I am a neurotic meal planner (bet you think I'm cool now!). I like to control what I eat and how much money I spend on food. I also love to cook -- my dream Sunday is spent in the kitchen. Even if that's not your speed, a simple meal plan can go a long way in saving you time, money, and stress.
Here's how I do it: Every week, I set up a Google sheet like this one (feel free to make a copy for your own use!). Then I pull up my calendar and figure out which days and meals I need to cook for versus when I'll be eating out. Once that's done, I search for recipes to cook and start to fill in my calendar. (Told you I was neurotic.) When searching for meals, I usually check out a few favorite blogs and websites like Smitten Kitchen, Bon Appetit, Healthyish, and Half Baked Harvest. I'm ALWAYS looking for more amazing food bloggers, so if you know of any, send them my way!
Below are a few of my tried and true tips for meal planning that should help you to put together a meal plan that works for you.
know how many you're cooking for
When I'm cooking for myself, a recipe that serves four will usually last me four meals. If I'm cooking for my fiance, a recipe that serves four means little to no leftovers.
Knowing how many entrees you need to cook to fill in your meal calendar is key to meal planning, so take the other mouths you're feeding into account!
try to pick meals that use the same ingredients
I'm also a fan of buying common items in bulk -- think lemons, onions, sweet potatoes, etc. Along those lines, spices are expensive, but once you buy them, you can use them again and again.
pick recipes that work for your schedule
If you know you only have time to cook two meals this week, decide how long you want those meals to last you. Do you want to have leftovers for three days at work? Then cook something you can easily reheat at the office (and tastes good leftover!) that makes at least four servings. I love pastas, soups, and grain-based or cauliflower rice-based dishes for this.
Do you have only 30 minutes to cook at night? Try something simple like a veggie hash with a fried egg, or one-pan dishes.
Meal planning should make your life easier, not harder, so give yourself the freedom to rearrange your schedule and make what you feel like in the moment. Even though I use a calendar to plan my meals, once I actually buy everything, I usually don't look at it again. I cook what I feel like when I have time, but everything is easier because I have the ingredients on hand.