An Idiot's Guide to Meal Planning … and I'm the idiot.


An Idiot's Guide to Meal Planning // Nicole @ Three 31 //


Meal Planning – oh the rave and popularity these days. Ask anyone who’s eaten at my table, I prepare really delicious food but I rarely follow a recipe to a tee. Even when I’m baking, I’m notorious for an ingredient substitution or adjustment. In other words, I’m not a good rule-follower. In an effort to become a little more organized and seamless in the kitchen, not to mention more responsible with my food choices and portion sizes, I’ve decided to give meal planning an honest effort. It’ll also be helpful in the fact that I often prepare two meals: one for Husband and one for me. Yes, we eat some of the same things but Husband’s palette is not as adventurous as mine. Thus, I prepare what we both like. He’s happy and I’m happy, problem solved. But it gets expensive and time-consuming. And let’s face it: life with an active and mobile toddler makes me realize every minute second counts when preparing a home-cooked meal. I’ve also made it a goal of mine (2015 Resolutions) to use the Crock Pot more often. So, in essence, meal planning is killing two birds with one stone. I’m hopeful that adding new flavors and dishes (besides our boring, mundane, run-of-the-mill regulars) will encourage Kamden to try more solids. It’s a (potential) win-win for all of us.

Meal Planning Tips for Idiots … Like Me!

  1. To avoid getting overwhelmed, meal plan for a week or two instead of a month. Or, plan your menu for a month but go to the grocery on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Make it work for you, don’t add more stress to your already busy lifestyle!
  2. Use Pinterest as a guide or source of recipe inspiration.
  3. Gather recipes you wish to prepare, read each carefully, and make a shopping list of every ingredient or item you’ll need to purchase.
  4. Shop at member clubs (i.e. Sam’s or Costco) for items you’ll use often, such as meat, pantry staples, produce, bulk spices, and gallon-size freezer storage bags.
  5. Devote a couple of hours to shopping and meal prepping. If you have children, leave them with a loved one.


I’ve already begun collecting recipes I want to make and made a monthly meal plan (albeit a very rough draft). Perhaps I will share our weekly meal plan here on the blog every Saturday and use Sunday to prepare a shopping list since I already go to the grocery on Monday, after Kamden and I have gone to the gym and it’s less crowded. There are few things worse than a crowded grocery store on a weekend, yikes! Plus, Kamden is still young enough that being with my at the grocery isn’t a burden. I actually like having him with me now that he’s sitting in the cart instead of his infant carrier. He’s alert, always looking around, reaching out to touch thing (he loves the produce section!), and offers smiles to everyone. Plus, he’s happy and content playing in the living room or his Pack-N-Play while I’m in the kitchen. But if I need extra prep time, I can do it while Husband’s home and ‘entertaining’ the Mini Man Child. When it comes to grocery shopping, I will read the recipes carefully and make a list of every ingredient I need to buy for the week ahead. For me, buying meat is not a weekly purchase as I buy it all in bulk, except beef. We raise our own steer for roasts, ground beef, and steaks. I buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Sam’s Club and keep an eye out for specials at local retailers, then bring it home where I trim any excess fat or skin, halve larger pieces, and place 6-8 pieces into gallon-size freezer Ziploc bags. I also buy pork at Sam’s, including the pork tenderloins (sold in two-pack packages) and the big loin that I slice into one-inch chops. I can usually get 25-35 chops from one loin and put 6-8 chops in a Ziploc bag. My trips to the grocery are for canned goods and fresh produce, in addition to baking and pantry staples, spices, dairy, and any special ingredients I need but don’t normally have on hand.

For the last week of January, and to begin my meal planning journey, I’m using the 10 dishes listed below. I chose 10 because I’m incorporating staples that I know Husband will enjoy plus a few new recipes to try. I may or may not prepare all of them, but I’ll use this list as a guide and inspiration. I’m not going to assign a particular dish to a specific day of the week either, because that seems like a lot of pressure. What if I don’t want chicken tacos on Tuesday? Maybe I’ll get there eventually, but for now, selecting a menu is adventurous enough. The majority of meals I prepare at home are large because we enjoy leftovers. With very few exceptions, I eat every meal at home and Husband eats leftovers for dinner or occasionally takes them for lunch at work. There are some days and evenings that I have standing commitments (such as church every Sunday and Wednesday) and don’t feel like or have time to cook. I guess you could say I have a tiny bit of meal planning experience, but it’s more about being prepared and thinking ahead. Eventually, I’d like to prepare some Crock Pot meals ahead of time by prepping ingredients and storing them in a Ziploc bag before freezing. Then, when ready to use, add fresh ingredients (if applicable) and cooking liquids to the Crock Pot.

