Most of the time when you talk about meal planning, people assume that you must have a large family to feed. While it is quite helpful in that scenario as well, meal planning for two can help to keep you within your grocery budget and reduce food waste which is good for your wallet and the environment. Meal Planning for Two can look a little different than meal planning for a family, but it can still be quite helpful, and many of the same basic principles remain.
Let’s take just a minute and talk about what meal planning is, just in case you aren’t familiar with it.
- Basically, meal planning is preparing a menu for your household.
- Some people like to plan their meals for a week or two at a time, and others prefer to sit down and write out meal plans for the whole month at once.
- Some people only plan their meals for dinner, and others plan out three meals a day.
- It's about easy dinner ideas, make-ahead meals, and things you can eat one day, then repurpose for the next day.
- Meal Planning vs Meal Prep
- Create a List of Meals You Enjoy
- Use Fresh and Frozen Vegetables
- Shop at Home First
- Stock Up During Sales
- Cook for Leftovers
- Reduce the Size of Your Recipes
- Use Your Appliances
- Plan for Eating Away From Home
- Meal Plan Together
- Let's start meal planning for two!
- On a personal note:
- Our Plan
- One last thing...
Meal Planning vs Meal Prep
Meal planning and meal prep combined serve the same purpose: to help get weeknight dinners on the table a little faster, easier, and cheaper.
Meal planning is the process of organizing and scheduling what you will eat for a certain meal. By choosing recipes that you like that work best for your schedule, you don't have to stand in front of the refrigerator trying to figure it out at 5:00 p.m. You can meal plan for a day or two, a week or two, a month or a year in advance. I am using a weekly meal plan for healthy meals for two.
Meal prep is one step in the meal planning process. It’s where you put your meal-planning work into action. This is the step where you shop for and get ingredients ready for the meals you have planned.
- Some people like to slice and dice vegetables ahead of time and store them in containers.
- You can cook and shred chicken breasts for a casserole one night and a chicken taco salad another.
Create a List of Meals You Enjoy
Before you can start planning what meals you would like to have and when, it can be helpful to make a list of what meals the two of you enjoy. Write all of these meals down and keep them in your meal planning calendar or notebook. Having this list can be helpful when you sit down to plan your meals and are completely at a loss for what to make.
If you like, this list can be broken down seasonally. If you typically enjoy hearty dishes like soups, stew, and casseroles in the cooler months those might make more appearances on your fall and winter menus. If you like sandwiches, salads, or slow cooker dinners that don’t heat the house up when it’s warm out, those might stay on your spring and summer menu.
Use Fresh and Frozen Vegetables
It’s easy to find fresh seasonal vegetables during the summer, but they aren’t always as cost-effective in the winter months. Post-2020, it can also be hard to get your produce to last through the week. You may have plenty of fresh veggies and fruits for the start of the week, but by the end of it, you may find that it has spoiled.
Make sure that you keep a good variety of frozen vegetables and fruits on hand as well. That way you can continue eating healthy made-at-home meals from your meal plan even if the produce department runs bare. You may also want to plan on using your fresh produce in meals at the beginning of the week and swapping over to your frozen stock at the end of the week.
Shop at Home First
Shop your fridge, freezer, and pantry at home first, before you head out to the grocery store. There is no sense in purchasing something that you already have at home. This is especially true regarding fresh items that may spoil before you can use them all. This is a great way to keep your grocery costs down.
Stock Up During Sales
For items that you know that you use often in your household, for example, rice, canned tomatoes, or chicken stock, take advantage of good sales to stock your pantry. This way you won’t have to worry about purchasing those items when they aren’t a good price, or worse, just aren’t available at all. Grocery shopping lists are a must.
Cook for Leftovers
When you are only cooking for two people you are apt to have leftovers, and that just means that you will have a night where there is no need to cook. Leftovers don’t have to be boring, and they don’t mean that you will be having the same meal twice. Leftover lean proteins are convenient when it comes to meal planning.
You can have a roast chicken on Monday and then use up any remaining chicken in chicken fajitas or a chicken stir fry later in the week. Need to brown some ground beef for chili? Brown a little extra and save it for a pasta dish like spaghetti later in the week. Alternatively, you can cook large quantities of proteins at once such as shredded chicken, pork, or browned ground beef, and then freeze it in portions that you would use for a meal.
Leftovers can also be frozen. If you are freezing leftovers make sure that you use freezer-safe airtight containers or bags to prevent freezer burn. Properly frozen leftovers can be thawed out and enjoyed for at least three months. Frozen leftovers can come in very handy if you aren’t feeling well, or just have a busy week with less time to cook. Make-ahead breakfast casseroles make delicious meals any time of day.
