How meal planning saves our sanity

It wasn’t that long ago that Mr. Paradise and I would head on out once a week to the grocery store with a list to the effect of:

  1. Eggs
  2. Milk
  3. Vegetables
  4. Stuff for dinner

This would lead to many conversations that went like this:

Mrs. Paradise: What should we have for dinner?

Mr. Paradise: Well, we have ground beef, a jar of salsa, and those 6 Hershey bars you wanted “because they were on sale”.

Mrs. Paradise: I think we also have some orange juice.

And then we would eat ground beef over rice with taco seasoning (we always have taco seasoning since we got that giant tub from Costco…). Needless to say this did not result in the healthiest of meals, caused us to waste a lot of food, and meant we were going out for groceries several times a week to counteract our unpreparedness.

After we purchased a house last fall, we decided we needed to overhaul this decidedly disorganized part of our lives. We wanted to eat healthier while not breaking the bank. For medical reasons we are gluten free, so we are essentially low carb by accident. We were recently gifted a Paleo cookbook and even though we aren’t huge meat-eaters, it’s working great to get more vegetables into our diets. For example, we both just had the opportunity to learn what a parsnip looks and tastes like (novel but slightly bland).

I used to think cookbooks were superfluous when there are gazillions of recipes available online. But there’s something about having a physical book in your hands that you can splash tomato sauce all over and write down comments about how it turned out. The library is an awesome source for cookbooks too, as long as you are less messy than me and just write your notes in a separate notebook. We’ve had the same cookbook out from the library since September and so far they haven’t complained that we’ve renewed it ~7 times.

So, here’s what we do: each Friday, we sit down with the two cookbooks we have right now (details below) and pick out one recipe for lunch and 3-4 recipes for dinner. These recipe names go into an Excel spreadsheet1 and the ingredients we need are typed below. We also have a little section for snacks and other miscellaneous items.2 On Sunday we make a massive batch of our “lunch for the week” meal, which we both take to work with us each weekday. We try to make the dinner meals big enough that they will give us one leftover meal (because not cooking after work is awesome, as you know), so we only need to cook 2-3 times during the week. Each week gets a new tab in the Excel sheet, so every week we’ve got more and more past material to steal from. The final shopping list gets entered into our phones for easy shopping.3

This process takes about 30 minutes per week and means we never have to wonder what’s for dinner when we get home after work. We buy exactly what we need so we waste far fewer groceries and eat a lot less processed food. In the morning before work, we grab a container from the fridge plus a bag of cut up veggies or piece of fruit, and we’re on our way. Our grocery budget for the two of us is about $400 / month, although it can fluctuate if we decide to stock up during a sale or if we are mostly using up what we bought previously. Since switching to meal planning / Paleo we tend to buy a lot of organic produce and and meat. This has upped our spending but we don’t worry too much as long as we come close to our goal. Here’s a snapshot of our monthly spending from last year (made with Mint). This includes restaurants / bars, and some hosting of guests in October and November.


If you’re interested, the books we use are below. The links are affiliate links, but if you prefer not to use them you can type the book title into Amazon or check out the library!

Paleo Takes 5 Or Fewer by Cindy Sexton. This is the book we got from the library. It’s awesome because most of the recipes only take a few ingredients, and they are delicious and healthy (for the most part). If you use this book, just be sure to use some common sense. We’ve had a few duds because we followed the recipes too literally, and there seems to be a few quantity typos.

Easy Paleo Meals by Kelly Brozyna. This is the book we received as a gift. It’s filled with beautiful pictures and aims to make your life easier by making mixes and batches of ingredients ahead of time to use in recipes. The staple of this book is a “cheese” base which is made of chicken stock, cashews, and a few spices. It tastes like cheesy Alfredo and happiness. A lot of the recipes are vegetarian or easily made vegetarian, which works well for us. The author of this book provides even more recipes online for free on her website, The Spunky Coconut.

  1. Email us or comment if you want this, we are happy to share!
  2. e.g. Six Hershey bars (if on sale)
  3. We use a free app called Hub which allows us both to see the list. It’s on the app store.

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