When Do You Plan Your Meals?

I saw this question on SparkPeople the other day and it intrigued me. Planning meals is such an important part of eating healthy. Eating healthy for life – not just while you are losing weight.

I am a perfect example of this. When I was first married I never planned the first thing for dinner. Almost every night without fail I’d ask John where he was taking me out for dinner. He’d laugh and off we’d go Bennigan’s, Ruby Tuesday or McDonald’s. I’d order the biggest thing on the menu and then pick the dessert that best suited my mood at the moment. No planning=restaurant meals=weight gain.

After I began having children I did get a little better with meal planning. There were still many, many nights where we went out to dinner, but I at least had the beginnings of a meal planning system. My problem during that time of my life was that I wasn’t trying to plan healthy meals. Instead I just planned on cooking whatever sounded good to me at the moment, whether it was fried chicken or corn dogs. (I’m embarrassed to admit that one.)

As my weight loss finally got going, meal planning took on a whole new importance. Now I was planning meals to avoid going out to eat, to feed myself and my family wholesome food, and lose weight. I wasn’t perfect at getting it all right, but we did substantially reduce the number of restaurant meals we ate on a weekly basis.

After I reached my goal weight I didn’t fall back into my old “restaurant most nights of the week” habit. Instead, I continued on with my meal planning. Why? Because I didn’t want to gain my weight back. I had made such a drastic physical change and I still needed to work on making my lifestyle changes permanent.

Now, 12 – almost 13 years later, I still plan meals. I plan my meals the night before I go grocery shopping. I generally try and make one new meal a week, three vegetarian meals and three family staples. Planning the night before gives me plenty of time to think about what I want to make. I take into account what family activities we have each evening. If the kids have a function to attend, I make a meal that I can prepare early enough for them to eat alone and the rest of the family to eat later.

I am flexible with my meals. There are nights when 4:30 rolls around and I have done zero to prepare for the dinner meal. On those nights, though, we don’t go out to dinner. Instead, I make one of my fall back menus, like black bean enchiladas, breakfast for dinner or baked chicken and veggies.

I’m curious to know. When do you plan your meals and why then? Diane

41 thoughts on “When Do You Plan Your Meals?

  1. Miz says:

    right now Im really loose with meal planing because I can be.
    I work from 4-730A when husband leaves and then at night
    all day is CHILD TIME and we tend to do lots of spontaneous HEY LETS MAKE XYZ!! and dash to grocery or farmers market.

    I know soon I will need to be more of a planner but for now Im loving flying by the seat of my intuitive pants.

  2. Fran says:

    In October I live together with the hub for 16 years. And I’ve been planning meals for the last 16 years. Main reason I started it was because I work fulltime and I don’t like grocery shopping. So I planned the meals and did my grocery shopping once a week. I still do that and now not only because of the same reason as 16 years ago but because I want to plan my meals so they fit in my healthy eating.

    I always plan my meals on Saturday or Sunday because I have time to search for new recipes. But the planning then is not for the week to come but for the week after that.

    I’ll explain: I do my grocery shopping on Thursday.

    Next weekend I’m going to plan meals for August 13th till August 19th.

    Sometimes people ask me if I know then already if I want to eat that on that day. No I don’t know and sometimes I don’t feel like it when that day comes but I do cook it because I’ve got the ingredients already. That’s why we hardly get fastfood and I almost always cook.

  3. Diane says:

    Every Tuesday is meal planning ( and shopping list creation) day, for Saturday-Friday the following week. I started doing this 27 years ago because of the need to save money. I moved to doing Once a Month meal planning and cooking a year later, and that REALLY helped to refine the planning skills. When we started the weight loss journey it was simply a refinement of long term skill.I plan all meals and snacks for the three of us ,including what to send Bob with for brown bag breakfasts and lunches weekdays. Why Tuesday ? We get the sale fliers for our two favorite stores that day and if necessary to make extra stops for stores that Bob can stop at on his way home, it gives the opportunity to do this with plenty of time allowance for working late, Funerals and so forth. Wednesday is my school planning day- planning is the way to stay on track or weight loss, money, time management and so much more !

  4. Rachel Palmieri says:

    I try and meal plan on the weekend before I hit the grocery stores…meal plan, coupon organizing, stores…it’s a LONG process but so worth it. And my fallback is also breakfast for dinner (or as I call it, Brinner)!

  5. Tara says:

    I meal plan over breakfast on Sunday mornings. Then I make my shopping list based on that meal plan so I don’t waste money by buying food I don’t have a plan to eat.

