Flexible Survival Mode Meal Planning

By Anni

Before my husband and I had kids, we were total food snobs. We ate in fancy restaurants at least a couple of times a week and put a lot of effort into cooking nice meals at home too. Every Sunday, I would spend an hour or two finding new recipes to try before heading to the most expensive grocery store in town to buy fresh all organic ingredients. We would even set crazy goals like let’s try a new restaurant every week for a year or let’s try a new recipe every day for a hundred days straight.

Now? Not so much.

Even if we didn’t have a kid with a severe peanut allergy that turns every restaurant trip into an uncomfortable interrogation about what is cooked where with what…

Even if every restaurant trip didn’t leave me wondering if I should put my kids on some kind of tranquilizers (that’s how all those other parents MUST do it, right?)…

Even if we were independently wealthy and money didn’t matter…

Eating in fancy restaurants just isn’t a priority these days.

And even if I still had endless Sunday afternoons to do with whatever I pleased…

Even if we weren’t always exhausted and irritated by 6:30pm when it’s time to cook dinner…

Even if nobody laid on the floor and threw a kicking screaming temper tantrum if dinner was 10 minutes late…

The fancy, complicated recipes just aren’t hitting the spot these days.

I know it’s because we are always tired and always in a hurry and always with a gazillion other things occupying our minds.

I know one day our appetites will wake up again.

But right now?  Right now, with little kids and jobs and a house renovation, we are in survival mode and all we want is familiar comfort food with the least amount of thinking and the least amount of effort and the least amount of time.

Here’s how we get just that.

We have our “What’s for dinner” recipe binder that only contains recipes that we use regularly.

We keep every ingredient for each of those recipes always in stock. This may sound excessive or money wasting, but it’s not, because these are all simple recipes with simple every-day ingredients, so it’s not that many things.

We go to Costco and our neighborhood grocery store once a week.

Every week we check to see if any of our stock is low. And we also buy all fresh veggies and fruit every week. So in this sense our list is automated and we don’t need to think about what should go on the list. If we are low or out of stock on an ingredient, it automatically goes on the list.

Most weeks, I also spend 10 or 15 minutes checking the specials at our grocery store and we stock up on whatever stock ingredients happen to be on sale.

Speaking of money, a couple of years ago, we did some comparisons to figure out what to get at Costco and what to get at the grocery store. Here’s our rough division:


  • ground beef (we buy beef and chicken frozen in bulk, which tends to save a ton)
  • chicken breasts
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • tomatoes
  • onions
  • blueberries
  • one seasonal fruit
  • milk
  • eggs
  • margarine
  • yogurt
  • shredded cheese
  • block cheddar cheese
  • feta cheese
  • cereal


  • bananas & apples (only because these are usually not good quality at our Costco)
  • salsa
  • taco shells
  • salad dressing
  • pickles
  • bread products (our grocery store is more likely to have allergy safe brands)
  • sour cream
  • pasta
  • canola and olive oil
  • canned tomatoes

Sure, the grocery store sale prices might beat Costco some weeks, especially if paired with coupons, but we don’t have time to do this in-depth analysis every week. We usually buy bananas and apples every week, but other grocery store products we usually only buy when store brands are on any kind of sale or brand names are buy one get one free.

With this system we spend SO much less on feeding five people than we did when it was just us two.

The money savings are definitely a plus, but you know what my favorite thing is about this system? The flexibility. We don’t have to decide on Sunday what we might feel like eating on Thursday.  This is where any kind of rotating recipe system has failed us before.  Maybe fried chicken sounds appetizing today, but two days from now, who knows?  By then I might be more in the mood for meatballs.

And I also don’t miss having to do last-minute runs to the grocery store several times a week because some ingredient is missing.

We don’t forbid ourselves to cook a special meal if we feel like it, but to be honest, we almost never do.

If you are in the busy years of your life, just trying to keep your tribe fed with the least possible amount of stress, I highly recommend giving our system a try. 🙂

What do you think?


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I was so overwhelmed with dinner time until I tried this super simple meal planning method. || Meal planning for beginners and busy people.


About the author 


Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Dear Anni, I would love to hear what daily recipes you rotate, to go with this grocery list. I enjoy your blog very much and could really use some extra mealtime inspiration!

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