How to Save 3.5 Hours A Week (by Meal Planning)

The best way to meal plan

Short answer? Meal Planning (here’s how).

Here’s the long answer and the way I save 3.5 hours a week with 5-minutes of meal planning…

I’ve always been a systems person who likes to find the fastest way to accomplish something. I’m also a (recovering) perfectionist.

Unfortunately, this led to some sleepless nights in high school and college as I stayed up all night studying or making sure a report was perfect, but over time, I’ve learned to harness my perfectionism and love of systems to actually save time rather than take time.

Some people call it mildly obsessive compulsive, I call it good time management.

The One System That Changed My Life

Whatever you call it, there is one particular system that has literally changed my life as a mom and that is meal planning. It is something I started doing almost a decade ago when I was pregnant with my first child and have done it (mostly regularly) ever since. In fact, of all the systems and planning, planning out meals for the week has saved me the most time (even more so than speed reading).

I started meal planning out of sheer necessity when we had an incredibly limited budget and I had to be sure that no food went to waste. I’ve continued doing it over the years both to save money and to save time.

At first, I made and used a basic index-card system which worked well, but took about half an hour each week to organize and plan, plus the 2+ hours of shopping each week.

It evolved into a spreadsheet and exported PDF documents that I could view on my phone which worked a little better.

Eventually, I developed a whole online system that would store my recipes, generate meal plans and allow me to customize based on family size. I began sharing this with a few readers several years ago and Wellness Mama Meals was born.

I’ve tracked the time I spent planning, preparing and shopping for meals on weeks that I didn’t meal plan ahead and weeks that I did… the difference? 3.5 hours a week on average. (I also saved about $45 a week shopping when I planned vs. when I didn’t).

Unfortunately, while Wellness Mama Meals was perfect for me, it had its limitations for you. For instance, I could add recipes since I had backend access to the system, but users could not add their own. I had a list of requests from users for improvements, such as the ability to exclude recipes with ingredients they were allergic to and better mobile usability or an app. These things were well beyond my technical ability or what I could afford to hire someone to create.

A Better Way to Meal Plan?

After attending a health conference last year, I ended up sitting next to someone at a restaurant and the topic of meal planning came up. It turns out that he was the husband of a blogger I love and have become friends with (Emily from Holistic Squid), and I realized that he shared my enthusiasm for real food and for systems.

In fact, this guy (Antony Bartlett) was a systems ninja. And he had created a meal planner. And it was better than mine. A LOT BETTER.

At first, I had an internal conflict. On the one hand, I loved my recipes and the meal planning system I’d spent years developing, but on the other hand, I knew I could never create as good of a system as he had.

Eventually, I had a long conversation with Antony and Emily and made the decision to merge Wellness Mama Meals into Real Plans. I expected that it would be easier for users and that current users would love it (they do), but I was surprised to find out how much more I loved it too! In fact, even with creating many of my own recipes each week (because food blogger…) it is still saving me hours of time!

Real Plans is so easy to use and customize that I can literally meal plan in about 5 minutes a week. It creates a meal plan automatically, which I can customize as much as I’d like and then I can view the plan, recipes and shopping list on my phone.

Seriously, I’ve been meal planning for almost a decade, and Real Plans is saving me even more time, especially at the grocery store and farmers market. Since there are also options for batch cooking or a prepare ahead day, it is even easier to save time!

Another bonus? With Wellness Mama on Real Plans, you get all 500+ of my recipes, plus over 1,000 additional recipes with new recipes being added each week!

Click Here to Test out Real Plans!

A Look Inside

Real Plans automatically generates a meal plan for you each week. You can choose in the settings to have them email it to you or just login and check it… This also works on their free mobile app so you can plan, shop and cook from your phone!

Real Plans Menu

Don’t like something on the menu? No worries, you can customize with a drag and drop feature in about three seconds:

Customize real plans

Have allergies or foods your family won’t eat? Just add them on the settings page and you’ll never see recipes with those ingredients again! You can also customize how many people you are cooking for.

Real Plans Food Preferences

You can even customize what days you want to generate meals for, what type of meals, and even if you want a big cooking day so you can batch-prepare meals ahead of time.

Which days in real plans

If you have family favorite recipes, you can add those and make them part of your meal plan.

Add recipe in real plans

And after you finish that incredibly long process (which might take a whole 5 minutes if you change everything 😉 ) Real Plans generates a custom shopping list that you can view on your phone via their mobile app while you shop. You can even check off items you already know you have so you only buy exactly what you need.

shopping list

It’s so easy!

