10 Steps to Meal Planning: Paper Please

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by Laura

Paper or Plastic?  You used to hear this question at the grocery store in relation to what kind of a bag you wanted your groceries in, but today, planning out meals, and writing out the grocery list can be as low maintenance, or as high tech as you want!

For me, I am a paper girl.  I still have a paper calendar that hangs on our wall, and I’ve been planning my meals the same way for ten years.  Yes, ten years. I have known what we are eating every night and done one big grocery shop each week for ten years.  Tomorrow Angela is going to talk to you girls who like to use computers and apps and all that for your meal planning.

So this process is not a new thing for me, it is one of my favorite things to teach other women.  Single, married, moms, old, and young.  I love seeing the relief wash over people’s faces when they realize how this will change their mental exertion every day.  And, I love knowing that the hard work, trial and error it took for me to get to the method I use now is helpful to others.

I give you:

The 10 Step Meal Plan Process

1. During a quiet one hour period, I grab my recipe index, recipe binder and cook books.  Then I need my weekly meal plan template (WMP).  If you haven’t had a chance to make your recipe index.  Check it out here.


Gathering everything you’ll need in one place at the beginning will help you not be distracted by going to fetch cook books and recipes throughout.

I must stress to you that you need to concentrate and not start/stop this process. Otherwise, planning takes forever and you will be discouraged. For our family, I plan on Sunday Nights after bedtime just in time for Monday shopping day.

Weekly meal Plan JPEG

2. On the top of your WMP, fill out the “Items to Use Up” section.  Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and take note of what you already have to use this week. Things like: 1lb. frozen ground turkey, 2 cans black beans, 1 lb. mozzarella.  Return yourself to the table or where you are going to write your plan and DO NOT GET UP AGAIN, until the whole sheet is filled out.

3. Think through your eating goals now.  Maybe you want 2 hot breakfasts this week, 1 dinner out, and one new recipe.  Or maybe you’re trying to eat healthier so your eating goal would be 1 dessert night (not all seven 🙂 ), 4 Whole 30 meals, and no sugar breakfasts all week long.  Now this is just for this week, you don’t have to commit for anything longer than 7 days!  Write your eating goals down in the space provided in the top.

4. Now, there’s a few things you need to consider before you start plopping meals into the planner.  The busy/non busy evenings or mornings.  Usually we’ll do oatmeal for hectic mornings and sloppy joes are good on crazy nights.  Note the husband out of town days, people over for dinner days, etc.  Make sure you know your calendar schedule so you can plan meals that fit into your life.

Also, your meal plan should be flexible.  What if you want to run to Chick-fil-a sporadically?  What if someone wants pancakes for breakfast and you have time and energy?  What if you get sick or exhaustion from the day takes over and you can’t make Pot Roast for dinner?!!!  The wonderful thing about having a meal plan is that you can adjust.  You can shuffle meals, put stuff in the freezer you aren’t going to make.  You can be ok, with things not going to plan.  My weeks rarely turn out the way my meal plan said they would and I am 100% ok with it.  Back to the plan.


If a meal will carry to another day I use arrows or write in “Leftover Spaghetti” in a lunch or dinner box.

5. Plan dinners first because they take the most brain energy. I do 5-6 dinners, because we usually have a leftover night, go out to eat etc. Experiment with your magic number.  You can see on my plan I put arrows where that meal carries through to the next night, or you can write in “leftovers” where you need a down day.

Open up the cook books, write down the main dish, (vary your protein ok?  not all meals get to be chicken). Write down all your sides, (frozen green beans, brown rice, chips, apples), TRUST ME. Do the thinking ONE time.


While you have that recipe staring you in the face write down the ingredients for it, ok? Quantity too!

After you choose a meal immediately write down the ingredients in the big box and the QUANTITY. Now, if you’re not sure you have something, (flour-do I have enough?) write it down and put a little star next to it and after you’ve gotten to the VERY END of the meal planning go check on all your little stars. DON’T GET UP TO CHECK or you might never come back to the plan again. 🙂


Quick finds come dinner time. Find it once for the whole week.

5a interlude. As you find the recipes create a stack on the table of recipes you will be using that week. Since most of mine are in a binder, I put those little post it flags on the recipes for the week so I can find them FAST come dinner time.  Print off the ones stuck on your computer because it is TOTALLY DUMB reading them off any kind of screen when you have messy hands, and are trying to scroll, scroll, scroll, close pop up ads etc. SAVE YOURSELF.

6. Done with dinners? Great, now plan lunches-lots of room for leftovers here, keep these as cheap and simple as possible. PB&J, Ham and Cheese, Hot dogs and string cheese. Put things you need on the grocery list.

7. Plan your breakfasts. We like to make LOTS of hot breakfasts at our house, but even if your family eats cereal and a banana 5 days of the week, write it down. Again, write down the grocery list items while you have that recipe in front of you.

8. Any dessert or snack you want to bake this week? Plan for that. Brownies?  Guacamole?  Banana Bread?


Meal Plan is done! So are the pistachios, and the Le Croix will have to wait.


9. Ok, now double check, did you write down ingredients for everything on your meal list? Go day by day, meal by meal, and make sure you’re covered.


There are items you may need, but aren’t a part of your grocery list from the meals, like milk, peanut butter, baking supplies. I check them off here.

10. Now you can get up. Go take the recipes you’ll use this week over to a special place on the counter. And go do your pantry check for those things you weren’t sure you had, and check your common supplies too.  My sister helped me with the list on the bottom of your WMP.  You can highlight what you need from there, or put it up in the big Grocery List box so that all your things are in one place.

11. Ok, Grocery store is calling. Go forth and conquer! Good luck!

Meal Planning-Laura's Week JPEG

Laura’s Meal Plan this week, typed out just for you guys.

Here’s that weekly meal plan template again: Weekly Meal Plan

We get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

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