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Totally Together

Meal Planning for Dummies. Or for normal people. Whatever.

February 24, 2009 by  

updated meal plan I’m a meal planner. I wish I wasn’t sometimes, because having a meal plan attached to the fridge kind of makes me look like an obsessive control freak.

Except. Having a meal plan saves us time and money, and the 10-12 minutes I spend once a week means I’m not obsessing over meals 5-6 times a day, every day.

Last year, I didn’t stick to my meal plan very well. The Crock-Pot slow cooking thing kind of took on a life of it’s own, and I fell behind on planning ahead for anything other than what I needed to slow-cook. Although I knew that this was a temporary problem in our family, I felt floundery (that’s a word, right?). I hated that the kids were climbing into the pantry looking for a snack. I hated that I was often grabbing a bent string cheese at 10am because I had forgotten to eat breakfast. And I hated that since I wasn’t planning out my snacks and meals, I was more susceptible to eating Chocolate Frito Candy and Pound Cake instead of some yogurt and fruit when the afternoon munchies hit.

So. I’m back to meal-planning, and it FEELS GOOD. I get it that it seems controlling and somewhat limiting. I know. I was terribly hesitant to write everything down at first, too. But it works. Kids like and need a routine, and their bodies function better when they have snacks and meals at set times. Guess what? Grown-up bodies seem to like routine, too, and scheduling 5-6 mini meals throughout the day is better than only eating once or twice. Go figure.

Here are some of the things we routinely have/eat in our house:


yogurt, frozen blueberries, granola

frozen pancakes/waffles



baked oatmeal

regular oatmeal

cold cereal with banana and milk

toast with cream cheese, or PB&J


salami and cheese in a tupperware

sandwiches of all varieties (tip: put mayo/mustard in-between the meat to keep the bread from becoming soggy. Also, when making PB&J, put a thin layer of peanut butter on both sides of the bread, and then the jelly in the middle)

string cheese

bananas, apples

carrots and ranch

tortilla chips







chips and hummus


veggies and ranch




my kids will ALWAYS eat plain pasta with butter and parmesan cheese. That is the go-to meal in our house when I don’t think they will eat much of the main dish, or when we’re too busy to make a “real” meal.

baked beans

refried beans

I try hard to have a vegetable of some sort on the table. My kids like: string beans, artichokes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts (I know. I have no idea how this happened.)

Use your slow cooker. Make food the lazy way. Make a big batch of stew, beans, or a pot roast and pick at the food for a few days. Repurpose leftovers. If  I can help it, I try to only cook 3-4 times a week (other than last year. that wasn’t normal for anyone) and then re-use the leftovers in casseroles or as burrito filling.

Here’s an example of meal planning with the crockpot.

and here is a full meal plan with grocery list, and another one!

We are a gluten-free family. Since we have food allergies, we need to plan a bit more ahead than other people need to. It’s not as easy for us (or anyone else monitoring food intake) to order delivery or swing by a fast-food joint.  Because of this, we have been forced to think ahead when making food choices. I do feel that because of this we eat more healthy and are happier in our meals than we were when we just “grabbed something” at the last minute.

Further resources:

meal plan template

itemized grocery list


Want even more? Buy the book! Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life is available now. This handy-dandy weekly planner will hold your hand throughout the year and will give you all the reminders and helpful prods you need to have the Very Best Year, ever. No need to wait for the New Year to start your organization mission, you can start at any time. Enjoy!

Post a comment · 49 Comments »


49 Responses to “Meal Planning for Dummies. Or for normal people. Whatever.”

  1. Sera @ Laughing Through the Chaos on March 5th, 2009 12:49 pm

    I LOVE lists and charts – this looks so easy! I didn’t even think about meal planning for snacks. Just last month I made a monthly meal plan for dinner (mostly using your crock pot recipes), but I really screw up with my snacks by eating lots of junk. Thanks for the great idea!

    • Debra king on July 16th, 2012 11:37 am

      i am tring after 55+years to make list and menu Iam haveing problems I can not find froms or list that do not cost and do not ask me to make my owen i beraly found you. My husband works and I need to figure him in so that will be two lunches.So any help is help.

