How I've Stuck to Meal Planning (Finally!)

Meal planning is not something that has come naturally to me. I can remember my mom and aunt planning the week ahead, but I just never cared to pay attention to the specifics. Somehow I can’t even remember how we decided what I would make for dinner on my assigned day! Total mental block.

I have managed to muddle my way through feeding myself in my adult life but not without trials and tribulations. How often have I stood, despondent, in front of the fridge or cabinet only to settle on eggs and popcorn again? Too many times to count.

Is this stock photo not hilarious? It would be 100% perfect if she was in front of   the fridge…

Is this stock photo not hilarious? It would be 100% perfect if she was in front of the fridge…

Despite my behavior (see above), I have absolutely seen the benefits of being organized about my eating schedule and grocery shopping - less decision-making during the busy week = less mental fatigue, budget savings, fewer “oops” moments when I’ve forgotten a crucial ingredient or two, and having an easier time sticking to healthy eating - to name a few.

This is not to say I haven’t gone through phases of planning before. I have tried using a notebook/notepad, Pinterest, a calendar, a planner, but no one process has stuck for more than a couple weeks. Perhaps others can relate?

So, this year I sought to remedy this weak area of my otherwise-organized life. Coincidentally, this desire came on about the time I discovered Airtable.

I learned of through a series of rabbit trails a few months ago. Airtable can be described as a cross between Excel (my true love) and a database. It has so much capability; I only scratch the surface! But I love learning more about how to use it and incorporating new elements. Some useful features and formatting include a grid/list view, a calendar view, custom drop-down menus, check boxes, attachments, hyperlinks, and integration with other tables. Of course, there is more to it than that.

When I first signed up for an account (free!), there were a bunch of templates pre-loaded. The grocery list caught my eye, because as it happens, I was feeling increasingly unsatisfied with the app I was using. I figured I’d give it a whirl.

It was easy enough to adjust the formatting to suit my wishes. For one, I wanted a comprehensive shopping list that includes all the various stores I shop at. I don’t like having a separate list for Home Depot, Target, Safeway, Aldi, etc. So I added a column for which store I would be most likely to get an item. Sometimes I need to list two stores for items I could get at either depending on convenience.


I also like to order my list in a particular way. In my old grocery app, I always wished I could sort my list by the way I shopped in the store. So I added a column for “departments” and was super stoked that I could order the departments any way I liked, not just alphabetical. Since this list is 90% groceries, how I sort the departments is generally how I shop in Safeway.

Here is a snapshot of how I set up the sort function – whether or not I’ve purchased it, then by store according to my custom-ordered list, then by department according to my custom-ordered list, and then by alphabetized item.


It sounds complicated. Haha! I get that. But I love to customize things exactly to the way I want to use them. Deeeeelightful!

I skipped along merrily using only this list for a little while. At some point, I began considering adding a meal planning component to my grocery list. Like Excel, you can add multiple tabs/tables to each database. So, I began creating a table to address meal planning.

I started with columns for the item/dish, the day of the week, the meal, a recipe link if there was one I was going to use, and the items required for the dish, since I wanted the ability to see at a glance if I needed to add anything to my shopping list.

Here is what it looks like in the grid view.


Nice, right? It’s coming along! But it still needed something… I was missing the visual element of Pinterest. I still use Pinterest for recipes and meal inspo, but I realized that looking at appealing pictures of food gave me more motivation to stick to my meal plans when confronted with alternatives.

Remembering one of the tutorials I watched early on, I made sure each record had a picture attachment, and I switched to the Kanban view.


Ta da!!!! Isn’t it so pretty? I looooove the visual aspect! I can see right off the bat if I’ve accidentally planned too many of the same meal in a row (my max is two consecutive days, then I get bored and more likely to stray). And I can double check it against my calendar to make sure I’ve gotten all my events on there that will include food.

So there it is, folks! Nothing super complicated. But for me, having a visually appealing interface, having the recipe and grocery list in the same place, and having it accessible easily on my phone has made all the difference. Some weeks are better than others, but I’ve been able to reduce my grocery budget and, perhaps even more importantly, reduce my food waste. In my book that is a win-win!

Now it's your turn! Tell me what you use for meal planning and shopping lists. What are your tried and true methods? I would love to hear them!