Why I Stopped Planning my Meals and What I do Instead!

Can I let you into a little secret?  I don’t use any of my meal planning printables.  Crazy right?!  

The thing is, I used to use them faithfully.  Not only did they help make sure I had something to put on the table each night, they really helped when it came time to do the grocery shopping.  

Truthfully, though, we hardly ever followed my plan, and then last year we discovered a local butcher who sells local meat in bulk packs.  That changed things considerably.  It forced me to start planning around what we already had and just like when any system changes, I just sort of stopped doing it for a while as I mulled over how to do it the best way for our family.  

In the end, I decided to stop planning my meals in the traditional sense and create my own system that better suits our lifestyle.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be creating a menu to follow each week

This image is a tall rectangle with a sandy coloured background. At the top in small, dark green text is a the label "Life Organized." Under that is a picture of a brown leather planner laying open on a wooden desk. The planner page shows a meal planner for dinners page that is sectioned into columns for meat, sides, veggies, and extras. Overlapping a little of the bottom of the picture is a tan box with dark grey text that says "Why I Stopped Planning My Meals and What I Do Instead"

Why I Stopped Planning My Meals

I say it all the time; we need to create systems that work for us, not the other way around.  

My old way of planning my meals was a case of me working for the system.  It was doing nothing to help simplify our lives and it was no longer really doing the job it was supposed to do.  Eventually, I just gave up trying, and we sort of floated along without a system and I learned so much about how our family approaches meals.

There were many reasons why our system stopped working, but I’ll spare you a novel and stick to the main points.

  • we changed how we shopped, which meant that half the reason for planning my meals was no longer valid.
  • we never stuck to the plan
  • we rarely cook following a recipe
  • my husband loves to cook, and he likes to make things up as he goes along.  (I wish he could cook every night!)
  • we tend to choose our meals based on what we feel like for dinner. One of the boys might mention wanting pasta, or it might be rainy and cold out so a stew or roast appeals more than a chicken salad does.
  • without a plan, we didn’t resort to take-out or dining out.  To be sure there were nights when I was scrambling last minute, but we cook almost all of our meals at home, reserving eating out or getting take out for special occasions.

There were more reasons it was no longer working, but these were the big ones.  The last point was especially eye-opening.  

I learned a lot from stopping my meal planning and observing how our family really works in the kitchen.  Even though traditional meal planning wasn’t working anymore, I quickly realized that I did need some sort of plan.  Something to help balance out the different meats and make sure I had enough ingredients in the pantry and fridge to make well rounded, wholesome meals from.

What I do Instead

So, if I don’t plan my meals, what do I do?  

Well, it all started when I stopped planning and started watching.  Specifically, watching my husband work his magic in the kitchen was the big eye-opener.  You see, I used to follow recipes all the time, some were actual recipes and others were more like my own standard way of cooking things.  

Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks from my husband who only uses recipes for certain things.  The rest of the time he just tosses stuff together and turns out these amazingly yummy meals.  While I don’t quite have his talent, I’ve noticed that I’ve started doing that a lot more myself, and our teen is doing the same thing.

So how do you plan meals when no-one actually uses a recipe?  I’ll show you.

For dinners, I use this little printable I made.

Meal Planner: Dinners

While I’m no longer planning out two weeks of specific meals, I do still need to plan for those meals.


Because we order our meat is large packs from the butcher, I needed something that would allow me to make note of what we have, and also let me plan for items that may not come in the pack we chose, such as fish, poultry, and eggs and other alternatives.


I have a good general idea of what we usually pair with what.  So here is where I note down the grains and starches we usually use, such as pasta, rices, potatoes, tortillas, buns/breads and so on.


I like to make sure we have veggies with every meal.  This is column is where I keep track of what we might need, and it also helps me make sure I purchase enough when we do our shopping.  So say I have ground beef, followed by tortillas, in the veggie column I might add peppers and salad fixings.  Each line usually ends up with two options on it.


This is the fun column, it’s where I note down anything we might need that doesn’t fit the other categories.  Salad dressing, salsa, sour cream, certain spices, vinegar, other sauces or ingredients that we might need.

This image links to the letter size, Meal Planner: Dinners printable PDF

This has been working really well for us.  It makes sure that we always have items on hand that we need.  I can take a quick peek in our pantry, fridge, and freezer while making the shopping list and make sure we’re not buying duplicate items, especially perishables that might not get used before they go bad.

For everything else, I use a second planner printable.

Meal Planning: Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks

Again, I just simply jot down ideas for what we normally use for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and extras.


This is the column where I note down a lot of the fruits we tend to like and anything that is something we like to snack on.  Trail mix, cookies, crackers … well you get the idea


I track things like baking ingredients, juice, and other items that don’t fit any of the other categories.  This way I have a good idea of what I’m going to need for the following few weeks.

