Three things that will change your meal-planning life (or lack thereof)

When I wrestle with the vacuum, the machine wins. My sock drawer is full of lonely singles. I haven’t Windex-ed the bathroom mirror in a month.

But meal planning and budgeting is my thing.

On average, I cook for seven people a night. Sometimes my table has ten, sometimes only six. If I don’t meal plan, a lot of people starve. No, seriously. They just won’t eat. Or they’ll spend a hundred(+) dollars on Thai. Or they’ll have cereal. And there’s nothing more pathetic than the symphony of spoons scraping the bottom of a cereal bowl in synchrony at 6 o’clock at night. “Pass the Chex?”


So I plan. And I’ve gotten really good at it. You can, too. These hacks work for a family of two through a family of twelve. (Or … more? My condolences.)

How to survive in the Wilderness Kitchen: Meal Planning Hacks for Every Cook

You Need:
1. A Magic Box

This is my sanity.

Each card has a meal. Each meal has a list of ingredients, the number of people that amount of ingredients will serve, & where I can find the recipe (cookbook and page number).

For beginners: think of five meals your family loves and you know how to/like to make. Pick up a card for each meal. Write the ingredients down. You can always add to your stash as you expand your meal-making horizons.

I also have a master card of “Staples” — items I buy every week because we always want them and we’re always running out (Bagels, milk, cereal, yogurt, snacks …)

Do not fall into the trap of wanting to include the recipe on every card. It will drive you insane. Just write down the cookbook and page number. Then put it in your magic box.

File however you want. Mine is alphabetical. One day I might separate it out by category and color code it. Cough. Just like one day my kid’s socks might match.

2. A Calendar
Seriously. Get one. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Doesn’t even have to be real. Go digital for all I care. Just get one. You can even use one you already have. Mine is just an extra space in my regular planner.

I start my planning on a Monday during naptime. I go through my magic box, I pluck cards that sound delicious, and I write down the name of a meal for each day of the week. If I want to add a new meal to the box because I’m tired of tuna cakes, then I pull one from the internet or from my favorite cook book and create a new card to add to the magic box.

3. A shopping List
There are two ways to do this.

Using the meal card you pulled from the magic box, make a list of the ingredients you know you need. Some of these ingredients you will probably already have (sugar, salt, flour?) Sort the list of things you need according to category for ease of finding the item in the store (meat, dairy, canned, frozen, bread …)

Fast and lazy:
Put the cards you need for the meals you planned in your purse. Go to the store. Buy everything on the cards. Don’t forget to bring your “Staples” card.

Image source:

I don’t care how you make your list. But you are NOT allowed to go to the grocery store without some sort of list. Not unless you want to spend twice as much as you intended and forget half the things you need. Make a list. Even if you write it out on last week’s (yesterday’s?) Ralphs receipt, while idling your car in the Albertson’s parking lot.

Then, your first pass through the store, ONLY grab what’s on that list. Don’t grab the bag of Doritos off the end of the isle. It’s a supermarket trick to get you to salivate and gravitate. You are smarter than Marketing. RESIST.

Once you’re through your list, you can take a moment to go back and grab a few extra items still tempting your taste buds. This is because I love you. And because I always return to the frozen food section to get a carton of ice cream  a bag of frozen veggies. Organic veggies in biodegradable packaging.

Using these three things, you can plan ahead. Even if it’s just three days at a time.

Love, Kellie
Blogger for MOPS at GBC

Talk to us!

Do you have your own “meal-planning hacks” that you think might help some struggling moms out? Did you put any of Jessica’s suggestions into practice? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to meal-planning?

We want to know! Comment below and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a prize at the next meeting.


16 thoughts on “Three things that will change your meal-planning life (or lack thereof)

  1. Great tips, Kellie! I feel like I'm always searching for new recipes and wish I had a big enough collection of fail proof ones. I think it may be time for a MOPS cookbook;) Everyone could submit their fail proof/ favorite recipes. I know I get discouraged when my Pinterest recipes don't turn out and would rather have recipes that are tried and true!

  2. I fail in every aspect of cooking and planning and always default to Mexican food. Hoping to start implementing the tips learned at Mops

  3. Have tried to implement some tips that would work for us and it for sure helps out when I'm pressed for time. A struggle I have is not preparing and that growing something together at the last minute. I'm a huge couponer and have the ability to save my family money and stock like things we actually use. It's worked out great!!!

  4. Great ideas! I'm guilty of buying what's not on the list and forgetting to buy what I really need! I need to get better at this! Thanks for the post!

  5. I love the idea of the magic box. I have tried many systems over the last few years and none have stuck but I like the idea of a box full of go to recipes. I have put several things in the freezer this last week though after being inspired by Jessica. Dinner tonight came out of the freezer and it all got gobbled up and made all three of us smile.

  6. I love the idea of your meal box. I always sit down and go through my pinterest to see what dinners look good and then I write it all out like you:)

  7. Great idea about the box and recipes. I hold a Freezer Meal Workshop every month at my house and this is a great suggestion to share with the ladies who participate. Thanks for sharing your good ideas Kellie!

  8. The box is pure genius what a great way to not have to dig through a bunch of cookbooks and online pages to find the weekly meal. The biggest challenge I think will be finding and figuring out what to put into my magic box of meals.

  9. Thanks Kellie! I’m guilty of eating out a lot and loving fast, easy meals. I have found frozen section is my favorite for quick dinners that are fairly healthy too! I agree with the other mamas pasta is a definite go to quick meal as well as pizza. I like the recipe box idea thanks for the tip!

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