Meal Planning

Hello, Fit Bride readers! My name is Leah, and I am the typist behind the words on Leftovers For Lunch . I am a fellow bride, juggling a full time job, part time school, planning a destination wedding on a budget, all while trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle!

One of the biggest comments/questions I get from people that are looking at my blog is how I manage to keep me (and my hungry fiancé) well-fed with a variety of home-cooked healthy foods!

The thing that contributes most to my success in the kitchen is successful meal planning. I’m a bit anal about it but I think it totally pays off. So here’s a quick tutorial on how I do it! Obviously, you have to just find what works well for you!

(Warning, I am a total nerd about my meal planning!)

Step One: Pull up (or print out) my meal planning spreadsheet. Oh yes folks, I have a spreadsheet. Depending on where I am at, what I am doing, I’ll do this a few different ways.

-If I am thinking about it early in the week, I will print up a blank copy and keep it by my desk so if I run across a meal idea (via blog or recipe website or magazine), I can scribble it in.

-If I put it off until Friday morning (my shopping day!), I’ll just type it straight into Excel usually, while using the internet to find some juicy recipes. I also start my “week” the day after my grocery trips! And make sure you pencil in any pre-existing obligations you have so you can plan accordingly! I have class every Monday and Wednesday so I know to rely on leftovers those days. I like to cook heavier on the weekends (maybe even lunch and dinner!) to accommodate for the lack of cooking during the week. I also generally make recipes that serve 4-6 mouths for just the two of us so we have ample leftovers as well! Obviously, eating leftovers is a big part of my healthy living plan!


Step Two: Figure out the “star” of your meals.

As I alluded to in Step One, I use the internet to help with this tremendously. Occasionally, I will refer to magazines (if I see something that sparks my interest in a new magazine) and recipe books (if I have something specific in mind). I like to have variety in my week and get bored quite quickly with the same, repetitive foods. I like to outline my week first by making sure I have a good balance of “meats”.

  • Include at least one chicken meal.
  • Include at least one seafood meal. (Usually salmon or shrimp.)
  • Include at least one venison/other meat meal. (I have a fridge full of venison thanks to my mother, this could be pork or beef or whatever else you desire!)
  • Include at least one bean/legume centric meal.

You will see this pretty much every week for me. Occasionally, I will throw in tofu or tempeh, burgers (turkey or veggie), or sausage (chicken or venison). Obviously, this is completely customizable. If you were vegetarian and trying to get variety, I would recommend having one evening planned as follows: tofu, two different types of bean meals, lentils, etc.

Step Three: Check Your Pantry

Have 9 cans of diced tomatoes in your pantry and no intention of using them? How about a box of noodles you have had in there for nearly 2 years? Try to start incorporating these into your meal planning! It also helps to narrow down the recipe search and helps the strain of your pocketbook if you can use mostly ingredients you already have on hand!

Step Four: Find the Recipes

Once you know what ingredients you want to use, but don’t know how to put them together, consult All Recipes!  They have a super handy Ingredient Search that I use all the time! So in this example, we are wanting to use chicken and diced tomatoes, but Kath is coming over for dinner so no onions!

I also like to sort by rating because what is better than a recipe that gets a lot of positive feedback?! So here, you can see the top two are chicken soups. At this point, I’d probably click into maybe the top 5 recipes, see which seems the easiest/fool-proof and which I have the most ingredients on hand already for or seems the most appealing.

Sounds easy enough, right? 🙂

Step Five: Make your shopping list, and stick to it!

Print up all the recipes that you are planning on preparing the following week. Make your shopping list! I like to put mine on the same sheet as my menu plan so I can take the whole thing to the store to give it a once over and see if there is anything else I can think that I may need.


Sometimes, I plan my sides with meal planning, other times, I’ll check out what is on sale in the produce department and go from there. The sides aren’t nearly as important as the stars of your meal but can compliment it quite well if planned appropriately!

I make any additional notes usually on the bottom of the page, just stuff to keep in mind!


Following Through: Every night, I look at my meal plan and mentally prepare for the next day’s meals. Yes, some people may call this obsessive but what can I say! I love me some food! I pull out anything that needs to get thawed, review the recipe and double check to make sure I have everything I need.

I know that this looks like a lot and quite complex, but it really isn’t! It’s second nature to me now! And I go through this pretty much every Thursday/Friday! Some of the steps are intermingled and not followed in this order. You start to get the knack for it. If I sit down to do it all at once, it takes me maybe 20 minutes and saves me a headache (and money and waste!) in the coming days.

How far in advance do you plan your meals? What works well for you?

If you have any questions or want to get a hold of me for any other reason, please feel free to contact me by visiting my blog or just send me a quick email (


3 Responses

  1. Wow Leah, I am SO impressed! If there’s an opposite of meal planning, I do that! 😛 Mostly because I get stressed when I feel like I HAVE to eat something because I bought the ingredients for it. And I like going with my cravings in that moment. But at the same time, it means I experiment with less recipes!

  2. Have you ever tried Springpad? They publish a great weekly meal planner with recipes already plugged in from food bloggers around the web, and you can build your own from the thousands of recipes they have from food bloggers, chefs and stuff.

  3. Jennifer, I have looked at Springpad but haven’t really dove into it at all. I may have to give it a try. 🙂

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