Food plan without meal planning

Does the thought of meal planning seem overwhelming?  Have you tried detailed meal plans in the past and can never stick to them?  Do you spend hours scrolling through Pinterest just trying to figure out what to make in a given week?  Do you feel stifled with knowing exactly what you are going to make every single night.  Do you get to Wednesday and don’t feel like cooking what’s on Wednesday’s menu?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, this “meal planning without meal planning” method may be just the method for you!  Meal planning without meal planning sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but just hang with me while I explain.  The goal of meal planning is to be prepared, save money, have direction on what foods to buy, and to get the people fed.  You can still accomplish all of these things and still be prepared without a detailed plan.

Essentially, with this method, you buy at the store or the market every week a variety of healthy foods that your family enjoys and that can work together and mixed and matched to make meals.  Then you decide the morning of what sounds good to make depending on what you have, and you just make it.  Simple enough, right?  Well, yes, if you are a person for whom this method is great for.  

Good for people who enjoy: 

  • creativity
  • cooking on the fly
  • flexibility
  • going with what sounds good
  • waiting until getting to the store/market and see what looks good or what’s on sale

Not good for people who:

  • do not know how to cook without a recipe
  • like careful planning ahead of time
  • do not like making daily decisions
  • like detailed breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans
  • are Type A personality

Keys for making this method work

Buy healthy food

To keep a budget in mind, look for what’s on sale, can be stretched multiple meals or has multiple uses.  Here are some examples of what I recommend to buy.    

  • Variety of protein/meat for the freezer:  ground beef/turkey, whole chicken, chicken thighs/breasts, fish, roasts, pork chops, bacon, or really anything that your family enjoys 
  • variety of protein for pantry and fridge:  This is great for when you have nothing thawed or need something quick.  Eggs, canned tuna and salmon, nut butter, beans, lentils, nuts, etc.
  • vegetables: frozen and fresh of any that you regularly eat, preferably in season.  Ex. salad greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, squashes, mushrooms, green beans, peas, celery, cucumbers, onions, Brussels sprouts, peppers, garlic, canned tomato products
  • fruit:  bananas, apples, frozen fruit, oranges, berries, pineapple, etc.
  • grains/bread:  oats, rice, quinoa, pasta, flours of choice, bread of choice, etc.
  • condiments and spices you enjoy:  ketchup, mustard, mayo, vinegars, coconut aminos, fish sauce, hot sauce, pickles, spices/herbs 
  • fats/cooking oils you enjoy: butter/ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil

Don’t overbuy

It’s best to know how much food your family can realistically eat in a week.  I like to go heavier on things that can be kept in the freezer or pantry to reduce food waste as well as about 4-5 large vegetables.  Once you get used to how much your family actually eats, it will become easier to know how much to buy.  See my tips for how to reduce produce waste.

Know how to cook simply

Over time, you will learn how to “cook” instead of just following recipes. When you have simple ingredients and know simple methods of cooking like roasting and sautéing, it becomes easy to pull something together.  Our formula is protein+vegetable sides+optional grain/carb.  Here are some simple meals that can be made.

  • Whole chicken, roasted veggies, potatoes
  • Stir fry with any meat or no meat, vegetables, and a simple sauce
  • Salmon patties, sweet potato oven fries, broccoli
  • Frittata, salad, cut up fruit
  • Bean and veggie soup
  • Broiled fish, rice, asparagus
  • Skillet pork chops, baked apples, green beans
  • Burgers, oven fries, salad
  • Slow cooker or Instant Pot large cut of meat or beans with a veggie side dish or no-cook side dish
2018-03-14T16:07:22+00:00

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4 Comments

  1. Susan March 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve always “failed” at meal planning, and this is more what I do! I feel vindicated that I don’t HAVE to meal plan to save money. I keep a variety of proteins, produce, and pantry items. That way I can decide to cook what we feel like eating. Being retired, we are on a VERY tight budget, and it seems everything I read about saving money on groceries begins with meal planning. I have found the opposite to be true for us — I buy for specific meals, don’t feel like eating them, and those specific ingredients go to waste. I do much better with pantry, fridge, and freezer stocked with our favorite staples. I enjoy your blog very much, and thank you again.

    • Tara Buss March 15, 2018 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      Sounds like it’s working for you, Susan! Thanks for reading and for the encouragement. 🙂

  2. Donna March 15, 2018 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I agree with Susan. I’m in my early 50s and have always failed at meal planning and end up wasting food. This post has made me feel so much better! Thank you.

  3. Kim March 16, 2018 at 7:40 am - Reply

    Thank you, Tara! This was affirming for me too. I meal plan about “half way” meaning some weeks I only get about half the week planned, but it works out ok, and it does help save money, time and food (less waste). I love your posts and Facebook videos. They help keep me on track as and be more efficient – in keeping with the name of your blog, we eat better and spend better. 🙂

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