How To Make A Meal Plan

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The number one key to success for health in the kitchen is planning.

Below I’ve outlined how The Fresh 20 meal plans are created.  You can use the same method at home to thrive using a whole foods diet that won’t break the bank or make you a slave to the stove.

The first thing to consider is the ingredients

It helps to conserve by choosing the ingredients first and not plucking a group of unrelated recipes off the internet which might lead to a list of 80 items. To create a tight list of ingredients that will work together…

1. Choose three entree proteins: fish, dairy, beans, legumes, soy, lean meats.

2. Identify at least five seasonal vegetables. Make sure a few of them are quick cooking and easy to prepare.  Think about a method allowing for many vegetables to be prepared at one time like roasting (my favorite).

3. Be sure to include one salad or leafy green.

4. Include a few produce add-ons for the week: aromatic like onions, shallots or ginger, fresh herbs (parsley and thyme are most flexible)

5. Add in one or two grains or pastas: quinoa, brown rice, farro, whole wheat penne, bread, pita, tortilla

6. Any dairy? Greek yogurt, or butter?

7. Maybe a fruit or two?

8. Check the pantry. What can you use? Are you low on basics? What do you have on hand? Anything left in the fridge from last week? Use it!

Sketch out the week

Okay, you have a tight list of ingredients so now comes the menu puzzle. I like to use a blank sheet of paper to sketch out the week of recipe ideas.

1. Write down a column for each day of the week. Add a major protein to each day using one or two proteins more than once in a week.

2. Match proteins with vegetables and grains according to what sounds good to you. This can be based on your family flavor profile but feel free to experiment.

3. Now look up recipes based on a few keywords including one of your proteins and one of your vegetables. Look for recipes that for the most part, match up with your list.

4. Create a menu based on recipes found using your carefully constructed shopping list.

5. Compile a shopping list by adding the quantities from all chosen recipes. If you end up with odd amounts like 1-1/2 heads of lettuce, jot down an idea for making sure you use it up at other meals like breakfast or lunch.  Don’t let anything go to waste.

6. Read through any chosen recipes to assess what can be made ahead of time.  Write out your prep list and tackle it at the beginning of the week.

7. Post the menu on the fridge to motivate you to stay on track and give your family something to look forward to during the week. Everyone likes a plan!

Helpful tips and tricks to planning

Consider using a theme. Many cuisines use a very identifiable list of ingredients. Think about a Greek food week or an Italian week.  This makes it possible to use up fresh herbs and vegetables that fit within the profile of the theme but still maintain variety without just heating up leftovers.

Cook only what you need for one particular meal. I know there is a lot of advice on make ahead meals and cooking once, eating forever.  In my experience this works for a few dishes but the majority of leftovers get wasted in a typical kitchen.  Conserve money and limit waste by cooking what you need and consuming a modest amount.  If there are only one or two mouths to feed, find recipes that will work with one organic chicken breast or 1/3 pound meat.  Bulk in planning is not always the answer.

There is a helpful online service called Eat Your Books that indexes your cookbooks so you can search them by ingredient without having to open up each individual cookbook and page through to find recipes. It is a major time saver when planning meals. (20% discount with code: Fresh20)

Look at your weekly schedule and mark down any activities or events that will interfere with meals. Choose portable recipes that you can use on the go. Plan snacks and pack a few at the beginning of the week to eliminate last-minute junk food grabs.

Be flexible, don’t buy more than you can eat, and have fun!

Finish” © 2010 by Nicola Jones, used under Creative Commons license.

About the Author

The Fresh 20Melissa Lanz is currently getting bossy about dinner.  As the author and Founder of The Fresh 20, Melissa understands that the path to health and happiness runs through the kitchen.  Her healthful meal plans have helped over 150,000 families get wholesome food on the table.

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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April 4, 2018 3:47 am

A meal Diet plan helps you decide on the kinds of food you can choose to eat at meals that is only healthy. Thanks for sharing this post.

October 31, 2012 5:00 pm

Super ideas! My roadblock has always been leftovers…thanks for making it so simple that even I (duh) can figure it out.

I also Have my cabinets (food and equipment) sorted according to cooking regimens (baking, crock pot, stovetop, etc.) so that everything is to hand when I start. Sounds really OCD I know, but it saves soooooo much time!

October 30, 2012 3:49 pm

This is great advice! I’m definitely going to use it the next time I plan.

October 30, 2012 3:07 pm

Great advice… better yet, let “The Fresh 20” do it for you!

marilyn kyle
October 30, 2012 2:55 pm

I have always been daunted by planning, yet daunted by not planning… and end up grocery shopping everyday for that one more thing I needed… This seems like a great common sense way to attack the problem! Thanks for spelling it out for us!

October 30, 2012 1:15 pm

Love this!!!

October 30, 2012 1:14 pm

We plan a one to two week menu, check the ingredients we have on hand, then shop for the rest. And, yes, we do cook once, eat many because dinner from Monday becomes quick to pack lunches for Tuesday and maybe Wednesday. Currently, we have two folks who need pack it quick lunches, so we portion out the leftovers into portable storage (preferably cleaned out peanut butter jars – just the right portion size for most things like soups, chili, pasta; sturdy; and we can microwave them right in the jar, sans lid, if bowls aren’t handy). We also plan for meals based on leftovers – make chili on Monday, use leftovers for lunch on Tuesday, pour chili over pasta or baked potatoes for Wednesday’s dinner. We also cook things like black beans once then use several times – nachos, chili, soup – which is something that is mentioned in… Read more »

October 30, 2012 1:14 pm

Love this!

October 30, 2012 9:00 am

Great tips! I’ve been doing it backward all these years- starting with the recipes and then buying all the ingredients. I’m definitely going to give this a shot!

October 30, 2012 8:50 am

Really good. I mean it. I’ve been trying to sum up simple meal planning for years. Thanks Melissa!