4 Steps To Meal Planning Like A New Yorker

We’re going to discuss a little topic today that I swear will save you money AND the internal stress of throwing away food: meal planning!  Now, honestly speaking, I’m pretty new to this game, but now that I’m IN the game, I’m never looking back!  If you’re like my former self (read: Seamless is your #1 internet site, the pizza delivery guy knows you by name, you spend a retarded amount of money eating out, and when you feel so guilty about eating out you start grocery shopping…only to realize 75% of the produce was being thrown out because it wasn’t being used in time…well.) Let’s talk.

Here’s my super simple guide to meal planning that can be used/modified for any New Yorker…whether you’re living alone, with roommates, with a significant other, or with a gaggle of kiddos.  Wave goodbye to wasted money, time, and food, my friends!

d6cadb5cb187bf41e310e9d6e90d13291. Map out your week.

This step is so, so important, guys.  Do NOT plan on making 7 amazing home cooked meals throughout the week unless you know for a fact that you will actually be home to cook and eat them.  Living in New York, most of us have things already lined up on the calendar: work dinners, dinners with friends, book club meetings, date nights, etc.  So every Sunday night, take a look at your calendar and make note of how many nights you (and whoever you are cooking for) will be dining at home.  My average usually lurks around 4.  Once you have your number, you are ready to shop.

2. Pick your meals.

Ok, now that we’ve established we’ll be home (let’s say 4) nights during the week, it’s time to go through all those cookbooks and online recipes we have stored.  In an IDEAL world, you’ll already have a collection of go-to meals that you have mastered and can whip up blindfolded, but this is New York and nothing is ideal.  So…get creative!  Choose something that looks delicious, but also a few that are relatively simple…keeping the frustration and time levels to a low is essential here.  Oh!  And also, the less off-beat ingredients/spices used, the better for your wallet.  Unless you know you will be able to use it up before it goes bad, that is.  (I can count on one hand how much use I’ve gotten from “fresh nutmeg”…so yeah.  Keep it simple.)

3. List your ingredients and go shopping.

This was always my least favorite part of the meal planning, until I became a FreshDirect convert.  Now, I just use the app to grocery shop on the go (and often times I’m repeating a lot of the same meals, so it’s quick and easy to simply duplicate my prior cart), and voila!  The food is delivered to my doorstep next day!  If you’re not a FD convert, give it a try here…you get up to $100 off your first 2 orders!  Or…head to your nearest grocery store and get to shopping!  Just remember: nothing is allowed in the cart that is not on your list.

And a side note: there’s a plethora of meal planning templates out there (just go on Pinterest!), but I am an advocate for keeping everything in one place–less paper, less clutter, less for you to possibly lose.  I use my hard copy pink planner to track my entire life, meal planning included, but use what works for you.  If you keep everything stored in your phone, that’s probably the best place to meal plan, too!

4. “Ok, so I got dinner down. What about breakfast and lunch?”, you ask.

So glad you asked.  For breakfast I keep a few staple things in the fridge that are on heavy rotation: a box of cereal, greek yogurt, string cheese, and the ingredients to whip up something fancier for the weekends (eggs, pancakes, and crepes.)  For lunch: dinner leftovers, my friends!  Again, this will depend on how many people you are cooking for, but with just the hubs and I, my dinner portion size is typically for 4 people, so there’s plenty leftover for lunch the next day.

And there you have it!  In 4 simple steps, you’ve saved so much money on eating out, ordering in, and wasted groceries that will end up in the trash.  You’ve saved food.  You’ve saved yourself time from having to do a fridge cleaning overhaul every few weeks cause, get this: if you meal plan correctly and stick to the plan, your fridge should ideally be EMPTY by the following Monday…just in time for your next batch of groceries!  

Would love to know…have you tried meal planning?  What are your successes and struggles?  Share below!

||Photo Credit: 1||


  • Heather says:

    I live by meal planning, picking my recipes, making my list and then going to the store. Heaven forbid they are out of one of the ingredients I need! (As an expat shopping in foreign stores, that’s a real risk.) But rather than eat the leftovers for lunch, we’ll have them the next night and sometimes the night after that. If it’s a dish my husband really loves, he could eat it every night for a week! LOL.

    • Used York City says:

      That’s awesome, Heather! Ya know, I could totally eat the same dish over and over again too–it reminds me of Andy Warhol with that saying about how he loves his routine, and ate tomato soup over and over again for lunch every single day. Now there’s some easy meal planning!;-)

  • Tamara says:

    I never even thought of borrowing cookbooks from a library! So brilliant. I’ve definitely done the cheapie, cell phone photo of a recipe from a book at the bookstore, though!
    You’re inspiring me. I’m terrible at meal planning for my family, but I’m good at doing it for myself!

  • Lydia says:

    Great tips, thank you! As a fellow veggie and a fellow ABM fan, you might like this recipe, if you haven’t seen it? http://www.abeautifulmess.com/2014/11/5-bean-vegetarian-chili.html
    I use it all the time – I stock up on the canned stuff at the weekend and then use whatever vegetables I have in the fridge. It’s cheap and perfect for weather like we’ve got right now :)

    • Used York City says:

      Oh thank you so much for that link!!! I’ve been doing a lentil soup on heavy rotation this winter, so it will be nice to change up the beans for something new…totally adding it to my meal plan!:-)

  • Great blog post! I need to plan out meals more – there are quite a few lunch options near where I work in London but it would certainly be healthier if I made my own

    • Used York City says:

      Ahh, yes there is that health part to consider. As much as I love eating out, I’ll never forget when Bourdain said that everything in a restaurant is just smothered in butter, with a healthy side of salt;-)

  • These are simple and important tips for meal planning anywhere!! Thanks for sharing – I really need to adopt some of these myself :/

    • Used York City says:

      Exactly, they can be used anywhere! The planning ahead step helped me the most, otherwise I’d end up with too much food that would ultimately go to waste, which was super frustrating.

  • Mike says:

    Was this your post or from another contributor, Jessica?? The big thing I can do is make casseroles on the weekends that can be cut up into portions, frozen separately and then reheated during the week. The “hard” work is getting fresh fruits and veggies each day. Tupperware is my BFF! :)

    • Used York City says:

      Hehe it’s mine…I started only “signing” posts that come from guest contributors, everything not signed is by me;-) I love that idea, Mike! I actually just did one of those huge “one pot pastas” last week (so good, I was pleasantly surprised!), and it lasted me through lunches all week! So easy–will have to start in on the casseroles, too!

  • I vowed to be better in February. Of course I went to Trader Joes this week, then got seamless last night- fail. In all honesty, I’ve been a lot better about it though. When I saw how much I was spending last month of takeout, it made me want to vomit.

    • Used York City says:

      Yeah, it’s always that “month in review” that kills me. One purchase at a time is no big deal, but adding it all up is brutal!

  • Agness says:

    Food goes first on my planning list :D!!

  • gee says:

    I plan weekly meals but inconsistently. It’s ️the worth the effort. I borrow cookbooks from the library or look at magazine recipes to shop for dinners. Breakfast is the same everyday. Lunch is a bit harder to plan for. Thanks for the tips!

    • Used York City says:

      Oh i love the idea of borrowing cookbooks from the library, thanks for the tip! As much as i adore food blogs for inspiration, it’s a total pain having to re-enter my password on my iphone as my phone goes to sleep every minute and looses the website, so cookbooks are still my fave;-)

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