On top of that, you can modify each recipe, define what store you want to purchase each ingredient at, and even add a photo of the specific ingredient (in case you send your husband to the store to pick up ingredients and he doesn’t know which brand to get).

I can honestly say that few things have truly changed my life. Among them are homemade deodorant, magnesium, my organic mattress and Real Plans. Of those, Real Plans is the least-expensive and most valuable (as little as $7/month!)

Click Here to Test out Real Plans!

Meal Plan From Your Phone

Another advantage to Real Plans is the ability to plan and shop entirely with your phone. You can view the meal plan, recipes or shopping list from your phone and check off the list as you shop:

Real Plans Mobile Recipe Box Real Plans mobile shopping list

More Reasons I Love (and Use) Real Plans Each Week

  • The easiest way to plan healthy meals for my family
  • Mobile app for easy use, especially when shopping
  • I easily save more per week than Real Plans costs per month!
  • It takes under five minutes to plan our meals for the entire week
  • Reduces my grocery shopping time and budget by simplifying the process
  • Makes it effortless to stick to meal planning
  • My children love using it and my 9-year-old can plan meals for our whole week by himself

Meal Plans Each Week Include

  • A pre-made meal plan based on your food preferences
  • Ability to completely change and customize the meal plan each week
  • Easy to add your own recipes or recipes from your favorite website(s)
  • All of my recipes (500+), plus over 1,000 new recipes and more added each week
  • Simple way to sort by ingredient, remove recipes with allergens and modify any recipe
  • So much more!

As you can probably tell, I’m super excited about Real Plans and I think you’ll love it too!

Do you meal plan? If not, what is stopping you?

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Reader Interactions

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Reader Comments

  1. Hi! My family and I are transitioning to a low /no sulfur diet and no nigbtshades as well as other restrictions. Can the meal plan be tailored to out specific needs? Thank you ?

    • Yes! You can set everything based upon your family’s allergy needs, preferred cuisine, and much more!

      • butter coffee? Where do you get that? Sounds good.

  2. Hi Katie

    I’m in the UK. Would your meal planning be tailored for here? Obvs different seasonal vegetables etc.

    Thanks jo

    • Yes indeed! When you signup, it asks you what geographic location you’re in so that everything is geared specifically to your needs!

  3. I am very interested! You say the recipes are all grain free, does that mean gluten free as well? Would you be able to use your recipes to make freezer meals to later cook in the crock pot? I’ve got two picky eaters and a meat and potatoes husband, do you think your recipes would work for our family? Thanks!

    • Yes, all are gluten free as well and I do make freezer meals and crock pot meals pretty often (there are recipes for those). You can tailor everything to your family’s dietary needs.

      • One other important question before I sign up, are these recipes realistic for a “full-time working outside the home” mom to make in the evening after getting everyone home from work/school/activities?

        • I feel like it is pretty easy. There are a lot of stir frys, crock pot meals, and one-pan dishes that minimize the mess and clean up and also pretty easy to prep. While I work from home, it gets pretty busy around here with 7 of us, and these are the meals I make for my family.

  4. I totally want to sign up, but then get worried that there won’t be enough meals that my son and I can eat (the only meat we eat is fish)! Should I be hesitant or is there enough to still make it worth it?

    • There are over 1000 recipes and more getting added every week…

  5. Are the recipes realistic for a full-time working mom to get done in the evenings after getting home from work/school/activities?

  6. HI, Can you cancel at anytime, or only after one year? Thanks!

    • You can cancel any time, If you are not certain if this system will work for your family, you might consider trying it out for a month to see…

      • Is there a way on the meal planner (like if you input your location or climate zone) that the weekly meal plans adjust to your local seasons? Thanks! 😀

        Thanks! I appreciate you getting back to me – I also work from home and stay at home mommy (and homeschool); I know how busy it can get! 🙂

          • Awesome 🙂 thanks, I’ll head over and signup. Your an amazing women from sharing all your hard earned knowledge with everyone! Stumbling upon you site has made my life sooo much easier and I can’t wait to try out your meal plans!!

  7. This is huge! I’m dreading grocery planning but know we NEED to eat better for our health and our kids and my daycare. I just signed up for a quarter to see how it goes… Btw…I’ve been sharing my goodies (lotion…healing slave…lip balm…hair growth recipe…etc) and my friends/family are loving it…hoping this gets your website out there for more people to search and read the site themselves to find recipes they are interested in and realizing the importance in taking care of our health!!! THANK YOU!!!!

