It’s Sunday. Which means it’s time to plan my week.

Yep, I’ll admit it. I’m a planner. Always have been. I remember creating a chart of my outfits in 9th grade so that I wouldn’t wear the same clothes within the same week. Total dork! Who did I think cared? If my 15 year-old self could see me now she would freak. Since I work from home and seldom see the same people on consecutive days, I often wear the same outfit two days in a row. Shhhh, don’t tell the dork.

Today, I try to leave the planning to more important things. But I’m still a planner. For me, the less I have to think about on a daily basis, the better.

In many ways my planner is my life. Or at least a pretty darned good representation of what’s going on in my life. In addition to client and personal appointments, it includes daily to-do lists, birthdays, logs of phone calls, shopping lists, all kinds of notes, exercise “appointments”with myself and others, and what we’re having for dinner.

Yep, you read that right. Come Sunday, I can tell you what we’ll be having for dinner every night of the week. Meal planning: a small task that makes a giant difference.

In addition to alleviating the stress of scrambling to get something on the table, it saves me money (since I know just what to buy and am less likely to buy on impulse, less food goes to waste), and we eat healthier.

Like most families, our evenings are busy. Between Grace’s skating, Girl Scouts, and school events and my client appointments, yoga classes, and volunteer gigs, we have activities almost every evening. Often we’re home for less than an hour before having to head out again. (And, sometimes we don’t even get to stop home for dinner—in which case I pack our dinners.)

Despite how simple and helpful meal planning is, I’m always surprised at how few people do it. And, sometimes when I suggest it to wellness clients, they aren’t quite sure where to begin. So, here’s what I do. Certainly not the only way to do it, but this works for me. Very simple, very easy, and usually takes me less than 15 minutes:

Inventory—I start by taking a mental inventory of my kitchen (sometimes I actually have to check the fridge). Do I have produce or fresh meat that needs to get used? I roast a whole chicken about every other week and then use the leftover meat in other dishes. Do I have some in the fridge or freezer?

Season & Recipes—My next step is to think about what is in season (thus better prices and better quality) and think about recipes that incorporate seasonal items. I have my favorites, but I also like to try new recipes. I love the fact that I can Google a couple of ingredients followed by the word “recipe” and come up with a bunch of new dinner ideas.

Schedule—Next step is look at our schedule for the coming week. I usually start by identifying the evenings I will have time to cook and plug something in there. Those are evenings when I don’t have to be too concerned about how long a dish takes. (Being the planner that I am, I also make a note in my calendar to remove things from the freezer or soak beans overnight for upcoming meals.) If I can get some leftovers out of the meal, all the better. I then look at the evenings with little or no cooking time which brings me to…

Cooking Methods–During the school year, I use the slow cooker for at least one weekly meal and schedule that for an evening when there’s no time to cook (but time to prep in the morning). (Tip: Every couple of weeks during the winter I make what my Grandpa Jack refers to as refrigerator soup. Whatever veggies are in my refrigerator go into the slow cooker with a soup bone, beans, and either rice or barley. This makes more soup than we can eat in a meal, so in addition to lunches, some of it gets frozen for future quick dinners. Soup and some good whole grain bread is an easy, healthy and satisfying dinner.)

Boiling whole wheat pasta and adding leftover chicken, leftover roasted vegetables and pesto (which I make in the summer and freeze in small jars) makes a quick, healthy dinner. We call this Make-Your-Own-Pasta. When we’re really pressed for time we do Make-Your-Own-Pizzas using whole wheat pitas, pesto or tomato sauce, and leftover veggies and protein.

Grocery List—While I’m planning meals, I’m also making my grocery list for the week. In addition to what I’ll need for dinners, the inventory I’ve just done means I know what we’re running low on. For me, shopping with a list significantly cuts down on impulse buying and, eventually, wasted food.

And that’s it! When I described the process to a client recently, he said it sounds hard. It really isn’t. It does require a small amount of time and thinking ahead, but I think it’s a lot easier than coming up with a fresh plan every night. And, it certainly takes less time than stopping for takeout several times a week (and is a lot healthier and a lot less expensive).

Be well!