How to :: Fix Meal Planning {by Looping}


Meal planning is the best way to feel in control of the week that is coming. I adore writing down a great menu and then shopping for the ingredients. I love trying new foods and new recipes, and I love even more exposing my kids to new foods! The major flaw in meal planning is the waste of food and dollars when a last minute plan change throws a wrench in your perfectly planned week. How do you adjust when you spontaneously ditch your pre-planned meal and do something more fun instead?

This say-yes-to-experiences quality is one of my favorites in our family: a last minute picnic at the arboretum, an invitation to meet friends and their kids at a restaurant, or the decision to run to the pool all evening in the summer brings so much joy to our family. And yet it often means that the meal I had planned for the night we are spontaneous goes bad as I stick to my meal plan for the rest of the week. 

This solution is such an easy one, and I think everyone should implement it! Instead of my meal plan looking like this:

Monday – pork tenderloin

Tuesday – veggie fried rice

Wednesday – roasted sausages and veggies

Thursday – chef’s salad

Friday – dinner out

Saturday – leftovers

Sunday – chicken milanese

it looks like this:

  1. pork tenderloin
  2. veggie fried rice
  3. roasted sausages and veggies
  4. chef’s salad
  5. etc. etc.

This is a minor change that has made a LOT of difference. Here’s why: my type A personality doesn’t feel trapped on Wednesday when we decided to eat out Tuesday. Or when we need a big meal on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t worry about what we will eat Saturday night. Instead, when I need a meal, I just make the next meal on the loop. So sometimes we eat out several times in a week, and then my meal plan lasts longer than I had thought it would originally. Sometimes we finish early because I use the next meal in my plan on a Saturday or Sunday at lunchtime. In other words, the food gets used and made in the order that I planned it instead of on a particular day that I had intended it for initially. 

The cool thing is that I can plan a loop a month at a time. To do this, write down a list of 20 meals with “leftovers” taking a spot every 4 meals. You then have a month of meals mapped out for me. When the loop runs out, you just start again without having to reinvent the wheel every month. I absolutely love this model because it is made for a flexible planner like me. And I love it because it makes me feel horribly guilty when I toss food from the fridge into the trash, wasting food and my family’s resources. By looping I spend less money at the grocery store (my friends know it is still way too much, but one thing at a time…) and still leave room in my plan for experiences and spontaneity.  I believe in a flexible plan for all things in life, so this technique is made for someone like me!

Actually, planning on a loop makes a big difference for me even in terms of planning errands, cleaning my house, and anything else you might make a list for. Instead of planning a day to do something and then feeling like a failure if you don’t achieve the right item on the right day, you can feel proud of yourself for doing the right thing in the right order…and you’re never a day late. 

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Rachel has been a mother for nearly a decade!. When she has all 3 of her kids at the grocery store she is inevitably told that she has her hands full (she does). Her heart is full too, from: exploring foreign cities with Tim (married in '05), adventurous eating with Lowell (10yo), living room dance parties with Ansel (8yo) and taking orders from her adorable drill sergeant, Rosen (6yo). When loss disrupted her life in her early 20's, Rachel gained a new perspective. Her experience means she has more candor than tact, she tells her kids the truth about life and death, she has a passion for people with broken hearts. Her life experiences have also motivated her to help launch a new ministry at her church for grieving kids to find support after death of a loved one.


  1. How do you decide what foods to put in your loop? I have a hubby that works a lot, a 4 year old and an 18 month old who are both picky. I don’t like being wasteful but I end up tossing food because my littles won’t eat it, and I get burnt out on leftovers. Do you keep that same loop month after month?
    I try to shop at aldi with a meal plan that is sent to me every month, but they don’t like over half the foods i cook. I need meals to be easier since my third will be here in the spring, and it’ll be me alone with them. Thank you!


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