    • Hi Tanya,i know this is quite random considering this particular discussion but as i was reading through the comments wondering whether to sign up i came across your comment and seen that you had a recipe for hair growth and was hoping you might share it with me as i lost my hair due to treatment when i became quite ill, warm regards Erin

  8. This looks amazing. I’ll probably sign up for the Yearly membership. I’m sure the answer to my question will be yes, but… could this be applied to someone who is eating primal/ low carb(ish)?

  9. Is there any way to get nutrition information for the recipes? I’m looking for help for a diabetic diet

  10. Hi Katie,

    I am interested in your meal plan system. Are the recipes listed on your website the same ones on the meal planner, or do you have additional ones as well ? Thank you

    • All the ones on the site are included, and there are over 1000 additional ones as well, and more getting added weekly!

  11. I have your cookbook and it is so awesome I got rid of my very first cookbook…I called her Big Red Betty…and I don’t miss her a bit. I even got rid of all my other cookbooks…if I can’t make it healthy…I shouldn’t make it at all! I have diabetes and your recipes have given me a tasteful hope for my meals. I have never had so many delicious sugar and grain free meals and desserts. To top that…they aren’t filled with junk chemicals to add sweetness! Thank you so much! I hope you open the meal plans again soon! Thanks again!

  12. So I signed up for your meal plan through Real Plans but I just have a menu plan. nothing specific to Wellness Mama. Disappointed as it is not what is listed above 🙁

    • If you go to the recipe box, the first filter drop down says “origin”; open that drop down list; there should be a blue link that says “upgrade” under the “wellness mama” checkbox. You have to upgrade your subscription to include the Wellness Mama recipes. Then you will start getting them in your plans. You may have some that are not Wellness Mama still in your plan but with the sorting options you can easily filter to just her recipes and easily add those to your meal plan.

      • Is that only if you’re on the mobile app? Can’t figure out how to find it on my computer. Also, how much extra is it to upgrade?

  13. If I purchase you’re recipes does it also include your non food recipes? I’d love to add all your product recipes so I have a shopping list and planner when I need to buy/make more supplies for those recipes too. Such as cleansers, sleep tincture, toothpaste, etc.

    • No, it’s just food. All the beauty and DIY posts aren’t technically “food”, but I suppose you could add them into the system so you can keep track of the ingredients, but recipes themselves are just those items you’ll be eating 🙂

      • Thank you! I’ll definitely be adding ALL your recipes!

  14. Will it just plan dinner or can you plan all three meals and snacks?

    • It’s plans breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are also categories in the recipe section for appetizers, sides, and snacks.

  15. Does it allow us to put in a budget and allow it to give us back meal plans based on budget and diet filters?

    • It can definitely filter based on diet. For budget, there are a couple of things you can do. First, they have a seasonal filter that you can use (based on your hemisphere) to help, and you can also build meals around ingredients you already have, or find on items sale in the store. So you might, for example, leave a couple of nights without a planned recipe, take your list to the store on your phone, find the very best sales, and then look up recipes using that sale item on the phone and add them to your plan. But since it’s impossible to know the cost of food in every location, it wouldn’t be possible to filter explicitly for budget.

  16. You know, I think what Amy said was brilliant! It would be awesome if your non-food recipes were an option to add in, as well. You wouldn’t normally think of that, but with making so many of our products at home, it seems like the next logical step to keep things easy and all-together. You should consider incorporating that, since most items have “real food” ingredients in them and even if it’s not food, it would still make it easier if everything that you needed to pick up or order was in one app. Easy, peasy!

  17. I’m a BIG supporter of meal planning

    I don’t use an online system like this, but I have been meal planning since this past summer. It’s just the hub and I (no kiddies), but I work out of the house from 8-4 then also do some client work from my home office for my part time bookkeeping business a few evenings a week so it’s sometimes difficult to squeeze in cooking every night. We bulk shop our meats (Restaurant Depot) and I’ve stocked our basement pantry and deep freezer with vegetables and other staples and supply lasts us quite a few months. Every Sunday I work with what I’ve got (so I shop for very little additional ingredients) and keep a board of my favorite go-to recipes on Pinterest as well as other on-the-fly ones I’ve got in my head. I pre-cook 1-2 meals on Sunday so all we have to do is heat up and have enough for leftovers for at least two more nights. One night is a soup and sandwich night so that leaves 1-3 nights that I actually have to cook. It saves me time after I get home from the office and allows me to do other things when I don’t have client work to do (like working out, cleaning, laundry or just……relaxing!!)