  2. Birgitte on March 5th, 2009 1:51 pm

    I would love to be able to plan all my dinners in a month as crockpot meals with minimum purchases needed to be made and some way of scaling the recipes to fit with my 3.5 quart crockpot. I know, it is shocking that I only have one crockpot!

    I realize this is a lot to ask but I am such a newbie when it comes to cooking and I have had great success with the crockpot and would love to use it exclusively, at least until I feel I have made a better transition from fulltime working mother to WAHM.

    If you could post some kind of “formula” to scale the crockpot recipes, I could then click on “Pork” or “chicken” and then pick and choose my recipes and add them to an Excel sheet or something. Is my background in computer programming showing through yet? :-)

  3. pixie on March 6th, 2009 6:27 am

    This web site is interesting and I’m an avid reader of your crock pot blog, but a week or a month of meal planning? NOT. If I plan its a day ahead of time! I’m in a control freak sort of job so at home i have an insouciant attitude about meal planning. But… I like the looks of this site alot – great colors!

  4. Wendy on March 6th, 2009 8:31 am

    Love it!

    But can you help me with a big issue I have?

    I tend to make my grocery list while at work on a post it note. 8 out of 10 times I forget the darn post it note at work! Any ideas on getting me a little more together?

    • Becky on October 9th, 2009 4:49 pm

      Wendy – I am so bad with post-its too! My best trick? Email myself! I send 5 times as many emails to myself than to all other people combined! I know that when I get home I always check my email. Many times I’ll just includ the needed info in the subject line like “BUY MILK”, that way I don’t even have to open it – just delete it or mark it as ‘read’ when I complete the task. I know this sounds silly, but in a technology-filled world it works!

      This doesn’t help me, but if you have a blackberry you could always check the email right at the store too.

      • Debra on September 7th, 2010 7:43 am

        You can also text yourself. I text myself all the time about things I need to remember (groceries, chores, errons, etc)

        • Julia on July 28th, 2012 4:02 pm

          I snap a picture of my list with my phone.

          • V. on January 6th, 2013 1:14 pm

            I love The entire fam. can have access to it. It’s got a Calendar, To Do Lists, and a journal. You can add cell numbers, and tell it to txt individual family members. Everyone can add to the calendar and they have school activities ready to be pre-loaded. I’m an organizational junkie–anything about organizing or simplifying life is my addiction. LOL Just thought I’d share.

    • K10Ham on October 25th, 2011 11:12 am

      If you have a smart phone, you can get an App called Grocery IQ. I don’t know how much it is but it’s not expensive. I LOVE this App and use it more than anything else. Since I have my phone with me at all times, anytime I think of something I need from the store or the kids mention on the way home from school, “Oh btw Mom, I need to make XXX for a party at school on Friday” then I click or have them click the items needed from the grocery store. It’s very easy to use and you can even scan the barcode of an item you just used the last of to pick up on your next trip to the grocery store.

  5. Brenda on March 6th, 2009 9:06 am

    I love your chart! I plan our meals for dinner, but have never thought about planning breakfast or snacks.

    Is your chart a template that you print out or is it on a dry erase board? My meal plan goes up on my dry erase board monthly calendar but I prefer the look of yours.

  6. Birgit on March 6th, 2009 8:06 pm

    Hi Wendy!
    Stephanie’s idea might sound odd, but it works. I stick them to my wallet inside my purse. That way no matter what they are with me at all times.

  7. MamaCat on March 7th, 2009 7:43 am

    Hi Stephanie, love the new blog!! I just have to say that I think we are twins separated at birth or something. I too do obsessive meal planning – in fact, I have my meals in an Excel workbook together with 8 other spreadsheets that help me organize my life. Yeah, no kidding. I keep a running inventory of stuff in my fridge / freezer that I need to use up, right there on the same chart. And like you I put the snacks & breakfast & everything on there. I’ve been doing this for years & years. I also am addicted to self-help books and my Crock Pot. Is there a name for this disorder??

    Anyway because I’m addicted to self-help stuff this blog is going right into my bloglines.

