How to Meal Plan When You Aren’t a Planner

How to Meal Plan When You Aren't A Planner

(Pork Chops with Apples and Red Onion Sauce – Roasted Green Beans – Roasted Yukon Golds – made on the fly with no recipe)

The idea of meal planning makes me want to break out in hives. It can feel so restrictive. I don’t know exactly what I am going to want to eat for dinner 5 days from now. I have no idea what the day is going to be like 5 days from now either. I just can’t stick to a meal plan. I’ve tried, and I am terrible at it.  

I also can’t shop just once a week. Even though it may appear that it is all cookies and cupcakes up in here, we actually eat pretty healthy. And that means a lot of fresh vegetables. And by lots, I mean lots. That means a mid-week stop at the store to replenish the veggie drawer.

How to Meal Plan When You Aren't A Planner

And I don’t know about you, but dinner time can be cray-zy. The kids get home around 4. Homework, activities, and by the time I start to think about dinner – they we are too hungry and on the brink of meltdowns. It’s not pretty. 

I still need to feed my family every night, so I have to have some sort of idea what I am going to cook.

How to Meal Plan When You Aren't A Planner

(Taco Night – super easy – lots of pantry items – everyone loves it)

Here are some things that work for me to get dinner on the table every night:

1. I buy 4-5 proteins on Sunday or Monday morning. If I have enough protein to work with, I can make dinner with no problem. (More often than not without a recipe.) We eat a lot of chicken – it cooks quickly, and everyone likes it. I like to make a roast chicken (usually 2) on Sunday. We eat one for dinner and use the second for a different meal. I also have at least 4 packs of chicken breasts in my freezer at all times. I buy the Bell and Evans organic chicken. I like the way it is packaged, and it thaws really fast. If I buy things that spoil easily (like seafood) I cook that in the beginning of the week.

2. Keep a well stocked pantry. I keep lots of spices, herbs, condiments, oils, stocks, vinegars, and sauces in my cabinets. I also consider my freezer to be part of my freezer, I always have butter, frozen vegetables, frozen berries, pizza dough, and fresh pasta. If I make marinara sauce or meatballs, I always make a least a double batch and freeze half. It makes life so much easier.

3. When I find a recipe that works really well, that my family likes, I make as many variations as I can. For instance, Sour Cream Chicken, I’ve made at least 10 different versions. Or chili, you can do 100 different things with it. Why reinvent the wheel every night?

4. Keep an inspiration file. I find inspiration everywhere. Magazines, things I’ve eaten in restaurants, cookbooks, TV shows, things my friends are cooking. I tear things out and keep them in a folder in my kitchen. I will flip through every now and again and pull one or two new recipes to try. Since I have a fairly diverse pantry, I usually don’t have to buy anything. If I do, I just add it to my shop and fill in with any produce I might need. I also keep a list of things that I make for dinner taped to the inside of a cabinet. It has 50+ things on it. It gives me a starting point at the very least.

5. Prep your produce when you bring it home from the store. I wash it, rinse it in Veggie Wash, and wrap it well. Especially my herbs. If it is ready to go, it will be more likely to use all of it. 

6. I start dinner in the morning (or sometimes even when I’m making dinner the night before). The afternoons at my house are nuts. I can’t help with homework, find the missing cleat, and make an edible dinner all at the same time. After my kids get on the bus in the morning, I hit the kitchen before my office. I do as much as I can then. I might marinade something, prep the veg, throw something in the slow cooker, or cook something entirely and then reheat it at dinner time. Then I get ready for the day and head to work knowing that dinner is already under control.

How to Meal Plan When You Aren't A Planner

(Prepped during the day when the kids were at school. 20 minutes from fridge to table.) 

7. Sometimes when I am cooking dinner, I also do the prep for the next night’s dinner. I sometimes get a second dinner ready to go in the slow cooker. In the morning, I just have to take it out of the fridge and turn it on. I’ve even been known to make lunches for the next day when I am cooking dinner. My philosophy – why clean the kitchen twice when you can knock it all out at once?

8. Clean out your fridge regularly. I clean my fridge before I go to the store every time. I take stock of what it is in there, spray and wipe down the shelves, organize, and then I really know what I have and what I need to get. There are very few things that make me happier than a sparkling fridge. I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from a sparkling fridge.

9. Keep it simple. It’s just a meal. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, fancy, or a big deal. Guess what? It’s okay to have a bowl of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, or PB&J and call it dinner.

How to Meal Plan When You Aren't A Planner

What kinds of things do you do to get dinner on the table? You can learn more tips and tricks in my program Lighten Up! Where we stop glorifying busy, take time for ourselves, and feel amazing. The next class starts on Monday, March 9th. Hope to see you there.




Oh hey there!

Well, hello there! I’m Bree Hester, the Boston-based blogger and food photographer here at Baked Bree. Here you can get lots of weeknight meal inspiration, eat more plant-based meals, and still indulge in a decadent sweet treat. Baked Bree is a place where you will find great recipes and inspiration for your next family adventure.

raspberry orange pistachio ricotta cake slices on a wire rack

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Toby

    Thank you, thank you for this post! I hate meal planning – it’s just not in my nature to do it. Glad I’m not the only one 🙂

    1. bakedbree

      Nope, not the only one. 🙂

  2. Nicole

    This is probably a silly question, but how do you cut your lettuce that is the picture for taco night? It looks like the perfect size for tacos, but I just can’t seem to get that right!

    1. bakedbree

      I use romaine hearts, and just thinly slice it across, so its like ribbons. Not a silly question at all.

  3. Anglin

    Hi Bree,
    I love your blog! Great post. I’m wondering if you have any special ‘roast chicken’ recipe? I love the idea of roasting 2 chickens on Sunday and then having roasted chicken available all week for lunches, quick dinners, etc. Your clean fridge has also inspired me!

    1. bakedbree

      Thank you! I don’t use a “recipe”. I usually stuff the cavity with lemons, garlic, and onion. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes rosemary and thyme under the skin. I just wing it.

  4. Joshua Hampton

    Thank you for these tips. I hate meal planning too, but it’s something I’ve been trying to work with. And I agree, how can you plan your meals when you don’t know what you’d be craving for five days from now?

    1. bakedbree

      For. Real. I have no idea what I am going to eat from lunch to dinner most days.

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