  18. Is there a limited number of diet restriction categories? I’ve got a child with a list of 10 serious food allergies. Some sites let me look at gluten free & diary free recipes, but can’t handle additional filters of soy free, egg free, Nut free , sesame free, etc.

  19. That looks wonderful. I am entering the world of meal planning and am still very “homemade” on this. Only been on meal planning for a couple of months and not very consistent, although it is really noticeable when I do. The savings on time and money are real.

  20. I signed up! But I don’t see a lot of make ahead batch cooking type stuff (big cook on sunday ideas)? Is there a trick to getting that? 🙂

    • You can use the Make Ahead filter in the ‘my schedule’ page in settings to set a number of meals… and/or go straight to the recipe box and grab any number from there.

  21. I am a little confused. When I looked at iTunes for the Real Plans app it said Free, but when I clicked the link about how it works in the blog post, it says the first 30 days are free. What is the actual cost after the 30 days?

    • The app is free to use, but in order for it to work, you have to have a subscription to Real Plans. The pricing varies depending on if you choose the monthly, quarterly, or yearly payment option.

  22. Are there vegan recipes available?

  23. I have been meal planning since pregnant with my first, and it has been essential to our family being able to eat as well as we are able to. However, due to a few reasons our budget doesn’t allow for a strictly paleo diet although we try to have some paleo, some vegetarian and some traditional meals in each plan, I don’t see anything option for that kind of diet. Also, does it factotin in budget? We are not Willing to compromise on quality, And are not in any position to buy in bulk unfortunately. We know it’s the best way to save, but it’s just not something we can do yet.

    • Actually the diet section is very versatile. You can set up a diet that is all yours, or you can filter the meals as you are adding to your plan (so, for example, you can check the “vegetarian” option and add a couple of meals to your plan, and then uncheck it and “paleo” instead, and add a few of those… etc.). For budget, there are a few things you can do. First, you can set your location so that it will offer you seasonal recipes for your plan. Also, in settings, you can select your favorite store where you buy most of your groceries. Finally (and I like this, because I have been known to do it) if you see something on amazing super-sale and just have to impulse-buy it, you can even look up recipes by ingredients and build a meal around the sale food!

  24. If I find a recipe I like while surfing the internet, can I import it so I don’t have to manually type it in? Also, can I add miscellaneous items of my own to the shopping list?

  25. Thanks Katie for all your help!!! God bless you!

    Wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!!!

  26. I am currently a Plan To Eat customer, but I find it time consuming. This sounds really great, but I was really hoping for a free test run. I still have a paid subscription to the other one! I read their stance on coupon codes, and money back…. I’m still disappointed, and I don’t want to be paying for 2. Any chance you guys might add that?

    • I was reading about this as I am apart of another meal plan currently (which seems far inferior to this real food plan). They said that you can try it and then if you don’t like it you can just email them within the first 30 days and they will give you a refund, no questions, asked.

  27. I have been doing the adrenal reset diet and I know I had read that you use the carb cycling to keep your adrenals healthy in a post before. Do you find that most things on the meal plan are adaptable and fit in well with the carb cycling?

    P.S. I am seriously grateful for the healthful impact your research and blog posts have had on my family. At times I wish I could just give you and Mommypotamus a big hug! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Its scary raising kids in the world we live in when it seems everything is out to sabotage your health. Its nice to feel that I’m not in this fight, to keep my family healthy, alone.

    • Yes, very much so. There are hundreds of recipes and more always getting added, so you’ll definitely have options.

  28. I have signed up on real plans and expected to find sooo many recipes that just waited to be cooked. There are indeed a lot of recipes, but NONE have worked with my teenie kids. They would not eat one single recipe that I have cooked just because it’s different from what I use to cook (Italian stile). It’s really terrible to through away good food (I cannot eat for 3) and the wasteless hours I spent cooking….
    I’m amazed at how easy people cook in batches and their family eat heated up meals. I could never eat heated up stuff. Here I am quite spoiled as my mum always cooked fresh (twice a day) and so do I. Am I the only one that has problems making their kids eating new stuff? Please help me, I am open for any ideas as I am quite desperate. Thanks so much

  29. Love your blog. Got your email today (August 2016) about signing up for Real Plan before the price increases. There is a price difference, however, between signing up through your link and going directly to the app (they are a little cheaper). Might I ask why?
    Also, 2 questions:
    1) can I add my own recipes? And,
    2) can I eliminate recipes that have less famous ingredients than the typical gluten-free, dairy-free? For example, tapioca starch?
    I’d love to go through you if it supports you in any way. Let me know what you think!