    When I get home, I clean and prepare EVERYTHING (from slicing up the veggies to portioning the meat) and put it away in the fridge/freezer. It’s time consuming, but it saves me so much time during the week when I’m busier that I consider it a wise time investment.

  6. Sharon says:

    I plan meals on Sunday afternoon or evening. This is our “protected” time. Unless it’s something totally unavoidable or inflexible, we choose to attend no outside activities or social events. We clean house, do yardwork, coordinate calendars and discuss the upcoming week and I plan menus. I grocery shop first thing Monday morning.

  7. Susan says:

    I keep core staples on hand and plan different menus for each night of the week from there. I too am getting where we have a healthy meatless dish (beans) a couple nights out of the week which helps save $$ at the store and its better for your health not to eat so much meat. I grocery shop twice a week usually one big shop on payday and one fill in the staples we are out of earlier in the week.

  8. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    I have always found this so hard, probably because I don’t like to cook and my boys are finicky eaters. So frustrating to try to please us all with one meal. When I am eating healthy, I plan before I go to the store, but usually only for a few days. It is just too hard for me to think that far ahead. This week will be different since my son has a friend who will be staying with us. So he and I need to figure out what we will eat that his friend might like.

  9. Jules - Big Girl Bombshell says:

    I found this hard to do, but came up with a compromise. I plan meals but not a schedule. I make sure the ingredients needed for some of our favorites or things I want to try are in the house.
    THEN
    on the nights I don’t feel like cooking, I have staples or healthier quick meals in the house, so I am not ordering out. I love Trader Joe’s just for that reason.. If I want a pizza, I make my own vege pizza or chicken breasts cooked with mushrooms and a salad. This way I am prepared for those I dont feel like it days…. contents….

  10. Desert Agave says:

    I used to plan meals carefully. When I really started gaining major weight the last couple years, I stopped planning almost entirely. Instead we went out to dinner often, or each at an entire frozen pizza. Now that I’m losing weight, I’m back to planning out meals. Monday-Thursday I eat the same thing every week, so I always know what to get on my Monday shopping trip. Friday-Sunday I play around with my meals a little more. I plan out what I’m going to make Friday morning, and then go shopping for what I need.

  11. Alissa says:

    I plan my meals right before going grocery shopping. I actually planned next week’s meals last night and we’re going grocery shopping tonight. Planning is so important, and like you, we have our fall back meals- usually breakfast for supper. 🙂

  12. Syl says:

    I usually meal plan on Sunday and then grocery shop on Monday. As far as the meals, I usually will take out what ever it is for dinner in the morning and then work my lunch and breakfast around the calorie amount of dinner.

  13. Jane says:

    I saw myself so clearly in this post. When I fall off my diet, it is always when I fail to plan meals ahead, and when I don’t have the proper groceries in the house. I also don’t like to cook so much anymore, since the kids have grown up, so the two of us head off to restaurants much more than we should. However, just this week I made a commitment to stop that self-sabotaging behavior, and my fridge is stocked, and my cupboards have been cleared of foods I can’t have. Thanks for the very important message in your post.

  14. Emergefit says:

    I think the largest part of meal planning is for one to lower their expectations. It’s okay to live of some basic concepts and basic foods when one is on a weight-loss objective. This idea that we have a god-given right to variety, and something new each night borders on ridiculous for those who are in a weight-loss crisis.

    Planning becomes less important when habits born of necessity set in…

  15. Tami says:

    I am pretty loose with the planning during the summer. I have been taking it a day at a time. Thinking about the dinner meal in the morning and planning from there.

    During the the school year I plan out the meals for the week. Then do my grocery shopping based on those meals. I spend less money, shop less and have less wasted food.

    Our college age kids live at home and commute so I like to have healthy meals ready for them and hubby at the end of the day. It helps me as well because I can plan the rest of my day around what we are having for the evening meal.

    Summer time I don’t feel like cooking as much, we eat lighter foods, lots of Farmer’s Market fresh produce and it just takes less planning. I don’t have everyone here for an evening meal so I cook when accordingly.

  16. vickie says:

    I have thought about you a lot for the past two weeks as I have had two extra teenagers (so there were 7 of us instead of normal 5).

    And two of the 7 are total vegetarians,
    and two more of us are nearly vegetarians,
    and one thinks he will die instantly
    if he does not have ‘meat’.

    I can see that I would settle into a grove and do fine if these kids lived here all the time. And I must say it was easier not harder in a lot of ways as ‘more hands makes much lighter work’.

    but I could clearly see the amount of ‘plan ahead’ required to NOT fall back on carryout/restaurant
    when the day gets ahead of itself and there are a lot of very hungry people.

