3-3-1 Meal Planning

In my house, we are creatures of habit. With a toddler, routines and patterns are important, and frankly, my husband and I like our routines too. There’s benefit in mixing up the routine, of course, but there’s comfort and efficiency in sticking with a routine.

I still fall behind on meal planning regularly. But I do have a system that — if I do it — works really well for me. So, I thought I’d share it in case it helps someone else.

We routinely eat out one night a week. For us, this happens to fall on Monday, because with my schedule the past several months, that’s the hardest night for me to get my act together and cook. We might sprinkle in other nights out just out of necessity as life happens. But in general, I start each week expecting to cook six dinners.

(Credit: Thinkstock)

(Credit: Thinkstock)

On Monday night, we eat at Chipotle (for us, it fits our allergy profile and our budget, and my son can’t get enough chicken and rice). Then, I like to break up the week's cooking nights into two sets of three. So, on Monday evening or Tuesday after work, I shop for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. On Friday, I shop for the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). I like planning this way for a few reasons:

  • Veggies stay fresh. I am not a fan of canned vegetables. When you’re buying fresh produce, you really don’t want it sitting in your crisper all week. The longest (in theory) that anything stays in the fridge is three days.
  • No frozen meat. What do I have against freezing meat? Quite simply: thawing it. To thaw it properly, it should thaw in the fridge, and that takes hours, which requires planning. I’d rather plan by only buying as much meat as I need for the next few days and then shopping again.
  • It’s less overwhelming. Planning for six days just feels like a lot. Planning for three? Dude, that’s totally doable.
  • There’s less waste. I hate throwing away food. It happens, of course. But when I’m shopping for three days at a time, it’s so much easier to take inventory and buy the right amount of food. Plus, I can be more flexible, say, should we receive a dinner invitation from a friend or should we choose to invite someone to join us one evening.
  • Division of week and weekend. When I shop for Tuesday–Thursday, I have a truly different mindset than when I shop for Friday–Sunday. During the week, everything needs to be fast. I’m also thinking about what will work for leftovers for my son’s lunches. On the weekend, I can allow for meals that might take longer. I consider whether I might be making a brunch meal or whether we’ve decided to entertain. I plan for more of a relaxing approach to the meal. So, one shopping trip is all business, while the other is actually kind of fun!

Now, I’m not going to lie. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve had stretches where I fail to plan and end up winging it at the store and in the kitchen. There’ve been nights where I’ve said: Screw it; let’s pick up Chipotle. But in an ideal world where I’m on top of things, this approach to the week's meal plan really does work well.

We all have found things that work for us. So, please share: How do you approach your meal planning?