HDYDI: Meal Planning

Many, many, many moons ago when our grocery budget was $100 a month (I kid you not), I was an excellent meal planner. Back when we were in graduate school, our money had to go a long way. One of our very first arguments was about how we spent our money on food.

You see, Scott’s dad owned a small chain of grocery stores in North Texas. They never really grocery shopped like other people. His dad would call home, asked what they wanted for dinner, and he would grab everything he needed off the shelves (and out of the meat counter) for his one-minute drive home. Two weeks after we got married, Bryant  took us up to the stores long after they closed, gave me a shopping cart and told me to load it up with whatever we needed.

Looking back at our now $600 monthly grocery bill, I just might have to chalk that up as the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s what stay-at-home-mom’s dream of, right? Well, back to reality. The stores were sold off many years ago and Scott and I have to shop like regular folk at the big ‘ol H-E-B. In September, we decided to get a better handle on our eating and spending habits. We weren’t horrible, but we were spending too much on quick food rather than planning ahead and making healthy meals.

Enter: the meal calendar. Here’s how we do it.

Meal Planning

1. I have several ‘go-to’ cookbooks (almost all Southern Living related) and a fair amount of family recipes to pull great meals from each night. My problem wasn’t meals, but it was planning them. I was inspired by a post on one of my favorite organizing blogs and made it my own.

meal plan, blog_013

2. The dry-erase board was purchased at The Container Store, aka “The Mother Ship”, and then engineered to fit our needs.

3. Did you know the office supply store sells magnetic paper? I know! I freaked out, too. You can print on it, cut it (like butta) and it works amazingly well.

4. I pulled some of our most favorite recipes (plus a few new ones), color-coded them by category, added the sides and got to work. That little divider I found at Container Store, as well. A few comments about our categories: we’ve left room for leftovers and new recipes and we usually do desserts a couple times a month. Neither Scott and I are big sweets fans, so that helps. My weakness is chocolate, so there’s that. For sides, I coded them like so: PO (potato), SA (salad), PA (pasta), RI (rice), VG (vegetable).

meal plan, blog_005

meal plan, blog_008

5. Once a month, I hand the calendar and the magnets to Scott and he and the boys decide on the meals. We take into account Pizza Fridays, special events (like date nights or dinners with friends/family) and sports/after school activities.

6. I head to the store for the big grocery trip once per month, then I usually have a weekly or ten-day run for perishables, like fruit.

7. We have an upright full freezer that we use to store several loaves of bread (6-8), frozen vegetables, quick grab/go meals in a time crunch, various types of meat and of course, Blue Bell ice cream. Priorities.

8. And, for bulk items (like milk and kids’ snacks) I head to Costco. Post coming up on that HDYDI soon, at the request of my sister-in-law.

9. I now plan for zero leftovers. We’re getting to the point that I can’t just “whip up a meal” for seven people. I mean, I can whip up goldfish, moldy cheese and some Dos Equis from the garage fridge but some might argue that’s not totally in line with CPS or My Table recommendations.

10. Total cost for the project was $30. The calendar was the biggest expense, with the magnetic paper and containers taking the rest of the change. Well worth it.

To answer the question you all want to know: is it working? Yes and no.

Yes, because September through mid-November it rocked. I found that even though a spent a bit more time upfront (grocery shopping, laying out food, prepping some the weekend before the week), I was less stressed come 4pm everyday. I was able to get dinner going and help the kids with their homework and after school activities. It made for a much less yelly after school two hours. Winning.

No, because once we had Luke’s heart surgery the wheels fell off. Some friends brought meals over (hooray for no cooking), then it was Thanksgiving and all bets are off then. We got back on the train for a couple of weeks in December and then Christmas came. I finally gave up and said, I’ll pick it back up in January. We got it going this week and I am already breathing a sigh of relief. A system is back in place.

Bottom line, it is a great tool for us and we can add, or delete, recipes as our tastes and needs change fairly inexpensively. Bon appetit!

Blog ButtonFor more HDYDI posts, visit my How I Do It Page.


  1. Marie Meints on January 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Hmm. “How Do You Do It: Meal Planning” followed by a blank post. Does that mean you just don’t? : ) Probably not, so I’m looking forward to reading how you actually do it!