  8. Jenn on March 7th, 2009 5:10 pm

    I love your blog and your recipes and everything else… but really what I wanted to tell you is that “floundery” is now officially a word in my vocabulary! I love it! I am routinely making up my own words to fit the situation that I am in because then no one can go behind me and correct me.

    So, FLOUNDERY is official! Congrats! (and thanks!)

  9. ElizabethG on March 8th, 2009 3:25 pm

    Love the new blog. Your crockpot blog transformed the way I cook. Really.

  10. Kate Hesser on March 9th, 2009 7:23 am

    So you have totally sold me on the crock-pot thing. We are using it just about every day, if you count actual meals to be eaten and beans and such to be prepared for other meals. I am also someone who makes turkey meatloaves for sandwiches instead of buying lunch meat, so I will be trying out your meatloaf recipe for the crock this week.

    My meal planning question is….. the snacks and lunches– are those just for you or for the whole family? Do you pack those items for everyone to take with them or does everyone work or learn from home? I would love to hear about some of your pack/keep fresh/collect containers/wash strategies.

  11. sarah partain on March 14th, 2009 4:54 pm

    Thanks for this great meal planning chart idea. I know it seems simple but I just made my own and I feel more organized already. Thanks again for sharing your ideas!

  12. Lara on March 28th, 2009 3:10 pm

    Thanks for the great suggestions!! My husband and I don’t have any kids yet, but I have recently switched to a ridiculously limiting diet as prescribed by my doctor due to allergies, etc (gluten free, vegan, and soy-free). I sometimes push the boundaries of being vegan (allowing milk or cheese), but I have been having a difficult time with the meal-planning. I bought 3 cookbooks specific to this diet so I wouldn’t have to sift through and figure out what I can and can’t eat or what I would have to substitute. However, whenever I sit down to meal-plan, I still feel overwhelmed and wonder how on earth I will be able to stretch meals into leftovers like I used to do, or feel like I am spending way too much at the grocery store. Any advice? How did you get started when you first went gluten free?

  13. Mary on April 15th, 2009 7:15 pm

    I have always (well almost always) planned meals, but mostly dinners. At times I plan breakfast and lunch (these days there are only 2 adults here so we each fix our own at these meals usually)…and more recently I have been planning snacks. This is because I am on a diet and I notice I do much better at it if I plan ahead.

  14. Kristin K on January 9th, 2010 5:31 pm

    Just a note about the book, Mastering Leptin by Byron Richards. Recent discoveries about hormones are showing that 5-6 little meals are actually BAD for the body’s regulating system (endocrine system). We have incorporated the eating suggestions and the cravings have disappeared as well as many pounds! I highly recommend this book! It is not a weight loss book necessarily, but weight loss is a side effect (only unwanted fat is lost not muscle mass like some).

  15. SarahMom on September 14th, 2010 11:05 pm

    I have a chart with breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast/lunch categories are the same every week, and I just fill in the dinner categories. It makes life so much easier! (and cheaper. and more nutritious.)

  16. Ashley on October 1st, 2010 5:33 am

    I thought I was the only mom who let her kids eat plain noodles with butter and parmesan! My guilt over this is soooo gone!

    I have just discovered your website. I desperately need the help. I have the organizational skills of a spider monkey. I’ve been making a (thusfar futile) attempt to rectify this for the past ten years, since I first became a mom! I now have four little ones and am going back to school. The past year has been a nightmare of chaos for my entire family.

