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Meal Prep & Planning 101: How I Meal Plan

If you missed the introduction to this series you can catch up HERE. Today I want to give you a glimpse into how I do my meal planning and the tools I use to make it easier. I have a limited amount of time to get everything checked off my to-list each day and I have my meal planning streamlined into a very simple process. 

First, there are 4 iOS apps I use religiously to do my meal planning. I’m not sure of their availability on Android but they have really helped me turn a dreaded task into something I can get done in 20 minutes. 

  • Artful Agenda– I use this app for pretty much everything in my life. It’s a digital planner app and my entire life would fall apart without it. I’m not exaggerating. I use the app on my iPhone and I also use the desktop version. It holds my calendar (I have all our calendars synced to it), my weekly menu plan, my to-do lists for the house, family, PTO, and blog, and everything is color coded. I love it. I do pay a $3.99 per month subscription fee but it’s worth so much more than that. I’ll have an in-depth post coming soon about all the amazing features Artful Agenda offers. For the purpose of this post- this is where I do my meal planning. 
  • Flipp– this is the app where I see all the grocery store sales ads in one place. You can set your favorite stores and it will give you the sales ad the day it comes available and for some stores (such as Aldi) it gives you the preview for the next week. This is the only sales app I use and I check it before making my dinner and lunch plans for the week. I build my menu around the meats, vegetables, and fruits that are on sale each week. The app is free. 
  • Shopping List Ease– this is my holy grail of shopping list apps. I have 4 different shopping lists- one for Walmart, ALDI, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Each app lets me save my frequently purchased items from that store along with the price and I can save each item according to aisle or category. It’s so easy to scroll through my saved items each week and choose the items I need to refill. Being able to see my running total at the top lets me adjust my menu as needed to fit into my weekly budget. This app is also free.
  • Recipe Keeper– I keep all of my recipes in this app. I paid a one-time fee of $4.99 for the upgraded unlimited version and it was worth every single penny. I can customize categories and add sub-categories to keep my recipes organized. For example, my main categories include Appetizers, Breakfast, Dessert & Snacks, Main Dish, Side Dish, and Vegetables. Each main category is broken down into sub-categories. For example, the main dish category has 11 sub-categories including Beef, Casserole, Chicken, Fish, Pasta, Pork, Salad, Sauces, Sheet Pan, Soup, and Subs & Sandwiches. This organization is essential to fast and easy meal planning for me. 

Next I want to share the exact steps I take to do my weekly meal planning. I promise it’s very easy and anybody can do it! I do my meal planning and make my grocery lists on Wednesday’s because that’s when the new ad circular’s come out for ALDI. I do the bulk of my shopping at ALDI so I use their sale schedule to plan my week. 

Step One- First thing I do on Wednesday is check the ALDI and Walmart weekly ads. I check to see if any of my weekly staples are on special first and add them to my shopping lists with the sale price.  Next I check to see what fresh meat, vegetables, and fruit are on special for the week and start planning my 4 dinners around the sales. 

Step Two- This is where I actually plan our 4 dinners. On my Artful Agenda app I pull up the weekly meal plan. I know for sure we’re going to do Take ‘n Bake pizzas on Saturday night so I fill it in right away. Next I check our weekly calendar to see which nights are the busiest and make those our 2 leftover/fridge clean out nights. I’m left with 4 nights to plan dinners. If chicken thighs are on sale I know that I will be cooking chicken thighs one night so I use my Recipe Keeper app to look at all of my chicken recipes. Once I’ve chosen the one I want to make I add it to the meal plan. I always add my main meat dish to the meal plan first and then add the sides that complement the main dish the best. This process really only takes me about 5 minutes now that I have the system down. 

Step Three- After my weekly meal plan is set I add all the ingredients I need to buy to my grocery lists. I fill in all the regular staples that I need to refill and I always double check the pantry, fridges, and freezers to be sure I’m not buying stuff we don’t need that week (unless it’s on sale and I’m stocking up). 

Some Notes: 

  • I add new recipes to my app every week. If I find a recipe I want to try I add it immediately so it doesn’t get lost. If we don’t like it then I just delete it or adapt the ingredients to our liking. 
  • I find recipes everywhere- Pinterest, blogs, old cookbooks, Facebook…they’re everywhere!
  • I try to vary the meats I cook so we don’t eat chicken 4 nights a week. I typically do chicken, pork, salmon, and either tilpaia or ground beef.
  • For our side dishes I usually try to do a starch- potatoes in some form, rice, homemade stuffing, pasta, etc. and then a fresh vegetable. 
  • I try to choose recipes that use ingredients I already have on hand. If I’m making a recipe that requires me to buy several ingredients I make sure the other 3 recipes don’t require me to buy anything except the meat. This helps keep the costs down. 
  • I do attempt to make at least 1-2 new recipes per week but I choose recipes that don’t require exotic or unusual ingredients that I won’t use again. 

Next week I’ll be sharing more on how I stock the pantry for our lunch prep! I have over a month’s worth of posts planned solely focused on meal planning and prep and lunch planning and prep! You can find all the posts in my Meal Planning & Prep and Lunch Planning & Prep series HERE


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