How to Meal Plan the Sane Way

When you have a recipe formulae library and food inventory, you’re ready to plan out your 3 meals a day plus snacks.

I know it seems counter-intuitive. Why work harder by meal planning and food prepping? Why not just wing it in the grocery store?

Yes, it is more work to plan. But trust me, it’s less stress and time-consuming to cook and shop.

My grocery list only contained 6 items from 99 Ranch and 7 items from Trader Joe’s this weekend. Not only do I get in and out really quick, but I save mental energy by knowing for sure I am not missing any ingredients.

Grocery List illustration with shopping itemsPin

But there are still the pitfalls of Internet meal planners to watch out for. So, how do we create a sane meal plan sustainably week after week?

Tips for Meal Planning

Name of the game is: save time cooking and stress less.

Know Thy Self

Like the recipe formulae, meal planning is the fun part! You get to choose which favorite foods to slot in.

More importantly, you know whether Wednesdays are your hell days when you’re tired and grumpy. If that’s the case, take it easy and plan something super easy for Wednesday. Like a soup or a salad that requires minimal cooking.

Meal Plan illustration with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack foodsPin

If you must have variety, add in a new recipe every second Friday to try something new.

Food Prep on Weekends

If you work Monday to Friday like me, then weekends are the only time to do laundry and relax. I don’t want to batch cook a week’s worth of meals on top of other chores.

Can you do meal planning on the weekends? Can you cook things that take more time on weekends? Like roasting a chicken? Food prep?

Make 5-Minute Pasta

On meal planning and grocery shopping days, we eat noodles for dinner. It is easy, delicious, and quick. I don’t bother following up the meal planning and shopping by making a 3-course meal.


I cook angel hair pasta and top it with Trader Joe’s pasta sauce. Or I make Korean ramen and add a soft boiled egg.

Our Schedule

  • Mondays: Easy food to save energy for the rest of the week, for example, stir fries and salads.
  • Tuesday & Wednesdays: Ambitious cooking with a lot of leftovers, for example, fried rice, tofu bowl, and hot pot.
  • Thursday: No cooking because of class. Leftovers.
  • Friday: Leftovers from the week or use up odds and ends, for example, stir fries, dumplings, and frozen pizza.
  • Saturday: Leftovers or easy food, for example, scrambled eggs and noodles.
  • Sunday: Cooking projects and meal prep, for example, butternut squash soup and roast chicken.

An example meal plan

[table id=3 /]

Always plan for leftovers

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Leftovers for lunch and even dinner allow you to cook half as often. Your wallet will thank you. More importantly, your waistline will too.

Share your favorite meal planning tips in the comments. 

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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