  17. Hope says:

    Truth: I don’t really plan my meals. If I do at all, it’s mentally. But I really hate cooking, and my husband isn’t picky, so yeah, really no formal planning here.

    I wish I could be one of those gals that loves to cook, but it stresses me out, I’m tired at the end of the day, and cooking makes me VERY cranky. I’ll probably get better at this once I graduate college, but until then, I say meh. 🙂

    Have a fantastic weekend Diane!

  18. Cynthia (It All Changes) says:

    I always have dinner planned because the time I have to prepare varies from day to day. Breakfast is fairly standard and lunch is hodge-podge depending on how hungry I am and what we have in the fridge. But keeping track helps me balance what my body needs.

  19. 'Drea says:

    You are definitely a woman after my heart. I have to admit that I have not mastered the meal planning yet. Although, I do stay out of restaurants — for the most part.

    My lack of meal planning is the number one reason that I need a personal chef or, at least, an on-call one. 🙂

  20. Melinda Neely says:

    I just wrote a post on this very topic myself! I am not a great planner, but have learned a lot from others over the years. And recently, my husband was diagnosed as gluten intolerant, so this is forcing us to be better at planning meals the whole family can eat.

    What seems to be working thus far is a discussion on the weekend about meals for the upcoming week. Then the list is made and the trip to the grocery store takes place. I even forget what we decided, so I have been making a list of what meals will be made on which nights, and this is dramatically simplifying our cooking/eating lives. Especially with so many summer activities on the calendar!

  21. Stacy says:

    The summertime is really hard for me to plan meals. We get whatever is growing from the CSA, so generally I just make those veggies the rest of the week and the freezer is full of different proteins (fish, chicken, beef). During the winter I try to do it later in the week, since I can get my groceries delivered to my door on Saturday mornings. Right now I am focusing on making up all those veggies, and whatever I can’t get used up I blanche and freeze for winter.

  22. Ashley says:

    I don’t plan my meals, per se, but I do always have an idea of what we’ll be eating that night. It mostly works out well for me. I get ideas when I’m at the store. I sort of put together meals like that.

  23. Joy says:

    I plan my meals after shopping based on whatever meat I found marked down at the grocery. In the summer I grill meat for dinner most nights- in the morning I pull something out of the freezer to grill for dinner. We always have salad and one other veggie, and I cook a starch for my husband. I keep staples on hand – rice, frozen veggies (fresh in the summer), etc. I know what we like to eat, and what I have time to cook with my schedule, and we eat pretty much the same stuff once a week. In the summer we eat meals that are “cooler” to cook – grilling out, or taco salad or chicken salad. DH eats a “low-fat” diet and I eat low-carb, and this is the system I’ve found that works for both of our preferences.

  24. Taryl says:

    I plan my meals, but that is honestly for ease/budget our purposes these days! We rotate breakfasts around here, usually toast and eggs, oatmeal, cream of wheat, one breakfast baked item, cereal, etc etc. Lunches are set each weekday for me and the kids, nice and predictable, and Saturday lunch usually involves leftovers if the kids are not out with their grandparents.

    I do two weeks of dinner menu planning at a time when I am on the ball about it, and it helps me plan use of my grocery list and pantry stock a whole lot better! Consequently, knowing what my meals generally are helps me plan my calories better too, so it is a win/win, and we end up relying on processed foods a lot less (which we can’t afford anyway!).

    Menu planning has been a huge frugal/dieting tool for me as I have learned to be a better homemaker, Its so necessary!

  25. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    I am all about planning ahead not only so I don’t grab something I don’t want or should not eat BUT because it just makes the day or week run smoother. I can’t always get to the stores I like when I want & I do plan around shopping all in the same area so I don’t waste gas so.. for me, planning is key to having the healthy foods I want available when I want them. I cook chicken, turkey meatloaf, homemade protein bars & protein cookies all in advance to have them there. For me, it just makes it easier for me to eat the way I want to eat.

  26. Kimberley says:

    I don’t plan them. My meals are pretty simply. Meat of some sort and vegetables. I always have pork, beef, chicken and shrimp in the freezer and I like to keep a lot of fresh vegetables around.

    If I want fish or scallops, I will pick them up the same day as I prefer fresh to frozen.

    Sometimes I will make brown rice or brown rice pasta, but that is very infrequent.

    I also have frozen back-up meals in the freezer. If I make chili, soup or curries, there is always enough left over to freeze a bunch of servings. Then if I don’t feel like cooking, I just grab something out of the freezer.

