Save Time by Meal Planning Like Grandma Did

Do you plan your meals?  How do you do it and how long does it take?  I WANT TO KNOW!

At it’s worst, my meal planning process has looked like this:

  1. Sit down with various cookbooks, my laptop, iPad, and phone.
  2. Rifle through recipes from said cookbooks, web links, emails, and computer files to find recipes that:
    • A.  Fit into the time that I have on a given night (considering events on the calendar)
    • B.  Use what we have in the freezer/fridge/garden
    • C.  My family will eat without complaining
    • D. Meet my dietary restrictions du jour
  3. Once I FIND a recipe that meets these criteria – and this can take a while – I write it down on my meal planning sheet to hang on the fridge
  4. Finally, I add ingredients for the recipe to my shopping list on my phone after checking to see that I do not have the item in stock.
  5. Repeat for every night of the week.

You can bet your coffee pot that after each of those sessions, I never forgot to add wine to my shopping list.

How did anyone ever manage to make dinner without the internet?  Why have we made this so complicated?

After my experience with Whole 30, I did notice that meal planning was absolutely so. much. easier!  In fact, I’ll tell you a secret.

I don’t plan meals anymore.

I do still have to decide what to buy at the store, but I just make sure that we have enough meat and vegetables to cover the number of dinners I am planning to cook.  It’s easier to buy meat and veggies on sale since I’m not trying to fit them into a recipe.  Of course, I still have to buy breakfast and lunch items.  And I do still cook from recipes once a week or so when my family requests one of their favorites or I have a craving for something.  But generally during the week, I just pull out a meat and veggie and cook it!

If you want to simplify your meal planning and cooking while eating clean, why not try planning most of your meals like my grandmother?  Here’s how she did it.

  1. Buy meat, vegetables, eggs, and fruit at the grocery store.  That simplifies the grocery shopping for dinner items a bit, doesn’t it?
  2. List 10 simple ways to cook meats and vegetables that your family likes.  Examples could include roasted chicken, grilled flank steak, pork chops, eggs, or baked fish.  The goal would be for these 10 go-to meals to not require you to refer to a recipe.  If it’s helpful, keep a notebook in the kitchen to write down cook times and tips on your go-to meals.  Chances are if you take a few notes on how to cook an item, you’ll remember it next time and won’t even have to refer to your notes!
  3. Buy meat on sale.  Calculate about how many pounds of meat per week your family eats and aim to purchase that much or a little more.  If you have the luxury of extra freezer space, you could just buy one type of meat per week – the one that’s on sale – and then eat it over the course of a couple of months.
  4. Buy vegetables on sale.  Decide how many servings of veggies you’ll need for the week.  Frozen veggies are a great option too, especially for the end of the week.
  5. When it’s time to prep dinner, pick a meat and a vegetable or two.  Weeknights here are generally just one side, or I may cut up some raw veggies or make a simple salad to go with it.  I’ll usually spend more time and cook two veggies on the weekend.

Although the following ideas didn’t originate from my grandma, I have found them very helpful in cooking for my family:

  1. I highly recommend the book Kitchen Counter Cooking School to anyone who ever cooks.  It’s a well-written, very entertaining story and, more importantly, it is a how-to guide on how to cook without a recipe.  It also helped me learn how to use what I have in the fridge to create a meal so that I don’t waste as much food.  It seriously changed my life.
  2. Consider purchasing meat directly from a farmer.  You could split a grass-fed cow or pastured pig with some friends and store months worth of natural, hormone and antibiotic-free beef or pork in your freezer.  Perhaps a local farmer would give a discount on several months worth of chickens.  This is a great way to purchase high-quality meat at a lower cost while supporting your local farmer.
  3. I do still sometimes use a recipe for a sauce or marinade.  However I try to keep it simple and limit it to just a few ingredients.  Whenever possible, I triple or quadruple the marinade and store it in ziplock bags in the freezer for future meals.
  4. If this is a drastic change for you or if you think your family will mutiny if you change the way you cook, start out slowly.  The first week, just plan and prepare one meal this way.  Take notes in your notebook on how you cooked it and plan to make it again next week, perhaps varying the flavorings or spices you used.  Each week you could add a new “go-to” meal.
  5. This doesn’t mean that you can never cook your favorite lasagna recipe or that you can’t ever try a new recipe from Pinterest.  Just spend that extra time and effort when you’re not in a rush and you can enjoy the process.  Make it special.

I hope this helps to take some of the stress out of meal planning and preparation.  I’d love to hear your tips on simplifying meal planning!  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.



  1. Great ideas Jeni. I often do cook a meat and veggie to simplify things, but somehow feel like it’s not good enough. My family doesn’t complain, it’s just pressure that I put on myself. So that’s my next goal, to realize that it is good enough and move onto the other things I need to do.

    1. Good point that sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves. Where do you think that comes from?

  2. Thanks Jeni! I am a believer in your tips as they are they way I meal plan and cook too. Since I have cut most carbs out of my diet, I love the simplicity of a meat a vegetable or two for dinner. It is the one meal that I can get my family to eat low carb as well. I do still give them potatoes from time to time. In the summer, I love to grill most nights…meats and veggies. I have considered getting a Instant Pot as I’ve heard it is a great way to cook meat and veggies but I’m waiting to catch a great sale on them. I will often buy meats on sale and get enough for a whole month or more. At home I will separate everything into meal size containers and freeze.

    1. Hi Stephanie! Yes, we are mostly grain-free at dinner but no one seems to notice! The Instant Pot is amazing. Great for meats, soups, even oatmeal and boiled eggs. Someone told me that they got a great deal on Black Friday. Thanks for reading!

  3. I’ve taken the non-meal planning seriously…for years 🙂 Now….You’ve just relieved the guilt! Thank you!!

    1. Ha! Think of how much time you’ve saved scanning Pinterest recipes. Absolutely no guilt allowed. Thanks for reading!

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