How to Make Your Meal Plan Actually Work for You

Everybody talks about MAKING a meal plan, which admittedly is a large part of the battle.  But executing the meal plan that you have made is something I don’t see much written about.  And it seems to me that it is worthy of consideration, because just making the meal plan isn’t gonna save you any money.  It’s WORKING the meal plan that actually brings the benefits.

Have you spent much time and effort making a meal plan but have trouble actually executing it? If we want to save money, it's important to actually DO the meal plan, hello. Read this for a few hacks that will help you start working your meal plan today!One of the big issues that affects working the plan is when I can’t make the meal I have planned.  This can happen for several reasons: 1) I forgot to thaw the meat 2) the kids ate my ingredients 3) the produce needed went bad 4) our schedule changed and the meal will take too long to prepare for the time I have available to do so.

The key thing to remember is that all of this is perfectly normal.  It doesn’t mean meal planning doesn’t work or that my meal plan is not an acceptable one.  No one can foresee what circumstances will be like three weeks or even two days from now.  We need to be flexible and willing to change the meal plan when necessary to go with the flow.  The overriding theme of having meals scheduled so we don’t have to spend money on last-minute shopping or eating out is still the goal — and it’s still possible to achieve it, even if our meal plan needs to be tweaked a few times throughout the month.

One thing that helps is to check the meal plan frequently to see what’s coming up.  It’s not a good idea to wait until 5pm to see what’s planned for tonight, for example.  I try to look at tomorrow’s meal the evening before, while I am making tonight’s.  Or at the very latest I check to see what I’m supposed to be making early on the morning of the meal.  This gives me adequate time to take meat out of the freezer or plan my day around doing whatever pre-prep is necessary, such as chopping veggies or getting something into the crockpot.

As far as preventing the kids from eating ingredients — some people suggest marking the things you will need for a meal with a big X, so that the whole family knows those items are not to be eaten ahead of time.  I think it’s a great idea — but usually when I get home from grocery shopping, I’m so exhausted that I’m doing good just to get the stuff put away; I don’t want to have to mess with figuring out what needs to be marked, finding the appropriate writing implement, and making it happen.

So I confess that I just take my chances.  If the family eats something I need for a meal, that means they like it, right?  And my job is to provide food they like.  So I usually try to improvise the recipe or just re-purchase that ingredient.

Produce going bad is something I am still working on.  When you shop for an entire month, you tend to forget that the zucchini that looks fresh today on the 1st may be black and mushy by the time the 25th rolls around.  I need to work harder on scheduling the meals that require fresh produce for the beginning of the month and relying on frozen for the end of the month.

Or I could plan a second, smaller shopping trip for mid-month — but for some reason, I’m not liking that idea.  I don’t mind making a quick stop for just one or two items, but planning another actual trip with a list of several items sounds like it would defeat the purpose of getting most of the work done at once, which is one of the benefits of monthly meal planning that I am really loving.

In my video about my home management center, I show the clipboard that has my menu plan for one month on top, with all the recipes and the shopping list clipped behind.  I take this to Aldi when I shop, and then it gets stored in the drawer.  It’s easy to pull out and get the necessary recipe for the day.

But there are several days each month, usually, when I have to switch a meal out for one I haven’t made yet.  And pretty soon my little blackline calendar that I scheduled the meals on looks like a mess — meals crossed out and written over, arrows pointing here and there, eraser marks…

A Flexible Meal Plan Calendar

So true confession — I only use that blackline calendar for the actual planning and shopping process.  After that I pretty much ignore it.  Instead I’ve started using a different calendar for the day to day process of working the meal plan.  This one is magnetized to my refrigerator.

Except it’s not an ordinary paper calendar, because even though that would be easy to reference often if it were posted on the fridge, it would not help with the switching-meals-and-making-a-mess conundrum.  Mine is made with sticky notes and little magnets, like this:

Have you spent much time and effort making a meal plan but have trouble actually executing it? If we want to save money, it's important to actually DO the meal plan, hello. Read this for a few hacks that will help you start working your meal plan today!

