Meal Planning… Or Lack Thereof

Some people have asked me to share how I meal plan. Here’s the thing, I don’t really meal plan. So I thought I’d share my process with you.

Last summer, my parents offered to gift us a deep freezer so I’d have a reliable place to store my breast milk. That, and our refrigerator freezer is a hunk of junk– it freezer burns everything, no matter what setting its on. The only things we store in it now are Owen’s teethers, ice, and a bottle of Stoli.

The deep freezer is pretty much the best thing ever, and I think everyone should own one. Oprah should have given out deep freezers, not cars.

deep freezer

The deep freezer is where we store all of our meat, freezer meals, fruits (blueberries, mango, pineapple, cherries), and my secret stash of Reese’s eggs (sorry not sorry– they’re the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio).

We always have frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s in the deep freezer. I had to give up on buying Tyson or Perdue chicken breasts a few years ago because those suckers are monster, roided out chicken breasts. They just didn’t seem normal. And while the TJ’s chicken we buy isn’t organic, it tastes better and is of more normal size than Tyson or Perdue.

We also usually have steaks and ground beef in the deep freezer. My parents donate a lot of red meat to us. They have a huge stash because they typically split a cow with other family members. So when my mom says, “Would you like some sirloins?” I can’t say no. That’s just rude.

meal planning

So in the morning, I typically get out chicken or beef in order for it to thaw by dinnertime. Then during the day, I’ll take inventory of what we have in the fridge or pantry and decide what I’ll cook. It’s a very mapped out, scientific process.

We almost always have the following vegetables in our house: romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, frozen brussel sprouts, frozen asparagus. So coming up with vegetable side dishes is never really a problem. I’m on a big roasted vegetable kick right now because it’s fast and easy.


If it’s a day where I forgot to get meat out of the freezer or I was running around all day and I don’t feel like cooking, I’ll bust out a bag of Trader Joe’s orange chicken, Trader Joe’s vegetable fried rice, and Trader Joe’s chicken egg rolls. Super healthy meal.

trader joe's orange chicken

My other go to slacker meal is a vegetable egg scramble because omelette-making requires too much skill and effort. So I sauté vegetables we have on hand (onion, peppers, kalamata olives, etc.) in a pan, whisk some eggs, cook everything together, add feta, and serve. This is also a great way to use up vegetables that are about to go bad. I typically add side salads to round the meal out. Or sometimes, I’ll make it full on breakfast for dinner and make blueberry or, Brad’s favorite, chocolate chip pancakes.

Here are our most often rotated dinner meals:

baked chicken breasts with seasoning / baked microwaved sweet potato with butter, cinnamon, s+p OR couscous salad / side salad

couscous salad

grilled steak / sweet potato with butter, cinnamon, s+p / sautéed mushrooms and onions OR balsamic-roated brussel sprouts with pancetta

taco salads with seasoned ground beef

meatloaf / side salad

pizza on the grill / side salad

barbecue chicken pizza / side salad

grilling pizza

Costco’s salmon milano with basil pesto butter / roasted vegetables / sweet potato with butter, cinnamon, s+p

barbecue chicken nachos

bbq chicken nachos

chicken and broccoli casserole

Trader Joe’s orange chicken / Trader Joe’s vegetable fried rice / Trader Joe’s chicken egg roll

grilled hamburgers / sweet potato fries / broccoli salad OR grilled corn on the cob

broccoli salad 2

baked chicken with tomato basil marinara over zoodles

traditional chili / garlic cheddar biscuits (colder months)

garlic biscuits

white chicken chili / cheesy biscuit bombs (colder months)

People have asked how I cook for two people. But the thing is that I don’t really keep that in mind when I’m cooking because I welcome leftovers with open arms. In fact, that’s what I usually survive on for lunch around here. I’ve never been a ‘go out to lunch’ person because when I was doing my developmental therapy job, I usually brought a lunch and ate it in my car between appointments. And now that I’m home with Owen, I typically eat leftovers for lunch while Brad takes sandwiches or eats out when he’s at work.

So there you have it. Hopefully this post was somewhat helpful. Or, you’re laughing and thinking, “Hah! This chick needs to get on the real meal planning train.”

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  1. Love that I am not the only one who doesn’t meal plan! I feel like I spend MORE money when I try to meal plan, then life happens and I don’t have time to make all meals I planned. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I definitely struggle with cooking for two people. We don’t have a use for leftovers so I always try to cook just for dinner for me and my husband. I’m getting better at it 🙂

  3. I follow the same routine you do! Good to know not everyone meal plans. I agree with kaitlyn above, I feel like I spend more money when I try to meal plan.

  4. I’m a pretty avid meal prepper, but it’s also a pain my keister. I want a deep freezer, so that I can pull out meat and maybe just buy fresh fruit/veggies during the week as to not waste so much produce!

  5. I too love my deep freezer but would welcome some tips on freezing. Seems like the meat always cooks up dryer than if I had cooked it fresh from the store. I have a lot of luck freezing milk (2%) but NO luck freezing bread. I would appreciate any tips and or suggestions.

  6. Do your parents buy their cow in the Indianapolis area? My family is interested in buying a cow, but we don’t know where to get it from!

  7. Hi Chelsea – I love this post. This is meal planning but keeping real. Clearly you aren’t trying to make a full time job of it, which it quickly can be if you overdo it. I tried for a long time to be “creative”. But with 3 boys now, we are the on the “if it’s Monday – then it must be pasta night”. Okay, so some times we mix up the days and some times we eat out (a.k.a. get take out… there’s just not time for sitting down at a restaurant with homework and sports and music, oh my). But having a routine has been key for this family! Thanks for such a straight up post!!!

  8. Rae Nikolai says:

    I am retired now, but had worked for 30 years. Meal planning never worked…Life isn’t what you plan never ever in my case. So I depended on my pantry and freezer and defrosting Use these http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/the-big-thaw-safe-defrosting-methods-for-consumers/bigthaw2
    I would have about 5 “go to” meals on hand at al times. If you stick to 5-ingredient meals this is easy to do. Grab a pound of meat from the freezer, a can or bag of frozen vegetables, and pasta, rice or potatoes of your choice and you are good to go. the secret is not the planning but the recipe selection and stocking. Variety happens with the sauce that you choose. Honey mustard, BBQ, Prego, sour cream, or cheese.
    Meal planning only meant something spoiled and ended in the trash because oops life happened.

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