Learning how to get my meals together was a challenge when I was adjusting to working three 12-hour shifts per week. I always waited until I was hungry, never had the food in the house to make something yummy and quick, and then would either go to the grocery store last minute and spend way too much or eat out and make poor decisions out of hunger.

If you plan your meals, you will ultimately spend less money and waste less food. You also may potentially eat healthier, depending on your meal choices.

This will be a two-part post. This post will contain my keys to success in meal planning and the next post will have our typical weekly routine and the meals (with recipes!) that we make.

Please note: my household consists of my husband and I. We do not have children. I know that can add a big challenge into your planning and time management. We also try to eat low-carb and natural, but aren’t super strict about it. When deciding on meals that are right for you, adjust suggestions for your diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) as appropriate.  

Additionally, this is what works for our household. Please don’t read this and assume this is how I believe all households should function. This is what works for us.

 Please keep all of this in mind when reading my routine.


Keys to Meal Planning Success

Communicate with your spouse / partner / roommate about expectations

My husband and I have an understanding – we try to split up who makes dinner evenly throughout the week. We both work full time, so we both spend the same amount of time with work and other commitments, therefore we try to make time and spread the responsibility of dinner equally. I know this isn’t how everyone’s household functions, but this works well for us, and ensures that neither feels overwhelmed or like the other does not help.

Sit down and plan the week together

Take some time at the beginning of your week to plan a dinner for each night. It is annoying to do this, but it’s much less annoying doing it once rather than every night of the week. Base your grocery store shopping list based off of your meals.

For the days you’re working 12-hour shifts, stick to meals that are easy to prepare and require minimal prep.  I save the easiest meals for my three days I’m working (or the ones John is most comfortable making, as he typically makes dinner on the days that I work 12’s).  I like to try new recipes, so I save those for days I don’t have a lot going on.  We look at our calendars together while we’re planning our meals and if we have a lot going on one day, we make it an easy meal or one we can prep for earlier in the day (like a crock pot meal).

I write down each day of the week, what we’re eating, and who is preparing it and stick it on the fridge to reference later in the week. It is very easy to forget.

It makes a big difference when you’re getting off of work and you already know whose responsibility it is to make dinner and what it will be.

Also, John and I have an understanding that if I make dinner, he does the dishes and vice versa. Outlining those expectations and communicating about them clearly is essential to avoid undue conflict and stress. It is pretty burdensome to work a 12-hour shift, make a full dinner, and clean it up.

Get some really good food storage containers that you can bring to work for your lunch

I like to bring leftovers for lunch at work the next day. It makes cleaning up the meal and packing my lunch easier. I prefer glass containers over plastic. Here’s why.

It’s also important to have an organized container drawer. We separate our lids and containers to make finding a match easier. I also recycle any that don’t have a matching lid to de-clutter where I store them. Spending more than 10 seconds trying to find a container and a lid is way too long in my book!

Oh, and don’t forget to have an awesome lunch box!

Buy meat in bulk and freeze it / Prep ahead of time

We buy meat from Costco (enough for about 2 weeks at a time), separate it into single-meal Ziplocks and freeze it. When I see that tomorrow ground beef is the protein for the meal, I move the frozen meat package from the freezer to the fridge the day/night before to allow it time to defrost. I hate thawing meat out last minute and it takes that annoying step out of the equation. 

If you have a meal that requires chopping veggies that can be a little labor intensive and have time the night before or earlier in the day, do it then and throw it in the fridge so you can just throw ingredients together come dinner time.

Have a quick back-up plan in the freezer

We all know it happens – someone codes at shift change, you get off work an hour late, and your spouse had a terrible day as well and walks in the door 3 seconds after you. I like to have a frozen pizza or some sort of frozen meal on deck for those rough days.

Get on Pinterest

Pinterest is where I find almost all of my recipes.  I have a board called “Noms” that I reference frequently and utilize my iPad or computer to look at the recipe while making dinner if I don’t know if off the top of my head.  It’s incredibility convenient and easy to organize.  You have all of your faves in one place that is easy to get to.  I highly recommend Pinterst to aid in your meal planning!

Say thank you

If your husband, wife, partner, roommate, etc. made dinner tonight, tell them thank you. If you made dinner and they washed the dishes, say thank you. If you live alone and you are super pumped that you remembered to defrost the meat every day and stuck to your list and you’re pretty proud of yourself – give yourself a pat on the back! Everyone loves to be appreciated and have their actions acknowledged, even if it’s routine.

Those are my meal planning keys to success! Is it realistic to do things the best way every single time? No. John and I have planned out our week and had to change things up mid-week because circumstances that we couldn’t predict forced us to do so. But we make an effort to stick to the plan, and we’ve quickly learned that having a dinner plan for the week is much easier and cheaper than not having a plan at all. And now we don’t stress as much about an impromptu take-out meal after a tough day because we’ve become more efficient overall with our planning and spending.

I hope this helps! Stay tuned for Part II, which will contain a sample week of meals, and I will walk through our routine and provide the recipes to our go-to meals!

Are you a meal-planner?  What’s your routine?  What tips and tricks do you have?