    I had heard about this site years ago on (I think) Oprah, or maybe Rachel Ray, but my family is full of picky eaters and I didn’t even give it a shot. I thought, “there’s noooo way I can find crockpot dinners that my husband and kids will eat.” Now, however, I have taken on an attitude of, they will eat what I cook or they can starve. My son and I have had to go on a special diet (low carb, no sugar, high protein, high calcium, reduced fat, gluten free) and I was cooking two or three meals AT EVERY MEAL TIME to try pleasing everyone. I looked down at the stove one night, at the chicken fried steak sandwich that I was fixing for my husband, the raviolis from a can for my big girls, the hotdog and mac-n-cheese for my baby girl, and the grilled chicken salad that I was carefully seperating the vegetables for out into seperate continers so that Alex could pick out whatever he wanted and not waste anything…I looked at the table, where my overweight husband was playing a board game with the kids…I looked at the dishes that I would have to wash soon…I glanced at my office door, where about four hours of homework was waiting for me, and then at the clock, which tauntingly declared it to be five minutes til eight. I knew that I would be up (again) until at least midnight, and that I had to be up (as usual) by four-thirty. I sort of cracked. I threw away everything but the salad, served that to everyone (the baby got some diced egg, carrot sticks, cottage cheese and cranberries – and was happy!) and told them eat or go to bed hungry. My family was in shock. That was four nights ago. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I do not get home from school myself until after eight. I need something that I can have waiting for them that I feel good about them eating. I came home last night and they had eaten frozen pizzas and ice cream for supper, heavy on the ice cream. !!!!!

    So, very long story short, I need all of the help I can get, and I really think your site will be a lifesaver (or at least a sanity-saver)!

  17. Kassandra @ Coffee and their Kisses on August 9th, 2011 9:35 am

    Can I just tell you how excited I am to be writing you! I read and reviewed your book “Totally Together” on my blog, and had been following your Slow Cooker blog before I got the book. I’m loving it and your ideas are great! You’ve helped me sooo much! I just wanted to thank you for being so awesome!

  18. Laureli on February 19th, 2012 4:37 pm

    As a list person I love menu planning, but I have had trouble getting myself to add the changes I desire (like adding beans to our diet). We’re about to bring my parents to live with us and I know I’ll need a much better system than JUST menu planning- the crockpot/slowcooking for a year is highly inspirational! I’m having so much fun on your website just imagining myself really organized – it seems easier once you’ve seen someone else actually do it!
    I wanted to add that I used to call brussels sprouts “hot air balloons” because then my boy thought they were fun to eat!
    Naming dishes makes them more kid friendly and ‘fun’!
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  19. Maria-Catharina Mura on August 29th, 2012 9:08 pm

    Came across your sight by accident, or God was leading. (I was looking for music channel) I have been extremely frustrated eating gluten-free , (been cheating on it-bad after affects!) and this is great. Menu helping and organizing galore. Thank you ever so much. Food that looks and tastes good. Many choices and variety too. Thank you.
    I am tiring of always adapting recipes and not wanting to eat out because of feeling limited on food or restricted to where to eat.

  20. Cameron on September 6th, 2012 12:20 pm

    I find it’s much easier to do a grocery shopping trip when I know the menu plan for the week. Also, for those weeks that funds are a little tight, I go through the cupboards and try to use what I can and build a menu around that. The weeks (which have been far too many this summer) that I haven’t made a menu plan, I find myself spending more on groceries, wasting stuff I had forgotten about and sometimes opting for the convenience factor (also more expensive).

  21. Jill on October 11th, 2012 8:10 am

    I love it and have been keeping a “meal calendar” for awhile-you can download a calendar from any site and save it to your desktop file. Each month, I type up fill in the meals on the calendar and tape it to my fridge. Every 2 weeks, I take the calendar and complete my grocery list based on the meal calendar. My husband loves it. We both work a lot, so the easy meals are during the week and I bake, crockpot, cook bigger meals on the weekends. I always have one or two meals that will have leftovers for another night. Keeping a calendar also lets us plan a variety of meals so we’re not always eating the same thing all the time. The girls at work call me a freak. But it works!

  22. Samira on November 7th, 2012 6:55 am

    No question, I’m creating one when I get home from school!
    Lifestyle charts/schedules/lists tickle me, and this is brilliant.

  23. Jenna on July 13th, 2014 12:19 pm

    5-6 mini-meals a day is not healthy. Only people who eats a high carb low fat diet require 5-6 mini meals. You eat lots of carbs, your blood sugar spikes, your body pumps out insulin to clear out the carbs, then your blood sugar dips, you feel sleepy, you feel hungry again 2 hours after eating. No mini meals. Eat lots of good fats and proteins and carbs mostly from vegetables (not sugar or grains).

