Some people love buying new notebooks, but me, I love buying new meal planning pads. They sit at eye-level on my fridge and I spend a ton of time in the kitchen so I want them to be functional, but they need to be pretty to look at too, you know?
Jimmy and I have been meal planning for about 5-ish years now (I wrote about my approach to meal planning here for Greatist, if you're interested) and we've tried a number of different ways of writing down the plan each week. So far, nothing beats good ol' fashioned pen and papper.
We started with a dry erase board, but found that we also needed a) a way to keep a running grocery list that b) we could easily take with us to the store. Taking a white board to the grocery store is just not a fun time for anyone. And yes, there are apps, but I find it's easier to stick to a plan when it's right in front of my face — once I close an app I tend to forget what's inside.
It took quite a bit of searching (at the time), but I finally found exactly what we needed: a magnetic meal planning pad with a built-in grocery list that could easily be torn off.
It seems so obvious! And so simple! But the functional design of these meal planning pads is brilliant. Once you add them to your routine, it's hard to imagine life without them.
why they work
On one side you write down your meal plan for the week. On the other side you write the grocery list. When you tear off the grocery list to take to the store, your meal plan for the week is still there on the fridge so you can reference it throughout the week, and a clean grocery list is ready and waiting on the other side.
Throughout the week if you use up any ingredients or think of anything you need at the store, you can quickly add them to next week's grocery list so you don't forget them.
Back when we first started using meal planning pads there were like, maybe three designs that had all the functions we were looking for. But now they're everywhere, and there are so so so many beautiful designs and patterns and clever additions and helpful layouts to choose from.
how meal planning pads reduce grocery waste
Meal planning pads reduce grocery waste by helping you sit down and plan out what you're actually going to eat each week and the list of groceries you need to make those dishes.
You can make sure you're making recipes that use similar ingredients (e.g. tacos and biriyani both use cilantro, jalapeños, and a yogurt sauce), and reduce the amount of fresh produce you impulsively buy with the intention of making a certain recipe only to forget about it by the time Thursday rolls around and that ingredient has gone bad.
Before we started meal planning, we'd come home with half the ingredients for one recipe and a third of the ingredients for another and end up making neither because we didn't have what we actually needed.
To be clear: One of my favorite things about grocery shopping is impulse buying. I love walking down the chips aisle tossing an interesting new flavor of chips into my cart, or picking up a fancy cheese from the cheese counter that definitely wasn't on my list. But I don't have to worry that I'll eat chips or cheese before they go bad. I know I will.
Other reasons to use meal planning pads:
- You're sick of answering "what's for dinner tonight?"
- You want to challenge yourself to try new recipes
- To feel less overwhelmed at the grocery store
- To make sure you're budgeting nights for leftovers
- Reduces the mental load of making another decision at the end of a long workday
- So you actually remember to defrost or marinate things ahead of time
- So much more!
they last for a long time
Each pad usually comes with a minimum of 52 sheets, meaning one pad = one year of meal planning.
Since I can only go through one of these a year, I've rounded up my favorites to share with you. So you can get on top of your meal planning and grocery shopping, and I can live vicariously through your beautiful meal planning pads.
what to look for
If you don't pick one of the pads I've included below, there are some things you should know to look for in a functional, long-lasting meal planning pad. Because aesthetics matter, but at the end of the day — it needs to actually work.
- Double magnets!!!! You don't want your pad sliding off the fridge onto the floor.
- How many sheets it has. Most meal planning pads have at least 52, but some have more and some have fewer.
- No dates so you can skip weeks if you need to
- Thick, sturdy paper so the ink doesn't bleed
- Perforated (weirdly, some of the planning pads out there are not perforated even though they look like they should be)
let's get to the meal planning pads
Size: 7" wide x 9" tall
I am a suuuuucker for anything rainbow and water color. It's just who I am. This is the weekly planning pad I have on my fridge right now and it makes me smile every time I see it. The bright colors, the swirly font, and the clear lines between each date make it easy to read from a distance. And with two magnets on the bag, I don't have to worry about it sliding off the fridge.
