The meal planning system that saved my sanity

By Jennifer Fulwiler

For Conversion Diary

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 11:30 a.m. MDT

I add recipes to my Recipes to Try or Recipes We Love folders in Evernote two different ways:

  • Typing them in by hand (I might do this for a dish in a cookbook, making a note with the title “St. Basil Soup,” and just saying something like “12 Months of Monastery Soups, page 6″ in the body).
  • Using the Evernote Web clipper for ones I find online. This handy browser extension will clip an entire Web page to the folder of your choice.


Evernote keeps your content synced across all your devices, so when it’s time to cook, I just prop up my tablet in the kitchen and call up the night’s recipe.


4. I plan the week's meals the weekend before.

I am not naturally consistent or self-disciplined, however, I’ve found that getting my meals planned and my grocery shopping done before the week starts makes all the difference in how our entire week goes. A few notes on how it plays out in practice:

  • I have my calendar open when I plan the meals. This sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I scheduled an elaborate meal for the same night we were going to be out at an activity.
  • For busy nights when I won’t have time to cook, I plan crock pot meals, leftovers from the night before or frozen leftovers.
  • I plan dinners only. I’ve found that planning breakfasts and lunches overwhelms me and is not really necessary; I stock up on a few things we like and play those meals by ear.
  • I write in a Leftovers Day almost every week, which forces me to use items that are languishing in the freezer or pantry.
  • I don’t plan weekend meals. Saturday and Sunday nights we might clear out leftovers, eat at a grandparent’s house, grill in the backyard or swing by the store for a spontaneous new meal.
5. I keep a few intentionally boring alternatives for picky eaters.

I’ve always believed that kids need to eat what they’re served. But then I had my fourth child, who only likes about five foods and really would choose starvation over eating anything outside of that list. For her (and any other kids that happen to be in a picky mood that night), I keep a couple of very simple, unexciting things on hand that they can have if they don’t like the main course (chicken nuggets, packets of frozen rice that can be easily microwaved and topped with cheese, etc.) When I sit down to do my weekly meal planning, I choose dishes that most of us will like, but I know that I have some fallbacks in case anyone just can’t deal with the main course. That way the picky eaters don’t go without dinner, but they’re incentivized to try new food since they get sick of having the same things after a while.

6. I add email reminders to my calendar.


For any meals that require effort from me other than wandering into the kitchen a half hour before dinner time, I put notes on my Google Calendar and schedule email reminders. If it weren’t for the emails saying “START CROCKPOT MEAL!” that I have sent to myself around 11 a.m. on days that I’m using the slow cooker, our dinners would be ready around midnight.

7. I print my weekly dinner plan and post it on the fridge.


When I have my meals planned, I enter them into a Google Doc, print it, and slide it into a plastic holder on the fridge. For me, this step is not optional. Having the meal plan posted in the kitchen means that I see it every time I walk into the room, and I can’t lose it.

(Here’s a template Google Doc of the meals list, and the menu holder for the refrigerator.)

8. I do all my shopping before the week starts.


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