plans for that night, write it down.

how to meal plan


#4 - Decide What You Want To Eat

   This is the part where a lot of people get hung up...because what if you change your mind? What if you don't WANT to eat THAT specific thing on THAT specific day? What if something unexpected happens and you have to eat out? All of those things are totally fine, which is why we're writing this on a piece of paper and not etching it into concrete, ha. You are allowed to switch these meals around, or make one meal on a different day if that works better for you. There's no right or wrong way to do this step, all you need to know is what you & your family like to eat.

   If it's easiest for you, start on the days where you KNOW your regular dinner time will be compromised. If you're going to be getting home later than usual, plan a crockpot meal for that day that can be cooking all day while you're at work. If you have a short amount of time for dinner before rushing out of the house again, maybe choose a meal that is simple with a quick cooking time (like chicken fajitas or personal pizzas).

     Once you have those special days taken care of, the rest is a breeze. What does your family like to eat? Is there a day of the week that will give you enough time to try a new or more involved recipe? For example, I LOVE making a whole roasted chicken on Sundays. It takes a few hours to cook in the oven, which is why it's perfect for a slow Sunday afternoon; I've got plenty of time to prepare it and let it cook. You don't have to plan lavish meals or a 4 course dinner for every weeknight. Just figure out what your family likes to eat and write that down - see my example list below!

how to meal plan

#5 - Make Your Shopping List

     If you're new to meal planning you might be wondering why this is the last step, but this step is actually KEY in making sure you follow through with step 1, and stay within your budget. If you make your shopping list before you meal plan (or not at all) you may find yourself spending WAY more than is necessary. The same is true when you wait until the last minute and make a hurried trip to the store after work to get ingredients for a meal.

Once your meal plan is completed, go down your list and write down every ingredient you will need for that specific meal. Don't forget to do a quick inventory to see what you already have - most likely you won't need to purchase EVERY single ingredient you need for every single meal.

I like to separate mine into three different sections - meat, vegetables, and everything else - but you can do more or less if you need. Don't forget to include things that you might need but that aren't necessarily part of your meal plan (like eggs, milk, bread, household cleaner, etc.) If you're a snacker, don't write down the snacks you need or want (unless you're entertaining guests that week, for example, and it's a necessity!) I always wait until I'm at the store and have everything else in my cart BEFORE picking up any snacks (this goes back to being sure I'm staying within budget!)

   It's possible to do this for the entire month, and it's also possible to prep food ahead of time (such as freezer meals), but neither of those things are valuable to me and my personal family life. You can absolutely use this method to plan your meals for the month, AND you can use this when determining what freezer meals to prep for the week ahead - this is just meant to be an easy, step-by-step guide to how I meal-plan weekly. Feel free to adapt this strategy according to what works best for you!

Husband-Approved Greek Chicken & Quinoa Salad

chicken and quinoa salad


    Today I wanted to share one of my favorite recipes I've been making for dinner recently! Sometimes I just get a major craving for salad, and although I don't think my husband could say the same, this has become a meal he gets excited about! Juicy, baked, seasoned chicken thighs (or breasts) are the perfect compliment to this hearty salad loaded with veggies and protein-filled quinoa. Topped with a simple oil and vinegar based dressing, this meal is delicious and satisfying even for people (like my husband) who don't usually choose a salad for their main course.

      As I've mentioned before on the blog and in my Instagram stories, Jack and I eat A LOT, and I mean a lot. And now with a growing little boy in our family, I find myself even making more food than I was previously. Not only that, I try to also make enough for Jack to take in his lunch the next day, so he can avoid buying something at work if possible. This recipe could feed as many as six individuals, OR 2-4 hungry people WITH some leftover.

greek chicken and quinoa salad pinterest


    I like using bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs because you can get a nice sear on the outside beforehand, leaving you with a crispy skin, sealing all of the flavor inside. You can also use skinless and boneless chicken breasts or thighs if that's more your style. With those you don't necessarily need to sear, you can just put those right into the oven. If you are going this route though, I would maybe marinate the chicken in the seasoning mixture with some olive oil beforehand, just so it has time to soak up all of that flavor and spice!

