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The most important meal planning advice

Updated: Jan 10

The most important meal planning advice is to Start where you are and use what you have.

Take foods you already like, and write them out in a menu.

When I provided weight loss counseling, people often wanted me to just give them a menu to follow.

I would never give someone a menu to follow.


No one would actually follow it.

To write a menu you would actually want to follow, I would have to know what you like, how much time you have to cook, how well you know how to cook, where you shop, what cultural limits you have and how much money you have to spend.

You know all those things about yourself, so the best person to write out your menu is YOU.

Ask yourself the following questions if you want to plan a menu that you will actually follow:

#1. How much time do I realistically have/want to cook?

Some people hate cooking and want to spend as little time as possible doing it.

Some people love cooking and spend too much time doing it.

The key to having a successful meal plan is to look at how much time you will honestly spend cooking.

The time you have to cook will dictate what you can cook. Also think about cleanup time.

If you only have 30 minutes, lasagna is not going to work, but there are sooo many easy healthy meals that can happen in 30 minutes. (see my recipe page)

Every time I menu plan, I sit down and write what will be happening the next week so I know how much time I have to spend cooking each day.

Here's what that looks like for me the next week:

I have zero time to cook between 4:45 and 6:30 every day, so I either do something fast (like quesadillas), make ahead (like soup), or we eat early in the day (like 4pm).

You might be working full time. You might have to pickup kids from daycare at 5, sit in traffic until 6, and then muster some real superhuman powers to make dinner while taking care of little kids. If this is you, fast easy meals that come together without much fuss are going to be required!

Just do what you can with what you have and make a realistic eating plan based on your time restraints.

#2 What do I already have that needs to be eaten?

Always plan your menu around foods you already have lurking in the fridge and pantry. This will save you so. much. money.

Before I plan my menu, I go through my fridge and figure out what needs to be used and write it on my menu plan somewhere (circled in the photo).

I just do this on a piece of paper because I'm a paper and pencil person, but you could totally do this on your phone or with an app.

#3 What do I feel like eating this week?

Do you love mexican? Italian? Salads? The cook should cook what they feel like eating.

I love greek food. I had leftover parsley in the fridge. So I put tabbouleh on the menu.

I love soups in winter, I had leftover bacon, so we're having soup that calls for bacon.

Will my kids complain? Maybe. That doesn't matter. I'm the adult, I'm the one who knows about nutrition, I'm the one who does the shopping, I'm the one who does the cooking (mostly) and I also need to eat, so I choose the menu.

Kids can learn to eat what we eat (as long as they can safely chew and swallow it). You don't need to put chicken nuggets and mac+cheese on the menu just because you have kids. But if YOU like those foods, then go ahead!

#3 What can I add to make my meals healthier?

Every meal needs the following 4 things:



Whole Grain


After I've planned my menu, I go back and make sure each meal has all 4 parts.

This usually means adding in a fruit and and a whole grain bread (see items circled below).

I'm pretty savvy on what's in season. If you aren't sure what's in season, just look in the ads for whatever fruit is a good price/on sale and buy that. More on how to save money on produce in the next blog post.

#4 What else do we need for breakfast/lunches etc?

Once I've written down everything I need to make my planned dinners, I'll add on things I need to buy for lunches/breakfast.

That's it! My menu is planned! Time to head for the store!

How long does this whole process take? About 15 minutes. Sometimes 30 if I'm using a bunch of new recipes.

Seems like a lot of time upfront, but it will save so much time later in the week when you don't have to go to the store a million times or dither about what you are making for dinner!

The next step is to go to the store. I've got some tips on that in the next post.

See you next week, happy menu planning!

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