Meal Planning – Step 2 {Categories}


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If you’re here, hopefully that means you’ve visited Meal Planning – Step 1 {Make a List} first. For Step Two, you should have written down 28 – 35 meal ideas unless you like to eat the same things – then fewer is fine. Ideally you should make your list of foods divisible by 7 which corresponds with each day of the week, but it doesn’t have to. Be Flexible – there may be some meals that you eat only once a year or once a month and others once a week. The next step is to separate your meal ideas roughly into categories in whatever way makes the most sense to you. Keep in mind that you probably won’t want to serve sandwiches more than 1 day a week nor would you want to serve several ground turkey meals per week (ie, turkey meatloaf, chili or meatballs). For example mac ‘n cheese could be placed into any of these categories – Comfort Food, Pasta, Kid or Meatless. Since I don’t want to end up serving 2 pasta dishes per week, I chose to include Mac ‘n Cheese in the Pasta category as opposed to the Kid category. Below is an example of how I first sorted my family’s meal ideas:

  • turkey meatloaf, porcupine turkey meatballs, chili, sloppy joe soup, turkey sausage, swedish meatballs
  • whole chicken/cornish game hens, chicken divan, orange chicken
  • roast, pot-roast, cube steak, tri-tip, brocolli beef, won-tons, beef & noodles
  • pork chops bone-in & boneless, pork tenderloin, pork roast, ham steaks
  • taquitos, flautas, tacos (soft/crunchy), tortilla soup, burritos, tortilla bake, quesadilla
  •  won-tons, pot stickers, orange chicken, broccolli beef, chow mein
  • ravioli (ravioli soup), spaghetti, pasta w/veggies, lasagna (meat/no meat), stuffed shells, fettucine alfredo (lite version),
  • pizza/pizza rolls/french bread pizza/personal pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips, mac ‘n cheese
  • red snapper (Fisherman’s Luck), salmon (repeat every other week), dover sole, shrimp, tuna melt, tuna noodle casserole, tuna a’ la king (scallops??)
  • baked potato bar, cowboy beans
  • paninis, deli sandwich, au jus sandwiches, sloppy joe’s, b.l.t, meatball, grilled cheese
  • seasonal (corned beef, Thanksgiving turkey)

This is not set in stone, it’s a work in progress – the goal is to create 7 total categories unless you plan to repeat a category;  I plan to serve fish twice a week. If you have too many categories like I do above, just combine them and/or split them between weeks selecting from either category every other week, instead of each week. For example, I plan to combine the 4 meat categories and rotate them so the I have one type of meat entree for the week which I have shown in the example below (keep reading).

My goal was to have at least 5 main entree ideas per category which would allow me to plan 5 weeks of meals with no repeating.  At first this was difficult, but as I wrote down ideas and started categorizing them more meal ideas came to mind and I ended up with more than 5. As I mentioned before there is a bit of overlap since some foods are similar – for example I would probably not serve quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches during the same week just as I would not serve grilled cheese sandwiches the same week as a paninis. Also, I might combine pasta with poultry or seafood if I make a shrimp or chicken fettucine. Keep in mind that just because I’m not going to serve these items during the same week doesn’t mean that you can’t/shouldn’t.

Once you have your meals categorized, you’re ready for the last step – Meal Planning Step 3 – Put it on the Calendar.

If you’re like me and need a visual, I’ve included my categorized meal plan below in a printable format.


Now the fun part – here are the 7 categories that I’m starting with (technically 6, since my goal is to serve FISH twice a week):

1. Meat: I plan to select one meat to serve for the week. Since there are 4 options I am going to rotate the meats by week. (I am hoping to coordinate the meat selection with what is on sale. I also have a freezer…but for those of you that don’t, the rotating meat idea may be helpful to you.)

  • turkey meatloaf, porcupine turkey meatballs, chili, sloppy joe soup, turkey sausage
  • whole chicken, cornish game hens, chicken divan
  • roast, pot-roast, stew, cube steak, tri-tip, corned beef (March)
  • pork chops bone-in & boneless, pork tenderloin, pork roast, ham steaks

2. Mexican: I call this mexican because these are food that are typically located on the aisle labeled mexican in our local grocery stores. I listed 8 items, but since 2 are tortilla soups I plan to rotate those every other month.

3. Pasta: This is by far, hands-down, the most favorite meal category for my family. It can also be the most fattening and least healthy category if I’m not careful how I prepare the foods… but that’s the wonderful thing about the internet w/a few clicks I can search for healthy, whole food options for my family’s favorite foods AND so can you. Plus, as each meal passes  my family’s picky palettes with rave reviews, I’ll post the recipe to the blog and add the link.

  • ravioli (ravioli soup), spaghetti, pasta w/veggies, lasagna (meat or no meat), stuffed shells, fettucine alfredo (cooking light), chicken parmigiano, mac ‘n cheese

4. Kids: This list is pretty much what you would typically find listed in the Kid’s Meal section on a restaurant menu or is available as fast food. I think my kids would be happy if all I served them was pizza & pasta… but they’ll have to wait until they are 18, lol.

  • pizza, pizza rolls, french bread pizza, personal pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips, (mac ‘n cheese is listed with the pastas), _________. Ideally I need one more item for this list for a total of 8 items or 8 weeks. In step 3, when I write the meal plan for the month, I’ll leave it blank & hope something comes to me. Also, since pizza is a favorite, I plan to rotate the pizza every other week, so that means we’ll be eating pizza twice a month.

5 & 6 Fish: It’s taken years, but my family is slowly acquiring a taste for fish. I typically purchase fresh or wild-caught frozen. Basically I try to know the source. Fish is expensive and we eat it for the health benefits, so I want to be sure that we are eating “healthy” fish. Our favorite is salmon and the next is dover sole (dipped in whole wheat flour and pan-fried w/a little butter).

  • red snapper (Fisherman’s Luck), salmon (repeat every other week), dover sole, tuna melt, tuna noodle casserole, tuna a’ la king, shrimp (scallops?).  I DEFINITELY NEED MORE IDEAS, SINCE MY GOAL IS TO EAT FISH 2X A WEEK.

7. Open (New Recipes/Meals that don’t fit a category/Super Quick) – another option is to serve both soup & sandwiches together. Either the soup or the sandwich can be served another day or 2 days for lunch.

  • soups and stews (jambalaya)
  • sandwiches: panini, deli sandwich, au jus sandwich, sloppy joe, b.l.t, meatball, grilled cheese
  • meatless – baked potato bar (unless I add bacon), cowboy beans



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