Meal Planning Tips

Have a Few Good Cookbooks

As my mother told me, “When I was starting out with family cooking/meal planning, I had just a few cookbooks:  Mom’s loose-leaf of recipes from my past, the MN Meals cookbook, and BH&G. When I was looking for ideas, I mostly was in MN Meals as it was simple and broad.  Surfing the web to find recipes can be daunting; there are so many. Making sure you have a few good cookbooks gives you a more manageable body of info to peruse.”

I agree, and I tend to rely on my family cookbook (collected recipes we know and love) and two others that cover a lot of ground.

Plan by Time Required

You can keep a cheat sheet of often-used recipes or meals that are listed by how long it takes to prepare them (10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Then when you need a plan for the day and know how much time you have, you’ve already narrowed down your options without having to think through it each time.

Plan in Advance

For pro calendar users, or just those who appreciate charts, an option is to plan meals out a month at a time. You can have a 30-day calendar of meals (1 or 2 or 3 a day) mapped out as a resource. Each month you can reuse the calendar by changing the order of meals.

This allows you to have plenty of options available, know in advance what you are doing, and shop in bulk (if you have the storage space). You will save gas on multiple trips to the grocery store if you have what you need already in the pantry. You still have the flexibility to move things around if you want to or to take advantage of sales or schedule changes.

Keep a Treasure Chest

As you collect tried-and-true recipes, you can collect them on note cards and keep a box in the kitchen. You will know when you pull anything out of the box that it will work.

A variation of this would be to keep meal plans on note cards (recipe included). When you do your meal planning, or before you go to the store, you can pull out what you would like to make and have it ready to go. Once you have made the meal, it goes back in the box until next time.

Know Some Versatile Basics

It is a good idea to include simple recipes in your collection that make filling and tasty meals or that serve as the basis to multiple meals. For instance, a good scratch biscuit can serve for biscuits and gravy or chicken and biscuits.

Many thanks to my mother for serving as a valuable resource for this post! It has been a blessing and privilege to observe her years of experience.

What else have you found helpful in your meal planning efforts? We’d love to see your comments with more tips below. Thank you!


A Simple Meal

As promised, I’ve pulled together an explanation of what I would prepare for a meal on a day where I need something super simple but good. It requires a few minutes 2 hours before dinner and 1 hour before dinner, and maybe 10 minutes at dinner to serve, but it works well when I’m around the house (even in-and-out) but busy with other things. I generally keep everything needed on hand except the sweet potatoes.


This is a family favorite from when I was a teenager and now a favorite in our home. You need chicken or pork chops, oil and seasoned breadcrumbs.

  • Take chicken pieces (boned or boneless) or pork chops, as many as you need and a baking dish as large as you need to fit (or multiple, if that works better).
  • Coat the bottom of the dish with oil — not deep, but covered completely.
  • Lightly sprinkle seasoned breadcrumbs on top of the oil
  • Place meat in pan.
  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of meat to coat.
  • Cover with foil.
  • Place in oven at 325 for 1.5-2 hours (depending on how much meat you are baking). When the bread crumbs on the edges of the pan are crispy brown, your meat is done.


Baked sweet potatoes & steamed vegetables

Coat the sweet potatoes with oil — pour a teaspoon on your hand and rub it in to the potato. Place on a cookie sheet and into the oven 45 minutes to an hour before dinner (longer if your oven is full, less if just 3 potatoes). Serve with butter and brown sugar and/or cinnamon.

Pull a steamer bag of vegetables out of the freezer before dinner and prepare in the microwave according to directions. Season and serve.


My hope is that you enjoy this as is or adjust as needed to your preferences. Either way, remember to keep your eye on your priorities and take advantage of simple meals when you need to.