Recipes to Prepare
*denotes a Husband-approved meal

*Chicken and rice
*Pinto Beans and Cornbread (Crock Pot)
Chicken Tacos (Crock Pot)
*Homemade Pizza (fresh dough recipe here)
 Loaded Baked Potato and Chicken Casserole
Goat Cheese Lemon Pasta
*Spaghetti and meat sauce
*Apple Cinnamon Pork Tenderloin (Crock Pot)
Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, sausage or bacon, scrambled eggs)
Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken

A few more things …

  • If the weather is cooperative, instead of using the Crock Pot for the chicken tacos or apple cinnamon pork, I’ll use the grill. Another alternative is to mix marinated chicken, skirt steak, bell peppers, and onion for fajitas.
  • As for the spaghetti and meat sauce, that’s a meal I’m honestly dreading since I’m still avoiding all things tomato (elimination diet for eczema triggers). I make really great spaghetti sauce. Fortunately, it freezes beautifully and I can make other dishes in the future (chicken Parmesan, lasagna, meatball marinara, etc.) that I know are Husband-approved. And, I’m the type of “challenged” cook who, when cooking spaghetti noodles, can feed 70 of her closest friends and have leftover spaghetti for a week. Oy vey!
  • The next time I make homemade pizzas, in addition to Husband’s traditional meat-and-cheese pie, I’m going to make a non-tomato-based white sauce for mine.


Stay tuned for updates on my meal planning adventure. I’m sure there will be some adjustments, tweaks, and changes along the way. If you’re an experienced, veteran meal planner, share your tips, tricks, techniques, and favorite recipes in the comment section below!!!!

P.S. I’m using a plain ol’ piece of paper to jot down meal ideas and shopping lists, but I need to print this meal planner printable that Jenny created.

By |2015-01-24T06:15:50+00:00January 24th, 2015|Food & Drink, Recipe|9 Comments

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  1. vintageregina January 24, 2015 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    This is great! I always enjoy cooking more when I have all of the supplies in the house. I signed up for the Weekly Meal Planner from Real Simple – it’s fantastic!!!

    • Nicole January 24, 2015 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      Ohhh, I love Real Simple. I’ll have to check that out, thanks for the suggestion! I made spaghetti sauce today, probably six or seven quarts worth, and I found a BIG container already in the freezer. My first day of meal planning and I’ve already made a rookie mistake. Seriously, I could feed TWO armies with spaghetti for a month. Oh. My. Word.

      On Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 6:17 PM, Three 31 wrote:


  2. Celeste Zachry January 24, 2015 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Hey, I’ve made some great crock-pot recipes I’d be happy to share w/ you!

    • Nicole January 24, 2015 at 10:43 pm - Reply

      MAMA ZEEEE, you’ve got to share that pulled pork recipe served at Leigh Anne’s shin-dig tonight. Holy Smokestacks, that was AH-MAZING. I wanted to go back for seconds but I refrained. I could have eaten the whole thing!!!!

      On Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 10:27 PM, Three 31 wrote:


      • Celeste Zachry January 25, 2015 at 7:06 am - Reply

        Well, talk to Brandon about that recipe. He made the pulled pork and salmon 🙂

  3. Rebekah January 25, 2015 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    I wouldn’t say I’m a meal planning veteran but we have been meal planning fairly regularly for a couple of years. I do several things the same way as you; I cook in large quantities for left overs (Sunday night and Wednesday night are always what we call “Biblical meals” as in Seek and ye shall find… in the refrigerator!), I don’t necessarily assign days to my meals because one night I may not feel like cooking a particular something… unless that meal is used in other meals that week. I think the thing that has helped us be more successful with meal planning is that I try not to regularly cycle recipes that use “special” ingredients because you’d think that just making the list and grocery shopping would be enough but I’ve found that I tend to forget and it also really adds to the price of our grocery budget.

    • Nicole January 25, 2015 at 10:10 pm - Reply

      Rebekah, I absolutely agree with the special ingredients and I really LOVE your “Biblical meals” description. That is epic!!!!!!!

      On Sun, Jan 25, 2015 at 6:19 PM, Three 31 wrote:


  4. Monday Musings | Three 31 January 26, 2015 at 7:51 am - Reply

    […] started a meal planning adventure over the weekend and Husband’s first request was spaghetti. That’s a Husband-approved […]

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