  2. Sarah @ and twins make four! on January 23, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I remember seeing the magnetic board post and thinking it was a really cool idea! I love the colors. Maybe you can add this to your design repertoire and make custom ones? 😉

  3. Nicole on January 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Inspired. I wish I could figure this one out better. I am also impressed by your $600 monthly budget. That’s what ours is for a family of 4!

  4. Bea on January 23, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Something that works for us- I have a sister wife. That’s what I call her though she is not married to my husband. She’s C’s godmother who conveniently lives across the street. We alternate making meals each week- we make 3 meals- enough for both families- on our week “on” that are delivered by Monday afternoon. We know each others’ food do’s and don’ts (thankfully we’re well matched) and she doesn’t cook around C’s complex diet. I then plan only 1-2 meals a week (because there is always leftovers as we’re generous with our portions) and we might eat out once a week. I love my week off!

    • Kathryn on January 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      That is awesome, Bea! What a great neighbor.

  5. Verdina on January 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

    You continue to amaze me!

    Now I’m thinking about your boys trying to find a woman just like Mom. I think they should just go to the seminary because they will never find another “you”.

    God bless!

    • Kathryn on January 23, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      I’m betting you had it all together as a mom, Verda. No doubt in my mind.

  6. Molly on January 23, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Kathryn, could you share some of your quick and easy favorites? We live about two blocks from my office, so I come home at lunch and prep dinner.
    We also have a $600/month budget for groceries and there’s only 4!

    • Kathryn on January 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Best cookbook I own? Easy Weeknight Favorites from Southern Living. I think you can find it on Amazon. It is awesome.

  7. Nicole on January 24, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Love your ideas! I need to write about how we do meals here… I also plan for a month at a time… Do a big grocery shop. Go back weekly for milk/eggs/bread/fruit… But it makes things SO much easier. However, my system isn’t as ‘pretty’ as yours. I print out our meal list and simply tape it inside of our pantry door. Hey, it works for us! Have a great day!

  8. Maria Sylvester on August 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I would love to know some of your favorite recipes. I struggle with planning meals. Thank you – we have no allergies but don’t cook seafood much.

    • Kathryn on August 17, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Maria, our go-to cookbook is Easy Weeknight Favorites from Southern Living (you can find it on Amazon) and 5 Ingredients, 15 Minutes by Cooking Light. Of course, any Southern Living cookbook is the cat’s meow at our house. Good luck!

  9. Lisa Schmidt on August 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Just ordered the dry-erase calendar. Wheeee!

    • Kathryn on August 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

      So…the most important question is, what’s for dinner?

  10. HDYDI: Get Ready for a New School Year on October 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    […] Plan Your Meals People often ask how we eat on $600 a month with seven people. The answer? My boys aren’t teenagers. Yet. Right now, I can swing it. But, more importantly, planning the meals a month at a time and then grocery shopping once a week makes for a less hectic (and less expensive) dinner time. Here’s how we do it. […]

  11. […] and spending time in the kitchen. Did I really just write that? With the nudge from my buddy Kathryn and her fabulous “How-do-you-do-it” meal planning advice along with my favorite cookbooks, I’m striving to stay on top of this household […]

  12. Week in My Life 2014, Sunday - Team Whitaker on November 17, 2014 at 12:00 am

    […] on Mondays, but we’ve moved it to Sundays recently and it seems to be working. If you wonder how we do meals, wonder no […]

  13. Jill on February 16, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Love this post! I agree meal planning makes life so much easier. I dread doing it, but am always glad I did! Two or three years ago I started using a website called Plan to Eat. They run a black Friday sale every year and it is $20 for an annual subscription. It is just an online version of your dry erase board. You input the recipes, and it actually uses them to create the grocery list for you. I love it, and I love that I can access it from anywhere. I don’t work for them and am not getting any kickbacks for posting this – just wanted to share another method that works that is similar to the dry erase board!

  14. Dinner Just Got Way Easier - Team Whitaker on November 21, 2016 at 1:00 am

    […] If you’re following me over on Instagram, I’ve shared a few sneak peeks, along with how we meal plan. […]

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