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4 Meal Planning Tips For Busy People

Once upon a time, I began each week with a meal plan.

It was an amazing little thing — a simple sheet of paper with hand written notes outlining the week’s meals. It also made doing traditional foods preparation a lot simpler.

If I planned sandwiches for lunch on Tuesday, I would make a note to bake sandwich bread Monday night. I’d note when to make mayonnaise, ketchup, or dill pickle relish. I’d tell myself when to marinate meat or start the crock pot. When to sprout grains or legumes.

I’ve fallen out of the habit, and our meals have suffered for it. Now dinner is what I feel like making when 6 o’clock rolls around — and I often have no idea what to make. No meat is defrosted. I’m hungry and tired. It’s a recipe for disaster, and we usually only barely escape it.

That’s why this Monday I’ll be posting a menu plan for the week. And, to make it easier for myself (and you), I created a weekly meal planner. Feel free to download it here.

So, I want you guys to take a moment this weekend to print up the download, grab a pen, sit in a comfortable chair, pull together your favorite cookbooks for inspiration, and join me in planning next week’s menu.

If you feel too busy to prepare traditional foods 7 days a week (even with planning), here are some tips to get you started:

The Meal That Keeps Giving — Cook one main course recipe that can be used for different meals. For example, I may cook roast beef. It’s dinner one night. Sliced thin, it becomes sandwich meat later in the week. And shredded, it becomes the base for a delicious soup.  If the roast had a bone, it gets used to make a scrumptious beef bone broth. You can do the same thing with turkey, chicken, or even a large batch of ground beef.

The Freezer Is Your Friend — If you make taco meat one night, why not triple your recipe and freeze the rest in single-serving containers? Later that month, you’ll have several ready-made meals.  Or marinate pork chops in a sesame honey glaze, store them in freezer bags with as many as you would need to feed your family for one night contained in each bag, and keep the bags frozen until you’re ready to use them. My go-to cookbook for freeze-ahead meals is Don’t Panic: Dinner\’s In The Freezer.  The ladies who put that book together have another one coming out in April called Don\’t Panic: More Dinner’s In The Freezer, and I’m excited to see what recipes it contains.

Plan Some Quick & Easy Meals — You know, the ones that take you 15 minutes from start to finish.  Kelly The Kitchen Kop has a whole list of quick traditional food options here.

Leftovers Rule — Plan how you’ll use your leftovers. If you made tacos for dinner, use the leftovers in omelets the next morning. If you have multiple small portions of miscellaneous vegetables leftover, put a week’s worth together in a hearty soup. You get the idea.

(photo by feministjulie)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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8 Responses to 4 Meal Planning Tips For Busy People
  1. Sabrina Thorn
    February 14, 2009 | 10:15 pm

    I usually plan a month in advance We live about 50 minutes from the nearest market. Looking over your tips. I think I will do things a little different next month. I gonna plan a few easy things and think about leftovers and how to incorporate them a little more. With a family of 6 (2 of which are teen boys, who are in college and work part time) We normally only have enough for lunch next day sometimes. Which frees me up having to pack lunches for 3 most days of the week. Lunches for 3 men could cost a small fortune. :~) and they tire of sandwiches all the time. So I try to vary the lunches with leftovers.

    Thank you so much for doing this topic. Love it!

    By the way my Kombucha has a little something growing in it already. Very small on the side of the jar. its very cold here and I was very surprised to see something so quick.

  2. KristenM
    February 14, 2009 | 11:36 pm

    Sabrina — A whole month in advance! I can’t imagine that. I’m always running to the store for some little something I forgot. You’re amazing.

  3. Elisabeth
    February 15, 2009 | 6:21 am

    I agree planning-ahead is important but it does not come naturally. I just plan one meal (for 1-2 people) ahead. That’s a start!

    My tip is to soak and cook one pulse or bean every few days, such as kidney beans, chick peas, puy lentils etc. They form the basis for some impromptu meals. Luckily I pass the organic farm shop walking home from work so I can pick up fresh organic kale etc.

    The other trick is to have things in your larder that be called on for last-minute preparations such as tins of anchovies, coconut milk, a packet of ground almonds or dried seaweed, or mushrooms…


  4. Shannon
    February 15, 2009 | 8:27 am

    Yeah, a meal plan is a must for a busy traditional cook. I have a menu plan sheet that I use weekly:

    I never plan lunch, though. It is almost always leftovers or something quick like eggs or smoothies.

  5. KristenM
    February 15, 2009 | 8:46 pm

    Elisabeth — That’s a handy tip about soaking beans. Thanks for sharing!

    Shannon — Oh, I need to plan lunch (even if it’s just leftovers). Otherwise it’ll be late afternoon before we eat!

  6. Austin Event Planners
    January 10, 2010 | 6:51 pm

    lol! The freezer is definitely your friend. Being an event planner by trade, I regularly find myself overly planning my own life. That being said, I am always on the run which limits my ability to constanty cook different things for dinner. Spend a day preparing a turkey and feast like a Kng & Queen for a week.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Christopher

  7. Gretchen
    February 25, 2010 | 10:36 pm

    After resisting meal planning all my life (“don’t fence me in!”) I finally realized that it is not a straitjacket but a delightful and helpful tool. I work mine out with my husband and we keep it on a Google doc so we can both view and edit it from anywhere we have Internet access, including my iPod Touch in the kitchen. It helps that we love batch cooking, but if we didn’t we could freeze leftovers and dole them out later. We used to batch cook on the weekend but then run short around Wednesday/Thursday. Now we plan for that and have an easy quick second batch planned for the end of the week.

  8. Marjorie
    May 17, 2013 | 7:35 am

    I’ve been meal planning for a few years now and life is so much easier! Working late (until 7:30-8) a few nights a week forced me to plan better. I make larger meals when I have time and leftovers are waiting when I get home late. I don’t meal plan breakfast (usually eggs or leftovers) and for lunch, I whip up a large batch of chicken or tuna salad and always have some roasted chicken breasts or cooked ground beef to toss together with some frozen organic veggies. Friday is my shopping day – time to go write up the plan :)

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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