Jul 1, 2016 · 4 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

Meal planning has never been my strong suit. I’m the kind of person who will go to the store three or four times a week to pick up the couple of ingredients I’m missing for whatever it is I feel like cooking that day.

This results in a lot of time spent at the grocery store and lots of money spent on whimsical, one-time ingredients, like an entire jar of preserved lemons for that Moroccan dish I changed my mind about and never made.

But we are preparing to adjust life significantly: we’ll be moving into a tiny house, and I’m expecting my second child. Soon, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be a major accomplishment, and getting to the store will be akin to cold fusion: outside the realm of my capabilities.

So what’s the answer? I’m pretty sure the solution goes like this: Smaller kitchen + less time = more planning.

It looks like time to buckle down and do some meal planning.

I tried this during this no-spend challenge late last year. Part of the challenge involves taking inventory of all the food you have and coming up with creative ways to cook it. That really takes some forethought, but it was kind of fun to try to pump up my creativity when making brown rice for the umpteenth time.

What I found when I planned our meals was I spent less; we ate healthier; and I had more time because I wasn’t heading to the store after work every day, nor was I wasting brain power trying to come up with a new meal each evening.

So here are some steps I’ll be taking this month to prepare for a smaller kitchen and less time. I think these are good ideas for anyone trying to save some time in the kitchen and some brain space for the important things.

Clean out the fridge and pantry

We all have this — the condiments on the door that are at least 6 months old and of questionable integrity. And who hasn’t lost things in the dark abyss of the back of the pantry? Get rid of expired or iffy food, including spices, and you’ll be amazed at how much space opens up.

Take inventory

What do you have and what do you need? If all you’ve got is pasta, you’ll need to get some veggies and meat, if that’s how you roll. You know what you normally eat, so use that as a basis for determining where the gaps are in your pantry, fridge and freezer staples.

Plan the week

This is the fun part. I start my planning week on Monday because I do the shopping and a lot of preparation on Sunday. I doesn’t have to be fancy either. I just created a list with each day’s name and the three meals listed underneath. You can even leave a space for snacks, and note when you plan to have leftovers. For instance, if you have a late meeting on Thursday, make extra food on Wednesday so you’ll have enough to get you through Thursday’s dinner. You can also comb through new recipes and figure out how to use the ingredients you have or how to transform leftovers into a compelling dish.

While I am old-school and use my everyday notebook/planner, there are plenty of websites and apps that can make meal planning a breeze, like the MealPlan app that’s pretty straightforward. Lots of them will coordinate your recipes and generate your shopping lists for you, too.

Create shopping lists

What do you regularly use? What do you need for that new recipe you want to try out? Create a shopping list template with your staples that you can print out or keep on your phone or in a meal planning app, and you can just check off what you need and add any new or special items to the end without having to rewrite the list each time. Boom. Time saved. You’re welcome.


Get creative in the kitchen. Just as with tools, limiting the ingredients you use can spark creativity and lead to tasty concoctions. At least once a week try something new, either with a different recipe or different combination of flavors. It’s a great way to spark creativity and keep your meals from getting boring or routine.

Bonus tip: Get all your go-to recipes together in one place like a binder or recipe box or computer. This is also a great decluttering tactic if you’re saving a cookbook just for one or two recipes. Get the recipe, donate the book, and enjoy your streamlined kitchen, where it’s easier to find what you’re looking for.

How do you plan out your week’s meals?


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.