Monday Mission: Meal Planning

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Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to take a small step in organization and planning this week. There are a lot of levels of meal planning. Find out where you are, and move one step up.
(It’s a choose-your-own-adventure this week!)

Level One:  I don’t meal plan
Your mission:  Plan a meal for ONE DAY this week.

Level Two:  I meal plan every so often
Your mission:  Plan 5 days in a row and see how it goes.

Level Three:  I am a meal planner!
Your mission:  Plan an interconnected meal plan this week.


Brainstorm a list of five “fast meals” for surprise days.

Level Four:  I do it all already
Your mission:  Try a new recipe this week.


Make a list of five “budget-watcher” meals.

Level One: Meal Planning Step by Step

  • Check the grocery sales or what you have on hand
  • Decide on a meal that fits your frugal supplies; include sides and salad
  • Plan backward and write it down:
    • What needs to be done the day before? (Thaw meat, for example?)
    • Where are my ingredients? Add to shopping list if necessary
    • What time should I start preparing the meal that day? Write it in your calendar.

I promise your meal prep will go more smoothly than if you hadn’t planned anything.

added bonusYour goal:  You are NOT allowed to run to the store or borrow from a neighbor for this meal! :)  Added Bonus: You’ll save gasoline, time and money if you don’t make extra store trips. If you need more meal planning help, see the links at this week’s Food for Thought.

Level Two: Five in a Row

Follow steps above and see if you can knock out some meal prep for Tuesday as you’re cleaning up Monday’s meal (pulling ingredients out, etc.). Write it down, including the day before prep and start time. Challenge yourself. I truly believe that if you know what is coming, you’ll be happier and less stressed as each day passes.

Level Three: Connect the Dots…I Mean, Dinners

See my meal plan for a slightly overwhelming example of connecting dinners. I used chicken and broth many times in a week, plus other perishables like parsley.

timesaverThe theory of Cook Once, Serve Twice (C.O.S.T.) is a real time and money saver. Can you have stir fry one day and something else with cooked rice in it a day or two later? You’ll save a pot! Is spinach on sale? Plan a casserole and a soup using spinach and make sure you don’t have to throw out half the bag once it’s goopy and gross. You know how I hate to waste food. Can you brown ground beef once and use it for two meals? This is best if you can put the leftovers from meal 2 in the same container you stuck the cooked meat in after meal one. It’s all about doing fewer dishes, my friends.

Your challenge this week is to make at least one connection in your weekly meal plan. Enjoy!

Frugal Real Food Meal PlansLooking for a quick and painless REAL FOOD meal plan? I was, too, and then my friend Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs came up with an excellent resource – a complete monthly meal plan, way beyond just recipes. It’s a shopping list, price guide, money-saving tips and detailed prep lists all rolled into one. Don’t wait another month! CLICK HERE to learn more and make your purchase.

The best part? Feed a family of four for under $350 in monthly groceries. Plus – save more! Tiffany has graciously offered an exclusive coupon for Kitchen Stewardship readers. Just enter the coupon code KS15 before checking out for 15% off the 3-month or annual packages. If you aren’t yet ready to commit you can download a 2-week sample menu OR purchase a single month to give it a go. You have nothing to lose!

Start NOW

“Fast Meals” Folder

Some days you’ve just forgotten to extend the meal plan that far. You come back from a trip and there’s nothing to eat at 6:00. You forget to buy an ingredient – what to substitute for your perfectly planned week of meals? I have a file folder in with my cookbooks with a few recipes that

  1. include ingredients I (almost) always have on hand
  2. can be made in half an hour or less

Meal Planning Tips & Strategies

My favorite emergency meal is spaghetti with meatballs, which are almost always ready to go (homemade) in my freezer. I just throw them into the sauce and they heat so quickly. Frozen homemade chicken nuggets are great to have on hand, too. The toaster oven makes short work of them. Tacos and cream of potato soup are other winners. What are your fast emergency meals? If you have a folder or write down a list, you won’t have to work so hard mentally when it’s crunch time.

Level Four: So You Have it All Together

Fabulous. I applaud the fact that you’re meal planning already! That makes life easier, doesn’t it? It will also make some of our future missions easier. Here’s something you can do this week if you don’t feel like trying a new recipe (or if even that is in your routine already!):

moneyTake 15 minutes or so and estimate how much some of your favorite meals cost. It’s an interesting exercise, I think. If your favorites don’t exactly fit into the “budget” meal category (under $5 start to finish is my qualification), find some recipes that do. I make it a goal to include one budget meal each week. It’s often my meatless meal (I do love two-fers!). Your wallet will thank you!

