Turning Groceries Into Meals, Part 2: Meal Planning and Meal Doing!

Everyone has good intentions about sticking to a meal plan, but they tend to get side-tracked whenever family members have separate plans and don’t eat together. There are days you just don’t feel like cooking, or you don’t feel like cooking what you chose for that day.

I use the process below to create the plan. If it sounds like this requires a big family meeting and a huge commitment, it does. You are actually changing your family’s culture to make this happen. Take the plunge!

  • decide on your level of commitment to low-cost meals, or local in-season meals, or from-scratch meals
  • if your goal is to eat healthy – the family needs to have a common understanding of what that means! Compromise will be necessary – 5 nights a week healthy? 100% whole grains all the time healthy?
  • make note of any days you know you’ll be having restaurant or take-out meals (work function, family birthday, etc.)
  • decide what will happen if one person is not at home – will they eat the prepared meal later? make their own separate meal when they arrive?
  • decide what will happen if everyone is busy – will you get take-out? make something quick? have separate meals? How many times a month will this happen? The family could agree on a plan, for example, “We’ll make lasagna on Sunday, so when we’re all coming and going on Monday night, we’ll each have lasagna either before or after our classes / programs / work shifts.”
  • decide if it is acceptable to eat in the car on the way to or from events. How often? What foods?
  • decide on where you eat. Do you eat together in the kitchen or dining room? Or does each person take their plate to their TV or computer, bedroom or office? (You can guess that I enforce meals together around the table).
  • survey the family on what they liked recently and want to have again
  • ask if there were any meals they had recently that they’d rather not have again – or at least not any time soon
  • ask about each person’s tolerance for leftovers: for example, we could eat chili every day, but got tired of borscht quickly – so would make a smaller batch next time
  • decide what “cooking” entails: does this mean opening and microwaving packaged food? unthawing, washing, chopping and preparing ingredients? using the stove top, the oven, or the barbecue? Does it include washing the dishes and counter tops and sweeping the floor, or is that assigned to someone else?
  • get each capable person to commit to making “so many” meals each month (we started with 2)
  • have them browse through recipes and tell you what they’re going to make (may require some clearance because of grocery budget)
  • schedule their meals on days when they are going to be at home, and discourage them from making other plans: they have a job at home those days!
  • reschedule their meals to another day the same week if necessary, but don’t let them off the hook 😉
  • this obviously implies that someone in the household is the main meal maker and will cook all the remaining meals! If this is not the case, are you alternating nights? alternating weeks? or figuring out who is less busy day to day with other commitments?
  • make a rule about guests: can family members ask visitors to stay for a meal any time? Is notice required – how much? If dinner is already underway, how does it get stretched for additional people? (for example, everyone gets a smaller serving and you are expected to fill up on salad or bread)
  • fill in the rest of the month with meals everyone likes, deciding on what size batch to make and how many days it will last
  • any meal during the week can be switched with any other meal planned for the same week, as long as all of the fresh food gets used up
  • some days can have a general plan, for example, Saturday barbecue, hamburgers or pork chops (whichever is on sale) + skewered vegetables
  • if you are carnivores, alternate red meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian meals – for variety, health and cost reasons
  • finally, make a grocery list for the month. Non-perishables can be stocked up for the entire month, while fruit, veg, bread and dairy will need to be brought in more often (I try for once a week)

After this 100-hour process you are now ready to eat your first meal, ha ha! But I hope you’ll agree, it is food for thought.


  1. These are very good tips! Especially the “compromise will be necessary” one. I’ve burned myself out trying to cook healthy, local, organic, and cheap meals.

  2. At our house we make a few exceptions, for example, we always buy whole grains, except when we are making French toast because white bread is so good for that! And we eat healthy foods so much that we also have chocolate and ice cream on a regular basis!

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