Meal Planning 101- Putting Your Meal Plan to Work

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Did you start the first week of January with a meal plan?

Excited about how much simplicity this plan is going to bring to your life and home?

Easier than you thought it would be?

If you missed any of the meal planning series so far,  you can read each step here.

Now it is time to put your meal plan to work.

Step 5: Executing Your Meal Plan

Each week when I make my meal plan, I do not assign a day of the week to each meal. For me, it is a little too bogged down to assign a specific day to each meal. If you like that level of structure go for it!

Tonight when I am cooking dinner, or after dinner is done and kids’ are starting their bath/shower routine, I start going over our schedule for the next day.

  • Do we have any extra curricular activities tomorrow evening?
  • Will tomorrow be a busy day of errands and running around after school?
  • Is tomorrow an easy day with not much planned?

All of these questions help me determine if a crockpot meal, a casserole, a one-pot-stove-top-dinner, etc. is going to be best for tomorrow night.  I look over my meal options for the week and determine which one we will have for dinner tomorrow night and place it in the fridge in a container so it can start defrosting.

Do I ever fail or forget to plan ahead the night before? Of course- I am human. In these situations this is what I do….

Many crockpot meals, especially those using whole chicken breasts, the meat can be placed in the crockpot frozen. Say I forgot to plan ahead the night before and today we have a super busy after school schedule- meaning I want a meal that does not require more than tossing everything into a crockpot. I look over my  weekly meal plan for a chicken crockpot dinner (which is a very common listing on my meal plan).  I now have nothing to worry about. Toss it in, and go.

Use a thaw board/tray to defrost the meat you forgot to place in the fridge the night before. I’ve had this handy little gadget since way before I had any children and I use it a lot. I just place the thaw board in a plastic container with the frozen meat on top of the board (any liquids are then caught in the container during the thawing process) and my meat is defrosted in 1-3 hours depending on the type.

Defrost your meat in the microwave. I am not a big fan of this, I would rather use the thaw board, but many people do use the microwave. And it works!

If you pre-assemble any of your casseroles, here is a tip that one of my friends will do on a pretty regular basis. If she is planning to serve her family a casserole for dinner tonight, she will take the frozen and pre-assembled casserole and place it in your oven before she leaves for work so it can begin the defrosting process. She will set the delay start on her oven to begin cooking at a time that will ensure the casserole is done cooking about the time she gets home from work. I’ve always thought this was a really good time saver.

If your family eats a lot of chicken, spend an hour over the weekend and grill up 10-12 (or more) chicken breasts. Once cooked, dice them up and bag them and freeze them into portions. This way you have cooked chicken on hand for any school/work night dinner saving you a lot of time.

You could do the same thing with rotisserie chickens from the deli. Debone and shred the chicken and portion it out and freeze.

You could also easily batch cook multiple pounds of ground hamburger meat and portion out and freeze for easy dinner solutions during the busy school/work week.

Have a leftover night on your meal plan. This is a great solution for an oops night and it prevents wasting food!


  1. Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge says:

    I'm a bit sad because I really, REALLY want to do this. Actually, I"ve been trying to do it for about a week but I just can't get it together. I am feeling very overwhelmed with everything: laundry, ironing, cleaning, putting away, etc. And actually meals prep is one more thing. I know, this would actually make my life easier but getting it going is a struggle for me.

    You do an excellent job at preparing these tips. I'm going to keep trying. Maybe I can start up next week.

  2. Texasn Mama- take baby steps.

    This week determine your meal criteria. Just jot down the criteria here and there as you think about it. Do not pressure yourself. Take all week to do it here and there.

    Over the next few weeks, keep a running list of the dinners you cook for your family. Do they work for you? Add them to your recipe list and build that list over the next few weeks until you reach 21 recipes.

    In another week find a good grocery list template if the one you are using is not working. Take each step slow if you need to. 🙂

    Then one week write down what you plan to cook this week. If you fail, there is always next week. It is never too late to start over.

    You know what, my laundry skills suck! You do my laundry and I'll do your meal planning. 🙂

  3. Ginger@cottageonrosewood says:

    Just found your blog and I am so excited to implement some of these time saving tips into our busy week. Thanks!

  4. Ginger- I am so glad you found my site! 🙂

    Let me know if you have any questions as you go along in the meal planning process.

    Best of luck!

  5. This is something I totally need. Thanks so much. Linda

  6. Linda- so glad you found me! Have fun with it!

  7. We just had twins in October, and I have an almost 2 year old- my husband and I are always struggling to get the grocery list and meals together for the week– I'm looking forward to these tools and hope that we can make them work for us! thanks!

  8. Fritter- congrats on your twins! My twins will be 5 in Feb.

    Meal planning would make life so much easier for you. Give it a try. When my twins were born is about the time I fell in love with my crockpot. 🙂 You need anything that can help simplify life, and the crockpot does that for sure.

    Best of luck.(I have a twin series here on my blog too… the link is below my header.)

  9. I am not a fan of defrosting chicken in the microwave either so I place the chicken in a bowl and run hot water over it. I let it soak in the hot water for 15-20 minutes and it normally thaws nicely!

  10. I just stumbled across your blog while looking for meal planning help. Thanks so much for the very useful information!

    I have a 16-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 6-month-old. Life is very busy so I definitely need a plan.

  11. We struggle with meal planning and I have really enjoyed your series. Thanks for all of the ideas.

  12. I'm not yet responsible for planning meals (I'm a college student away from home). However, when I graduate in a few years, these tips will be really helpful. Thanks!

  13. Great post. I do meal planning somewhat and it does tend to help .

  14. ConnieFoggles says:

    This is one of the biggest issues in my household. I'm going to take a look at your series to get some tips. My problem is that I have 2 picky eaters – my husband and my 12 year old daughter.

  15. Kelly's Lucky You says:

    What great tips! I love ideas that save time AND money 🙂

  16. Survey Junkie says:

    Great post. I do meal planning as well and this post is helpful.

  17. Simply Stacie says:

    I suck at meal planning! I wish I could be more organized and actually do it. I hate deciding last minute what to make and then discovering there's nothing in the house LOL.

  18. ♥Yaya's Mommy ♥ says:

    Having a meal plan would save me so much time and money. I REALLY need one and am so glad that I read this to get me thinking on how to start planning one for my fam. Thanks

  19. I totally use the frozen meat in the crockpot trick when I forget, too.

    Great minds…

  20. Mama Motivated says:

    I am an avid meal planner but I do my planning by the week. I always have back ups for "just in case mommy forgets" meals. I need to get a thaw board, thanks for the tips.

    Shanaka @ Thrifty Mama B

  21. Great tips! I try to meal plan and usually do okay for the first few days then I just start winging it, which is probably why I realized I didn't have the cornmeal that a recipe called for this week until I was halfway through the recipe!

    When I need to defrost meat in a hurry, I put it (in the ziploc bag I froze it in) in a big tupperware container, fill with water, and put it in the fridge. It only takes 2-3 hours, so as long as I remember by lunchtime, I'm good!

  22. I love that you don’t assign a meal to each night. I just commented on another post of yours on menu planning, saying that I like the flexibility to cook what appeals to me that particular day. Having several meals planned for each week, but being able to choose which one I want to do as I go, is very appealing to me.

  23. My aunt showed me one of those thaw boards when I was about ten, and I have been trying to track them down ever since! I honestly didn’t think they still existed. THANK YOU!!

    1. Sarah-

      That thaw board is older than my older child. I bought it probably 14 years ago.
      I bought it at an outlet mall.

      It works like a charm.

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