UPDATE: More meal planning inspiration at the updated Monday Mission, and if menu planning, especially keeping all the meals nourishing, seems daunting to you, you may want to check out a menu planning weekly helper like GNOWFGLINS. You’ll get recipes, shopping lists, and even “what to do when” guides.

Your mental mission this week is simply to pay attention to how much plastic you use in the kitchen. To eat, to drink, to store food, to prepare it.

Keep looking for chicken with bones (preferably a whole chicken) on sale, and keep collecting glass jars (like from spaghetti sauce). Chicken stock is coming in two weeks and homemade yogurt in April!

Find meal planning resources and a sample two-week plan here.

Come back Wednesday to learn what works for me in my freezer!

I am a guest lecturer and partner with GNOWFGLINS eCourses, so I will earn commission from any sales made starting here. Of course, the courses are also an awesome way to learn to cook real food, so I’d gab about them anyway.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

14 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Jennifer says

    How sad that there are no comments on this post! I have been realizing the need for menu planning recently and am trying to actually DO it. I have a sheet on my fridge with squares for all the meals for the week and snacks. there is another section for what I have on hand, and another section for what I need to buy next time I go shopping. I am also trying to encorporate more beans! You have a great blog, btw!

    • Katie says

      Welcome, Jennifer! Thanks for the sweet compliment – I guess this post was before I had too many readers. :) Folks have mentioned that they appreciate this Monday Mission, though, so I’m not TOOOO sad. Good for you to get started! If you find you’re faltering a bit, try cutting back and just starting with dinner only. Sometimes we can bite off more than we can chew and then just give up entirely, when baby steps are all we need! :) Katie

  2. Andie says

    I just stumbled on this blog, and it is great! I meal plan loosely, but don’t connect the dots often enough. I hate slimy veggies! I love the Advent Busy Prayer. How Benedictine. Thanks for the healthy and frugal tips.

  3. says

    I’m a loose planner. I tend to choose four or five dinners and shop for those items. I don’t go so far as to plan out the specific day each will be eaten. I like to leave some spontaneity in my week.
    .-= Jimmie´s last blog ..How to Learn Chinese =-.

  4. says

    I love all your suggestions. I have always seemed to have a hard time meal planning. I finally realized 2 things about myself. 1- I am very creative when it comes to new meals and looking in my pantry overwhelms me. 2-I do not do well with too structured of planning eg. – Monday we will have…Tuesday we will have…
    I now look in my pantry and make a list of 15 meals, some easy, some hard. We eat all three meals at home and we work from home full time so that makes things a little trickier. Now I just look at my list and decide what looks good and use my menu plan that way. I have now been doing it this way for 3 months very successfully. Thanks again for a great post.
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..Not So Great….But not too bad either =-.

    • Katie says

      Excellent point for the don’t-want-to-be-restricted crowd! I have heard of people doing a list “for the week” like your 15 meals at a time, and that really works for them. Thanks for adding to the info here!
      :) Katie

  5. Shauna says

    Since the end of the month is upon us, I decided to put into play your menu planning ideas. First I took stock of what was in my freezer (lots of surprises in there!), then went through the cupboards and then the circulars… made up a menu for the next 2 1/2 weeks using just what I had available, plus only 2 meats from the circulars! Oh my word! I will surely save money on groceries this month. Thank you, Katie, you rock!! 😉

  6. Anita says

    I love this. I want to be a “meal planner” but have not done so. Life just seems to always get in the way of having a plan and sticking to it. I love this post.

    Thanks for this one…I needed it.

    A Level Oner :)

  7. says

    The trick has been to mix nourishment, time saving & money saving all in one. I’ve never had an example like you to follow who values all of those. So I’m giving it another go with baby steps. Thanks!

  8. Sue says

    I so want to do this but I have to use what I have already in the house. I am already overwhelm just trying to figure this out!

    • says

      Honestly, meal planning is best when you already have food stocked. Search for recipes or think of favorite recipes that have the foods you need to use up, then make a plan. You’ll ensure that you use it all in a timely fashion and don’t run out to the store for anything extra! You can do it! Good luck! :) Katie

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