    • You can’t actually signup for Real Plans through the app, you need to purchase an account first. The difference in cost is that you can purchase Real Plans without my recipes for that price.

      1. Yes, you can add your own recipes.
      2. You can sort by ingredients you like/dislike/style/ and many other criteria.

  30. hi…..i am a health coach, sounds like something i can recommend to my clients?

  31. I LOVE meal planning! Although admittedly, I have never been the best at it. Because of that, our finances have been in a rut more than once before. With a baby on the way and cutting down to one income, we are getting our stuff together and meal planning is a huge part of that. Budgeting in every aspect has become a priority!


  32. Katie, I just signed up for Real Plans- the first time I’ve shelled out money for a meal planning service! I’m so frugal that I could never spend money on something that I could do myself. BUT you convinced me that it was worth it so I’m giving it 30 days. I just finished reading Eat Dirt by Dr Josh Axe and I feel this will help in maintaining that diet to help my husband who has developed psoriatic arthritis. My question is- I’ve pre ordered your new cookbook (I have your first one also!), will I need the physical cookbook now that I have Real Plans? Will all those recipes be on Real Plans? Thank you for all your hardwork and dedication to all things healthy! You are my go to site!

    • Thanks so much Jen- all of the recipes from the cookbook should be in Real Plans, but only for those who purchase the cookbook. So in other words, if you preorder the book, you will get access to all of the recipes in Real Plans once the book releases. Hope that makes sense and thanks for reading 🙂

      • Just to clarify, in addition to the Real Plans subscription, including your 500+recipes, there is an additional cost for the 200+ recipes from your cookbook?

        I am looking forward to trying this service out.

        Thank you

        • No, there isn’t an additional cost. If you have purchased the cookbook, you will get instructions in the next couple of weeks on how to access them within Real Plans, as they’re only available to those who have purchased it.

  33. Have you found a natural plastic-free storage alternative for your freeze ahead meals? I would like to find some freezer and bakeware disposable natural alternative to foil/aluminum pans in preparing postpartum meals.

  34. This looks interesting but I’m surprised it costs money?

    • Why are you surprised there is a cost for it? It’s a software service that costs money to build, so obviously the economics of it dictate there is a cost. I wish groceries, gas, and children’s clothing is free, but unfortunately it’s not…

  35. Hi Katie! Thanks so much for introducing our family to real plans . We have used them since August when your email came out . Thanks to the app we are able to transform our diets to more paleo friendly . What a diff!!
    I have a ques though, I swear there was a gift cert or coupon you were giving for signing up after 45 days ? Did I totally miss something?
    Thanks so much !!!

    • Yes- you should have gotten an email about it. I’ll check on it and email you.

  36. I think the best way to make meal planning simple and easy is to plan recipes for the week that use the same ingredients. This reduces food waste and your grocery bill because you won’t end up with a bunch of random ingredients in the fridge that have gone bad because each one was only used in 1 recipe. So, for things like herbs and veggies, find multiple recipes that require them! Also, it makes it a lot easier if every dinner recipe is doubled to cover the following day’s lunch. You’ll always have leftovers which means less planning & cooking!

  37. I read the post, and I think meal planning works for a lot of people, but getting all the right ingredients and then spending all that concentrated time cooking just didn’t work for me. On the flipside, I simply started journaling what I put in my mouth, among other wellness topics, and that really did the trick for me. I use this thing called Thrive Journal and it really allows me to face the music with a whole slew of mind/body issues I would otherwise ignore. Thanks for this blog post and I hope people find what works for them to be healthy.

  38. Hi Katie! Thank you for everything you do! I am unclear about your previous recipes app that I had paid for and used. Does this completely replace that, because the old app disappeared from my phone and I can’t find it in the App Store. If so, is it possible to get the recipes that were on that app since I had paid for access to them? Thanks a bunch for the clarification. 🙂

    • The original recipe app is no longer available as it didn’t have all of my recipes included in it and it was not possible to automatically add them when new ones are created without a complete rebuild that would be very expensive. Real Plans includes all of my recipes and the mobile app does too.

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