  24. Stephanie on March 6th, 2009 8:43 am

    lol, I do that kind of thing all the time. You could stick it to your shirt the way teachers used to pin notes to their students!
    😉 My mom sticks post-its to her purse. It’s not the most attractive, but it works. Adam calls lists in to his voicemail, and he always has his phone with him.
    I’ll keep thinking…

  25. Rachel on March 6th, 2009 9:50 am

    I thought I would chime in here because I do the same thing. I usually stick the post-it to my cell phone (because it’s always out on my desk, and I always take it home). I can add to it as the day goes by, and at night, when I grab my phone, the list is attached. Do you have something you always take home that you could try that with? A coffee cup, cell phone, or something?

  26. Rozalyn on March 6th, 2009 5:22 pm

    I stick my Post-it on my debit card in my wallet. If I don’t have the debit card the not having the list is the least of my worries.

  27. goddessdawnie on March 6th, 2009 9:41 pm

    If you have internet access at work, try putting your grocery list online. I use which will actually send my grocery list to my cell phone in a text message OR phone call, on request. It’s free and they didn’t put my phone on any salesperson’s list :)

  28. Cheryl B. on March 8th, 2009 8:31 am

    Buy a planner and keep it with you in your purse , on your desk when you get to work. I use Amy Knapp planner that has a tear off edge for grocery lists.

  29. Stephanie on March 6th, 2009 8:45 am

    If the meal at a time works for you, no need to change. It didn’t work well for us.
    I like the colors too!
    xoxo steph

  30. Stephanie on March 6th, 2009 9:12 am

    it’s a template from Excel; nothing fancy. There’s a nicer looking one the graphic designer put into the book that can be xeroxed.
    I never used to plan breakfasts, lunches, or snacks, either. But then the kids would whine about eating the same things and I found they “grazed” all day long and never really ate a proper meal. Somehow they don’t seem to argue with the chart. they read it and say “oh oatmeal. But tomorrow’s pancakes!”
    xoxo steph

  31. Wendy on March 6th, 2009 4:03 pm

    Not really, I normally leave my cell in my purse. (cause I’m afraid I would forget it!)

  32. Stephanie on March 7th, 2009 6:15 pm

    hahahaha! yay! I love that word.
    xoxo steph

  33. Elizabeth on April 5th, 2009 8:43 pm

    I love adding made up words, too! You can share the one my son made up when he was two and feeling very frustrated and grouchy. He announced from the backseat, “I’m so GRUMPERATED!”

  34. Stephanie on March 8th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Elizabeth. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to be of some help to you and your family. xoxo steph

  35. Stephanie on March 9th, 2009 8:54 am

    What a great idea to make meatloaves for sandwiches! Adam makes his own lunch in the morning, and if he’s in the kitchen before I am he’ll make the kids lunches. They get a snack and a lunch packed. My 4 y old is home with me on Tues and Thurs, but I pack a lunch box for her anyway—she likes having one to eat out of. I try my hardest to sit down at lunch and will eat leftovers or a sandwich. I like having an afternoon snack already ready on the table when I get back from the school run—the kids are so hungry they can’t seem to think straight at 3pm.
    Lots of families make lunches the night before, and when I was working early hours I found that quite helpful.
    xoxo steph

  36. Elizabeth on April 5th, 2009 8:38 pm

    I leave a list on the fridge, and when family members use up the last of something or need to request something, they write it on the list. When I make my weekly menu, I make my grocery list at the same time. That way, I don’t forget anything. Usually, I go to the store right after that, while all my planning is fresh on my mind. And I usually go on Saturday morning, when the kids want to stay home and watch t.v. I hate shopping with kids. I’d rather go at 5:00 a.m. or midnight.

    I love it that I’m not the only OCD planner/list maker. I moved my menu, chore list and color-coded family calendar so everyone who came into my kitchen wouldn’t see it (but my husband and kids still would!)

  37. Angela on August 2nd, 2009 11:06 pm

    That is so ridiculously cute.

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