Size: 10" wide x 7" tall
Ooooooooh shiny! The metallic gold font and millennial pink header on this meal planning pad that includes spots for breakfast and lunch by Sweetzer & Orange is super cute and practical af.
The only downside to this pad is that, because of the horizontal design, there are only 17 lines on the grocery list instead of the 20+ lines that some of the vertical planning pads (like the one above) have. But if you don't usually have lengthy shopping lists and want room for planning breakfast and lunch, this is a great option for you.
Size: 8.5" wide x 11" tall
This is another great option for anyone looking to meal plan for breakfast and lunch. Unlike the horizontal chart layout, this pad has three lines per day on the left side, one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
On the right side, the grocery list is broken into categories (produce, snacks, meat/protein, etc), which is super helpful for anyone who likes to make sure they've gotten everything they need from each department in the grocery store without having to double back.
Size: 7.25" wide x 10.35" tall
These yellow flowers are such a bright and beautiful addition to any kitchen, while the functional part of the pad itself is a clean, bright white with plenty of room for planning.
But the really cool thing about this pad is that each day of the week also includes a water tracker (or drink tracker, I guess?). If drinking more water is something you're after, this meal planning pad will help you keep track of just how well you're staying hydrated.
Size: 7" wide x 10" tall
I don't know what you'd call this design aesthetic but it's giving me real Saved by the Bell / Clarissa Explains it All vibes and I am HERE FOR IT. This pad is on the smaller side, but still has plenty of room for planning breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It's the only pad on the list with a horizontally perforated tear-off grocery list, but even with the categories there's still plenty of room to make a fairly robust list of groceries.
Size: 11" wide x 8" tall
I've been calling this list "minimalist maximalist" in my head ever since I first saw it because it's got that classic minimalist crisp white, clean lined design but also fits SO. MUCH. INFORMATION. There are four columns for each day of the week, for planning breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. And unlike the other horizontal planning pad on this list, the grocery list has plenty of lines on it.
NOTE: This is the only planning pad on this list WITHOUT magnets on the back. Believe it or not, some refrigerators aren't magnetic, and some people just don't like hanging things on their fridges. So if that sounds like you, but you still want a planning pad/grocery list, this pad is perfect for you.
Size: 7" wide x 10" tall
For the true minimalist, this magnetic planner pad has plenty of space to write thanks to thin, gold lines (for "a little extra luxury in the kitchen") and absolutely no extra bells and whistles. If you like crisp white and neutral colors, you really can't go wrong here.
Size: 5.5" wide x 8.5" tall
If there's one thing scrolling through Etsy at any point in the past 3-5 years has taught me, it's that the rustic aesthetic is extremely popular. This pad is the only one on this list to have just 25 sheets, meaning it will last you about 6 months. But that just means you get to switch up your meal planning pad aesthetic sooner, which really isn't a bad thing tbh.
If you don't want your meal planning pad to take up too much space, this is a great choice for you.
Size: 5" wide x 8" tall
Do you fancy yourself to be a fancy person? Do you aspire be a fancy person? The classic, modern design of this meal planning pad by women-founded Steel Mill & Co will let you live your fanciest fancy person life even at the grocery store.
This is the smallest pad on the list — just 5 inches wide! — but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sophistication.
bonus: what to eat meal planning pad (no grocery list)
Size: 6" wide x 9" tall
Okay, so this meal planning doesn't have a perforated grocery list on it. It doesn't even have a grocery list! But quirky company Knock Knock makes such fun products, it's hard to resist the straightforward language: "WHAT TO EAT" and the bright teal-aqua color of this meal planning pad.
What I really like about this pad is that it includes space for planning breakfast and lunch without you having to plan specifically what you're eating for breakfast and lunch each day. If you, like me, frequently what you've bought (or have as leftovers) to use for lunches all week long, having a space to write them down so you remember is hugely helpful.
The "grab bag" space in the bottom right is also great — use it to jot down anything you know you want to find a way to use up that week, or even as a mini grocery list to keep track of things you use up!