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Planning Meals

A Sample Plan for a Week’s Worth of Dinners

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This plan is designed to balance ease of preparation, nutrition, and affordability, while also incorporating as many time-saving shortcuts as possible.

  • Sunday: Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach
  • Monday: Split pea soup, chicken salad/sandwiches, roasted or grilled vegetables
  • Tuesday: Broiled or grilled skirt steak, mashed potatoes, steamed green beans
  • Wednesday: Lasagna, steamed broccoli, spinach salad
  • Thursday: Steak and chicken fajitas, rice and beans, corn on the cob
  • Friday: Spaghetti with meat sauce, Caesar salad, garlic bread
  • Saturday: Chicken stir-fry with fried rice

Ease of Preparation

All of these dishes require only basic preparation. The dishes that take longer to prepare (roasted chicken, split pea soup, and lasagna) can cook partially or completely unattended, leaving you free to work on other tasks. If you use this menu, reserve a bulk of time for roasting the chicken and assembling the lasagna.

Nutritional Balance

Each meal includes a balance and variety of protein, vegetables, and grains, ensuring that you’ll get a wide range of nutrients all week.

Time-Saving Shortcuts and Affordability

To save time and money, several of the meals use leftovers from meals prepared earlier in the week:

  • Sunday’s leftover chicken becomes Monday’s chicken salad.
  • Mashed potatoes from Sunday can be reused Tuesday night.
  • Tuesday’s skirt steak is used in Thursday’s fajitas.
  • Monday’s roasted or grilled vegetables can be used in Wednesday salad.
  • Ground beef from Wednesday’s lasagna can be used to make Friday’s meat sauce.
  • Extra rice from Thursday’s fajitas is used to make fried rice on Saturday.
  • Unused bread from Monday’s chicken salad sandwiches can be used for croutons in Friday’s Caesar salad and garlic bread.

If you own a rice steamer and/or a slow cooker, you can cook the rice and the split pea soup unattended. If you have a slow cooker, put the soup in the cooker before you leave for work on Monday and it will be ready for dinner when you return.

How to Assemble a Shopping List

Your shopping list for the weekly plan, arranged to correspond to a typical supermarket’s aisles, would look something like this:

Fresh Produce

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green peppers
  • Green beans
  • Onions
  • Lettuce
  • Red potatoes
  • Russet potatoes
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes

Meat and Poultry

  • Whole chicken
  • Bacon or ham hock
  • Skirt steak
  • Ground beef
  • Chicken breast

Dairy and Eggs

  • Milk or cream
  • Butter
  • 1/2 dozen eggs
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Monterey Jack cheese

Breads and Grains

  • One loaf crusty bread
  • Lasagna noodles
  • Dried split peas
  • Tortillas
  • Brown rice
  • Spaghetti or linguine

Canned Goods

  • Chicken or vegetable broth
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Beans
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Water chestnuts

This shopping list assumes you already have a well-stocked pantry. If you don’t, you may need to add oils, condiments, and spices to the list.

Day-by-Day Cooking Schedule

This daily schedule breaks down the task of preparing the entire week’s plan into doable steps. Most of the preparation time occurs on Sunday, with less time-intensive tasks on the other days to round out each meal.


  1. Plan the menu.
  2. Draft your shopping list.


  1. Shop for groceries.
  2. Roast the chicken.
  3. While the chicken is roasting, assemble the lasagna.
  4. When the chicken is done, store it in the refrigerator, and roast the vegetables.
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the mashed potatoes.
  6. Prepare ingredients for split pea soup: chop vegetables, rinse split peas, and so on.
  7. Store the vegetables and mashed potatoes in tight-lidded containers in the refrigerator.
  8. Just before dinner, clean and sauté spinach and reheat the roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. Serve.


  1. Start the split pea soup in your slow cooker in the morning.
  2. Just before dinner, shred the leftover chicken, mix the chicken salad, and assemble sandwiches. Reheat the roasted vegetables and serve with the split pea soup and sandwiches.


  1. Before dinner, season and grill or broil skirt steak, reheat mashed potatoes, and steam green beans.
  2. Put the lasagna you assembled on Sunday in the oven to cook while you eat and clean up after dinner.


  1. Before dinner, reheat lasagna and steam broccoli.
  2. Assemble salad with spinach, other desired vegetables, and salad dressing.


  1. Before dinner, sauté sliced chicken breast. Slice and warm leftover skirt steak together with leftover roasted onions and peppers, while also cooking rice.
  2. Cook rice on stovetop or in rice cooker; warm the canned beans; warm the tortillas in the microwave.
  3. Assemble fajitas with steak, chicken, onions, and your desired condiments. Serve with rice and beans.


  1. Before dinner, boil pasta and warm up leftover ground beef from lasagna in tomato sauce.
  2. Cut half of the bread into 1/2-inch cubes, then season and toast to make croutons. Slice the rest of the bread, rub with garlic, and toast it.
  3. Assemble the salad with lettuce, croutons, and dressing, and serve with spaghetti and garlic bread.


  1. Before dinner, slice raw chicken breast, green peppers, onions, snow peas, green beans, and any other vegetables you plan to use.
  2. Cook chicken in a hot wok or sauté pan with vegetables and water chestnuts. Add leftover rice from Thursday to pan, crack egg into pan, and mix everything together.
  3. Serve in bowls with your desired condiments.

Swapping in Prepared or Frozen Foods

Prepared and frozen foods generally cost more than fresh ingredients, but they can save you time. If you’re worried that time constraints will prevent you from cooking all these meals with fresh ingredients, and if your food budget permits, feel free to substitute in prepared items here and there. For example, if swapping in a prepared roasted chicken, frozen lasagna, chicken breast, or frozen vegetables will make this weekly menu more feasible for you, then picking up these items is probably worth the added expense.

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