This image links to the letter size, Meal Planner: Breakfast Lunch and Snacks printable PDF

How It’s Holding Up for Us

This system has been working fairly well for us.  Whoever is cooking that night decides what they’re making in the morning and makes sure they pull out anything that needs to be thawed. 

If we plan on making something specific, like when my hubby makes a giant pot of borscht, I jot that down on our family calendar and make sure the ingredients needed get added to our shopping list.  Meals like that become almost like special events for the kids.

All in all, it’s been really nice not planning my meals every two weeks, and I know, for our family anyway, this system has been nothing but great.  I’m still making sure we have what we need, without confining us to the same dishes over and over again.  

Next on my list for meal planning, is to start planning on trying one new recipe per month.  I’m thinking it might be fun to try choosing a different country and maybe working in some learning into dinner.  We’ll see.  

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep on as we have been going. planning my meals every two weeks, and I know, for our family anyway, this system has been nothing but great. 

How do you plan your meals?  Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?  Any questions you have about meal planning?  Drop me a line in the comments, I’d love to hear your take!

Before You Go

Have you heard that there’s a Facebook group just for us squirrelies? Come on over and check out the Scatter-Brain’s Guide group. We chat planners, organizing, vote on designs, and, on occasion, I even share exclusive printables that you won’t find anywhere else.

It’s loads of fun and it’s free! Click the button below to check it out.

Until Next Time,

Happy Printing!!!

The image starts with a close up photo of the a brown leather planner laying open in landscape orientation on a wooden desk. The planner page is a meal planner divided into columns for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and other. Overlapping the photo and the sand background of the last third of the image, is a tan box with white text that says "Meal Planning." In the sand coloured area at the bottom of the image is dark green text that says "My Alternative Way to Meal Plan."

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  1. Alli, I love the way you think. I’ve never been a meal planner but look thru what I have and then come up with a plan for dinner (or what ever meal it might be) and what I want to make. I’m also like your husband – I don’t follow recipes. But if I need one for cooking I use the recipe as a suggestion. ;o)
    It’s been said “Baking is a science, but Cooking is an art.” Your husband must be very a fabulous artist.

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Hi Mariane, thank you so much for your kind words. He really is an artist in the kitchen. I hope that this meal planning idea works for you.

  2. You described our meal planning and the same environment. My husband often cooks supper – when he’s in the mood or inspired. I’m not a cook. I’m a great re-heater of leftovers. And, we love leftovers. Breakfast and lunch are pretty much on our own. I keep a list of all the groceries we like to keep on hand. Pantry, fridge, freezer, spices. I keep a list of all our favorite meals organized by protein categories. Much like your lists. I shop online and pick-up our order – so now my usual grocery items are already listed in the store’s app by category or department. Each week – I make a list of leftovers on hand, items on deck (foods we need to eat next), meats, veggies, etc. So, we have a loose menu. This week I wanted to make the Mississippi Roast in a crockpot. But, husband beat me too it and made the roast his way. I’ll try again with the next roast! I’m doing more cooking now. The simple things.

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your system Ginger. I love how you have it set up in a way that works best for you and your family.

  3. Hi Scattered Squirrel,
    I’d love to see one out your printables filled out to get a better idea of how you use them. Thanks in advance.

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Hi Nicole, I can totally do that for you. Just the ones in this post or are there others that you’d like to see in action too?

      1. I was thinking the same thing. I’d love to see one of these plans filled out.

  4. I absolutely love this! We buy our meats by the half or whole beef, lamb, and pork. I raise our own meat chickens, turkeys and eggs. In the summer I try to freeze or can enough veggies for a year (or 2 or 3. I froze so much corn a couple years ago we’re still working through it) So grocery shopping is literally just packing supplies for my husband, potatoes, apples, bread, baking supplies, and if I need something to make a dish. I’ve tried several times to make meal plans only to find myself winging it after a couple days. I think I’m gonna try coming up with a basic monthly grocery list and see how that works out for us.

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Hi Rebecca, I’m so happy that you like this printable set. It’s been working well for us for a number of years now, even though we don’t buy our meat quite the same way anymore. I hope the system you’re making works for you. Let me know if you need any printables made to match the meal planner.

  5. Hi, thank you so much for this I have been wanting to start meal prepping and have been overwhelmed at how to start since it’s just me and my husband. I love the simplicity of this and your system I think it will work for us as well, we come from different cultures and love eating from both. He is our creative chef however I can hold my own we also have different ways of wanting and cooking the same ingredients. I love this so much! Thanks again and God bless!

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Hi Annette, thank you so much for taking the time to share that with me. I hope that both you and your husband find this way of meal prepping helpful. It’s been a lifesaver for us over the years.

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