    I will plan my meal if I am going to a restaurant. I like to look at the menu online if possible and decide what I am having before I even get there.

    With your large family, I can see how planning would really help you stay organized. I just cook for me and sometimes my boyfriend so I don’t think the same level of organization is required.

  27. julie says:

    I think planning or not planning my meals is what is going to make or break my maintenance. I gain quickly when I eat out all the time, even choosing healthier options (which I don’t always do). Now that I’m used to being back at work, I’m bringing lunch, eating dinner and breakfast at home. Easiest, since I only have a microwave at work, is to make a pot of bean soup on Sunday, eat it all week. Not planning meals is absolutly my downfall, I don’t have to plan super healthy meals, but anything I bring myself is healthier than a sandwich from the deli.

  28. Erin says:

    Meal planning is weekly in our house. With my boyfriend joining us for supper many nights, I’ve had to increase the volume by which I shop and prepare meals. The only downside to this is the volume of dirty dishes has also increased! 🙂 I have tried to incorporate more meat into the meals where he eats with us, and save the meat free meals for when he isn’t around.

    I don’t plan breakfasts during the week – they naturally just consist of cereal, yogurt, fruit, oats, and eggs. Lunch is usually leftovers or sandwiches/wraps and fruit/veg and I almost always bring my lunch to work. I do plan Saturday and Sunday breakfast, though; weekend breakfast is family time. Weekend lunch is usually a picnic or we go to Subway.

  29. Aimee says:

    Meal planning for me is both easy and extremely difficult. During the work week I do great with breakfast and lunch. I spend an hour or so Sunday evenings getting them all ready for the week. Planning dinner does not go so well and the weekends I tend not to plan at all, so that’s something I’m working on.

  30. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    I would scoff at your corn dogs, but considering I used to eat a bag of microwave popcorn for dinner at least two nights a week, I really don’t have any superiority points on my side. 🙂

    Since I’m cooking for one and living the single life, I don’t usually plan specific meals, but I do plan to have healthy foods on hand. I small-batch cook and freeze individual portions, and I almost always have fresh and frozen/canned veggies on hand. This way, I can prepare a good meal with very little notice.

    Every now and then I get caught without, but I’m fortunate to have a couple of healthy “fast food” options nearby. I can’t justify Burger King when Chick-fil-A is two blocks away. 🙂

  31. Siobhan says:

    It is SO much easier to plan dinner for just the two of us, than it is for a family, as I was reminded when I had my kids and their families here. I usually cook three meals a week with enough left overs for three others. (We normally go out on Saturday night.)

  32. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    I usually plan my meals on the weekend as that’s when I go grocery shopping. But, like you, I’m flexible. I plan five meals for the week (Mondays are usually leftovers) but often end up switching them around. I’ve found that I do best if two of my planned meals are really simple meals that I can prepare in less than 30 minutes.

  33. mamajuliana says:

    I plan our meals more or less for the coming week when I see what is on sale at the grocer.

    I used to do the once a month cooking when the children were younger, but now that they are older, they want to help plan in shorter times. A month was just too long!!!

    I always have back up meals in place in case some thing comes up. Last night for instance hubby had to be at a viewing last minute, so I made an easy back up meal and the ‘regularly scheduled’ meal will be pushed to this evening.

    Eating out is our default rarely anymore…it is just too expensive with the kids who are not ‘cheap dates’ any more and cost the adult price!!!

  34. dx says:

    i don’t feel ‘together’ enough really to plan meals for a week, but then again, we are two people at home with two decent incomes and no kids, all of our shops are within 5 minutes walking distance, we walk to and from work and we get fruit and veggies delivered from the farmers twice a week, so our need for planning is reduced. we don’t know what’s going to be delivered, and so we wait for inspiration to strike when the delivery arrives. usually two or three meals just sort of plan themselves depending on what’s in the delivery and then the bits and pieces we pick up along the way. we also eat out once midweek and once at the weekend.

    that said, if i lived further from the shops i would definitely not be popping by 4 times a week to pick stuff up, i’d be planning further ahead. i like the spontaneity we have now, and we don’t eat particularly unhealthily, but if our lives were more complicated with more scheduling of children or driving involved then we would have a different approach.

  35. Leah says:

    I plan them right before I go grocery shopping, which could be minutes before or the evening before.

    You are so right on this subject and I find that when I don’t plan we end up eating out more and it’s sabotaged my weight loss efforts many times.

  36. MB says:

    I usually don’t have a plan other than to use whatever food I have that is going to spoil soon if it doesn’t get eaten.

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