Reduce the Size of Your Recipes
Most recipes make enough for four to six servings, and that amount of food can be a bit much for two people, particularly if you don’t enjoy leftovers, or don’t have much freezer space for saving extra meals for a later date. You may want to reduce the serving size of your recipes. There are apps and some recipe websites that can help you to reduce the recipe and just make enough for two or three portions.
Use Your Appliances
If you have an Instant Pot, slow cooker, or air fryer, make sure you incorporate their use into your meal plans. These appliances make cooking easier and faster, giving you many more recipe options. If both of you are working, these appliances are great for getting a delicious meal on the table in no time. Also, a sheet pan is a meal planner's best friend. You can roast extra meats or vegetables one day for use later in the week.
Tip: I use the PowerXL Vortex 4 Quart Air Fryer. It is perfect for two! It took me a long time to find a lightweight, small, inexpensive air fryer and I wanted to give you a head's up. (I have not been compensated for this endorsement.)
Plan for Eating Away From Home
If you have a night of the week that you usually go out for dinner, a family event or a standing monthly get-together with friends make sure that you include that on your meal plan as well. Just jot in whatever you will be doing for that meal on your calendar. This way you don’t spend money on groceries or plan an unnecessary meal.
Meal Plan Together
Planning your meals shouldn’t fall on just one of you, after all, you will both be enjoying the meals right? The best way is to sit down together and plan your meals for the week or month. Plan for simple recipes for weekdays as well as more adventurous easy meal ideas for lazy days. Working together on meal planning means you will both know what the plan is. Be sure to include meals that both of you enjoy.
Let's start meal planning for two!
Meal planning for two isn’t difficult; the best part is that it doesn't take much time. It’s really easy once you get the hang of it and have several weeks or months' worth of meals planned. You can even just rotate through the weeks or months you already have planned if you don’t want to sit down and plan again. Having meal plans can help you to eat at home more often, stay within your food budget, and reduce food waste in your home.
On a personal note:
This is us, Mary and Michael, the team behind Oh, That's Good!
A lot has changed for us in the last year. This picture was taken four months ago as we left the hospital after Michael's stem cell transplant. He was diagnosed in January with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the immune system. The biggest challenges have been the side effects of chemotherapy and the transplant. Michael's sense of taste has been diminished and altered. I've had to get very creative with my meal planning to accommodate his nutritional needs and taste issues. My meal planning for the last year has been helter-skelter, cooking whatever Michael thought he could get down. We ate a lot of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup.
The transplant gave Michael a new immune system, but until it matures and he is able to get all his vaccinations, we are home-bound. Two years for Covid and one for cancer! One of the requirements post-transplant is that he eats only home-cooked meals for the foreseeable future. I am happy cooking for us, but I need a new meal plan that meets our nutritional needs while utilizing our favorite recipes.
Eating is easier for Michael now, so I need to get working on healthy meal plans. I have health issues as well, with heart failure and an incurable lung disease. Healthy eating is paramount for both of us.
- Weekly dinner plan only. (Our sleep/wake schedules are very different so breakfast and lunch are a la carte.)
- A homemade meal for dinner, seven days a week, until we are allowed to go out.
- Grocery shopping online due to isolation requirements.
- We will new recipes at least once weekly to keep from getting bored.
- We will repurpose leftovers whenever possible.
- We will have hearty meals twice weekly and soup or salad dinners three times a week.
- Our dinners will focus on easy recipes using lean proteins.
One last thing...
Cooking for two is a little different than cooking for more, but you can do it. These days you can find lots of amazing recipes that are meant to be made for two. Try new things. Make it fun. Get cooking! Start by reading Nine Top Tips for Cooking for Two.
If you have special dietary needs, please discuss any concerns you have with a registered dietitian before making any changes.
Dee Broughton says
Hi Mary! Great guidelines for meal planning. I love the idea of both parties writing down their favorite meals. A win-win for both!
The Sudden Cook says
Thanks so much Mary - wishing your hubby a smooth recovery. So much guidance here on meal planning. I always plan a week in advance. Great tips and reminders as I go about planning thru the year.
Thank you so much!
This is exactly what we needed to be accountable. The best bit is how much I save on groceries too. Thanks so much Mary.
These are such great tips! Some of them I knew but were a good reminder and a few were new to me. I really need to enforce shopping at home first!!
Great tips! I meal plan for two right now, as well. Planning together is really helpful! Even if I take a moment to simply ask my husband what his hopes and dreams are for dinner this week (lol). And we really like leftovers (and I LOVE getting a night off from cooking).
So many wonderful tips! I love it! Will definitely be incorporating this into our meal planning! Thank you!
There were so many great money-saving tips in this post! Thanks for all of the great information!
Love the shopping at home idea! Know what you have is a must.
Liz McCray says
this is so helpful! i meal prep every week and I kind of just wing it so this will help me get more organized and make sure i don't end up with not enough meals!