Meal Planning Card System

My Meal Planning Story

Many who know me well are aware that for years meal planning has been an achilles heel of mine. It always felt like it was too time consuming and burdonsome to make the effort. I’ve tried numerous systems and solutions including outsourcing the activity!

I think, as a single person, cooking in general was something that was a necessary evil in order to end up with food to eat, but I will admit that my relationship with cooking has shifted somewhat now that I have a partner and there’s someone else who might actually enjoy what I make.

So, while this newfound rapport with cooking has developed in the past year or more… still meal planning has been the challenge. The last installment I posted on this topic in one of our Tuesday Tips Videos about creating a list of your 30+ favorite meals and using that each week to choose what to cook.

That plan worked fine for quite some time, but then in the past couple months I started getting… well… bored. It was time to try some new recipes. So, I was on the lookout for a new system. That’s when this Pinterest post wandering into my world: (and yes, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings reference)




The Meal Planning Solution

Meals on cards! Something I could shuffle through… even color code. Now there’s an idea! That’s was the spark of the new system that Brian and I have now been using for almost a month. I grant that it took a little time to set up. But, we’ve been eating REALLY well.

Setting up the System

In my system there are four colors:

Red- Our easy everyday standards– The tried and true recipes

Yellow- Interesting new recipes that I want to try, that take less than an hour

Purple- Intensive recipes that take more than an hour to prepare. (but might offer leftovers that make it worth it.)

Blue- For individual wild card days: Brian doesn’t like mushrooms, but I love them. Meanwhile, I’m vegetarian while he’s not. So, on nights when one of us is out for work or with friends, then the other person gets a “wild card” night and can choose a blue card to try a recipe that the partner wouldn’t eat.


Then, I had to add a bit more complexity because in Brian’s world a salad, sandwich, or soup alone does not make a meal, but two together do. So, I put all of those and the veggie side dishes on half-sized cards to make them more “mix-n-match.”

On the front of each card is the name of the recipe. Then, on the back of each card (as suggested in the post from Pinterest) I wrote the source of the recipe (i.e. what cookbook, recipe binder, or website/pinterest it can be found in) and the full list of ingredients.

How it works

On Sunday morning each week, as part of our family meeting, we shuffle through the cards together and look at our calendar for the week. Then, we select appropriate cards for each day based on who’s eating, how much time we (usually meaning I) have that evening for prep, and what we’re in the mood for.

Afterwards, I take that small stack of cards and can flip them over to review what we have in the pantry and what needs to be added to the grocery list. It’s SO much faster to prep the grocery list this way!

The chosen cards for the week then sit in a stack on the top of my little recipe box, in order (Mon, Tues, Wed, etc). And each evening I file away the completed meal and reveal what’s up next reminding us throughout the following day of what’s “on the docket” for tonight’s dinner.

Then, just to make sure we’re getting variety back into our world, I take the cards that we’ve used each week and they all get clipped together and removed from rotation for several weeks so that we don’t keep coming back to the same thing over and over.


There’s no big board on my wall. Just my little box of cards on the kitchen table, which works well for me. There may be modifications in the future as I use it more… and certainly new cards will need to be added as new recipes appear or some become tried and true favorites and change colors. But, it feels SO GREAT to have a system that works. Perhaps this will inspire you!

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