This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.  

I sometimes often dread meal planning. I can think of so many things I’d rather do than try to fill in a calendar with meals my family will eat that won’t cost a ton of money.

Simple Meal Planning Reducing Overwhelm

(The meal planner pictured comes from here)

Yet when I don’t do it, I find myself in the vicious “I don’t know what to make for dinner, let’s just eat out” cycle that brings with it a high price tag and unhealthy eating choices.

My biggest menu-planning challenge? Feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to have a ton of exciting variety on the menu. Why could I easily simplify other aspects of my life when planning what food to eat is still an overcomplicated process?

Wait a minute…

The Pareto Principle and How it Applies to Your Food Budget

The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. I remember it like this: I use 20 percent of my stuff 80 percent of the time, so I can get rid of lots of stuff!

Then I realized it applies to food as well. I often use the same few foods over and over in different combinations.


This wondrous revelation makes for seriously simple meal planning. Grocery shopping is also easier and cheaper because I finally admitted to myself that I really won’t cook up that other stuff (like pork chops, parsnips, anchovies), except on occasions when I have to dig up a special recipe for it.

I do, however, know that I will roast a whole chicken, throw together a stir-fry or make fajitas frequently. Usually I don’t need a recipe and I’m able to combine these with any number of veggies.

Plus, these meals are cheaper.

Too Much Choice = Overwhelm

I thought I needed to have different, exciting meals on the menu to keep things interesting. Like high school, where you couldn’t wear the same thing twice – no two meals should be on the same menu.

Well, let’s get real. If it’s not dirty, I’ll wear it until it gets dirty, and sometimes I’ll wear it then, too, because it’s my favorite …

It’s ok to eat the same stuff. It’s ok to eat your favorite meals. There’s a reason why they’re favorites.

Just mix it up a little.

Getting Variety with Little Variety

How do you get variety if you don’t plan new, exciting meals all the time? Well, let’s take a look at a few different foods.

  • Meats: My goal is to buy meats that are hormone- and antibiotic-free. I stick with whole chickens for roasting; thighs or drumsticks if they’re on sale. Ground beef only unless I find a killer deal on grass-fed steak (it happens every once in a while). And bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.
  • Vegetables: We all know how important veggies are (they should be the basis of your diet), so you want get a good mix in different colors, but we definitely aren’t representing the entire produce section here. Buy your favorites on a regular basis, rotating through certain ones as they’re in season (which makes it much cheaper).
  • Starches: I don’t eat wheat or corn, so I tend to stick with just a few, gluten-free starches, like rice and potatoes. Though I will get sourdough bread so everyone else can have toast with their eggs and I buy organic corn chips every once in a while (that gigantic bag from Costco is very well-priced).

Create Combinations

Now, for the simple part. Make a list of your top meats, veggies (I do around 10) and starches. Start combining. Chicken, rice, zucchini and carrot are delicious together, and can be baked, grilled or sauteed. So many possibilities!

There won’t be enough combinations to keep you from eating the same meal twice in a month (a good thing, I think) but there’s enough that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the variety of nourishing foods you will eat.

(Remember: you can always plan special treats. Or add something to the mix, especially when something yummy is in season).

Menu, done.


I’m very excited to tell you about a new real food resource called Tradishen! It’s a new website designed to help families, especially those on a budget, simplify real food. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Simple menu planning: reducing overwhelm. Get lots of FREE help with your real food menu at Tradishen.

Tradishen is committed to offering only 100% real food recipes. No compromises and no short cuts.  That means that if it’s not a whole food, you won’t find it on their site. Period.

So far, there are over 500 recipes in the database, and they’re continually adding more.  There are plenty of options to feed your family well!

Here are some of more of the goodies you’ll find at Tradishen:

  • Real food tutorials
  • Filters for special dietary needs
  • Menu plans
  • Grocery lists
  • Budget-friendly meal ideas
  • Mobile-optimization for smartphones
  • Printer-friendly recipes

Premium Memberships

Most of the features above are FREE.  All you have to do is hop over to Tradishen right now and sign up for an account.

You’ll have immediate access to view, print, save, and share all the recipes.  You’ll also get one week of premium access for free just to say, “thanks for giving us a try.”  This is a no-risk free trial. If you love it, sign up for a basic or premium membership today!  The longer the membership you buy, the more you save.

My favorite part? Tradishen further simplifies meal planning, meaning that overwhelm needn’t bother me anymore. Win.

How do you simplify meal planning and reduce overwhelm?