I saw a calendar like this for meal planning for the first time at a friend’s house.  And I raved about it so much that a week later she presented me with my own set of the little magnetized dates and days of the week.  But making those is easy, and so is using the calendar.

The meals are written on sticky notes (or you could use 3×5 cards cut in half, which is what my friend used).  At the beginning of the month I set up the calendar on the fridge with each meal in its scheduled place.  It’s easy to see all day every day what’s planned for dinner on any day of the month!  This helps with the dilemma of getting meat out to thaw in time.  But when I need to SWITCH a meal — that’s where the real beauty comes in.  No crossing out and rewriting; all I have to do is swap the sticky notes, and life is good again!

Another benefit is then the sticky notes (or index cards) become a stockpile of meal ideas that I can pull from in future months.  My friend also writes the ingredients for the meals on the back, which would make meal planning even easier — but I haven’t gotten that far yet. :-)  You could also use smaller cards for side dishes or dessert and clip them under the same magnet — this type of calendar definitely has lots of possibilities!

To make the numbers and days of the week, all you have to do is write them on a piece of paper, adhere clear contact paper over top, and cut them out.  Then attach them with hot glue to pieces of magnet strip that are cut to approximately the same size.  Easy!!

Have you spent much time and effort making a meal plan but have trouble actually executing it? If we want to save money, it's important to actually DO the meal plan, hello. Read this for a few hacks that will help you start working your meal plan today!But if you hate making stuff aren’t crafty, I recently heard of another option that could also work:  this calendar at Target.  It’s technically only supposed to be for one week — each row is for a different person’s activities — but you could adapt it to be a month’s worth of meals instead.  It even comes with the sticky notes you need.  Just mount it somewhere in the kitchen and you’ve got a flexible menu plan display that would work the same as mine.

It’s hard work to make a meal plan, so let’s not let that effort go to waste!  Let’s make sure that the meal plan gets fully executed so that we are accomplishing the goals of saving money and time that are the reason we meal plan in the first place.  Am I right??? :-)

If you missed the first two weeks of this month, then you might want to check them out now:

Meal Planning Do’s and Don’ts
My Favorite Menu Planner


9 thoughts on “How to Make Your Meal Plan Actually Work for You”

  1. I hate cooking and meal planning, so I have been looking forward to the ideas you have. The calendar idea is brilliant. I did something similar with sticky notes, but it was in a “home management binder” which essentially never gets opened. Ha! I could put something on the side of the fridge and make it much more visible. Brilliant!

    I had to laugh when I read the reasons why you can’t make the meal you have planned. Forgetting to get stuff out of the freezer is way up there on my list. And because I also don’t like to shop, and I try to buy enough to last more than a week, I end up with mushy veggies.

    One thing I have started doing is making a list on my phone of regular recipes and the ingredients I will need. Not the whole recipe, and not all the ingredients, but the ones that I am not likely to have on hand. That way if I come across a manager’s special or something, I know what else I need.

    Looking forward to more posts on this!


  2. Thanks for the kind words about my calendar menu, Ann. ;) I’m so glad that you like it and use it! Now I just have to figure out how to get more on there (like breakfast, lunch and snacks) without taking up my whole fridge or needing a whole army of magnets! :)

    1. Oh, and by the way, for anyone wanting to make their own magnets . . . I made the papers and then attached them with hot glue to some recycled plastic lids (cottage cheese, if I remember right!), cut them out and then covered them with contact paper before attaching them to the magnet’s sticky side to make them more durable (like so they wouldn’t rip off of the magnet as easily when I move them around). I think I just may have to go make some more as I kinda went back to my paper menus since we started shopping for 5-6 weeks sometimes and I started planning all meals and snacks more than I had in the past. Okay, enough rambling. Thanks for the motivation, Ann!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.