I seasoned the chicken with oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, a pinch of turmeric, salt and pepper. My recommendation would be to add the salt afterward, and only a little at a time. The last time I made this, I added a bit too much salt, and that's pretty much the point of no return. 

    After baking at 375 degrees for around 30 minutes, the chicken is finally complete - a technique I learned recently from one of my favorite food bloggers and Instagram foodie, Teri from No Crumbs Left - I like to baste the chicken in it's own juices. No flavor gets left behind!

baked chicken thighs


    While the chicken is baking, this is the perfect time to cook the quinoa and put together your salad. My building blocks for a perfect Greek-style salad are some fresh spring mix, Kalamata olives, chopped tomato and cucumber, artichoke hearts and big chunks of feta cheese. This salad is made complete with tri-color quinoa  (or any other kind) which makes it extra filling! I also usually add a bit of chopped red onion, but I didn't have any this time!

   To top it all off, I mixed some red wine vinegar, olive oil, dried oregano, grated garlic, salt and pepper into a mason jar with a lid, and gave it a good shake. This easy concoction was the perfect addition to this salad!

    This meal is so delicious and even my 18 month old son enjoyed the chicken and quinoa, with some veggies on the side (cooked separately for him, he's not big into salad). Even if you're not usually a "salad" person - or maybe your spouse isn't - this particular meal is filling, flavorful, and not just filled with lettuce that will leave you wanting more. Check out the recipe below, and don't forget to click the link to print for future use! Hope you enjoy!

feeds 6 or 2-4 with leftovers
prep time: 7 minutes | cook time: 30-35 minutes

chicken and quinoa salad


INGREDIENTS
CHICKEN:
6 bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1-2 garlic cloves grated or minced
pinch of turmeric
salt & pepper to taste

SALAD:
1/2 dry cup of quinoa
1-2 bags of spring mix greens
1 14oz can of quartered artichoke hearts
pitted Kalamata olives
diced red onion
diced hothouse cucumber
cherry tomatoes, halved
feta cheese

DRESSING:
This is my best approximation, I usually just sprinkle and pour until it "looks about right" hahaha.
3 TBSP red wine vinegar
1.5 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP oregano
1 pinch of salt (you can always add more later)
1/4 TSP black pepper
1 TSP garlic powder
1 TSP onion powder
Shake vigorously to combine! If you have leftover dressing, you can leave it in a sealed container on the counter for up to 3 days (if you refrigerate it, the oil will solidify).

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine chicken seasonings in a small bowl. Rinse chicken thighs & pat dry, then carefully sprinkle the seasoning mixture onto both sides of each thigh. Place onto the parchment paper.

3. Once chicken thighs are seasoned, put the tray into the oven for 25-30 minutes, OR until a thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted (without touching bone).

4. Meanwhile, cook quinoa according to package instructions.

5. Assemble the salad dressing ingredients in your jar or other container with a lid. Shake vigorously to combine.

6. Add spring mix into a large serving bowl. Dice red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, artichoke hearts & add to the salad. Sprinkle feta cheese over the top. You can add the dressing now, or once it is served.

7. Once the quinoa is finished, you can allow it to cool before adding it to the salad, OR add immediately.

8. Once chicken is done in the oven, take it out and pick up the juices from the tray, using a basting brush. Brush the juices onto the chicken thighs, and let them rest for 5 minutes.

9. Serve & enjoy!






How to Engage Your Kids At The Grocery Store (+ Free Printables!)

basket of fruit and vegetables

    To some, grocery shopping is a mini-getaway. A leisurely walk through the store, sniffing the fresh bread, moseying through each aisle with a (hot) coffee in hand, reading labels, carefully weighing & bagging bulk granola (if this is you, God bless you). For others, it's a mad dash through sliding doors, one kid already tripping over untied shoes, while another is seen bumping into strangers on their way to the baked goods. A scribbled, barely legible grocery list is clenched in a tight fist as you make your way aisle through aisle, grabbing the first box of cereal, bag of vegetables, & frozen waffles you can get your hands on. Although my one-and-only child is young enough to hardly cause issue at the grocery store YET (except for the occasional scream-heard-round-the-world), I understand that for many moms, a trip to the store can look a lot like the latter.

Designed by FlexyCreatives