Meal Planning will save you time, money and stress, and will make your busy weeks so much easier!
This is a complete, easy and simple to follow guide to meal planning for you and your family.
You don’t have the time to read countless long articles about meal planning and how to do it.
So here is a guide that will tell you everything you need to know in a much simpler concise format. This is a 10-step meal plan guide, but these are 10 very easy steps!
Please note: In this meal planning guide I am just focusing on planning dinners. If you are starting out meal planning dinners are always the best meal to start with in your planning.
As you get better at meal planning and get into a routine you can also plan other meals such as lunches and breakfasts for your family, following this same format.
This post contains affiliate links. You can read my disclosures here.
Why Should you Meal Plan?
There are so many reasons why you should be meal planning:
It saves you money. When you plan out your meals you are less likely to need to eat out or order takeout.
Your family’s food and groceries is also one of the things that you really spend a lot of money on each month. Meal planning can really cut down on your grocery bill.
It saves you time. Planning and prepping meals ahead of time means that you will have meals on hand for your busy work week.
Instead of coming in from a long hard day at the office and having to cook a complete meal for your family, you can just heat up a meal that you have already prepared ahead of time.
This gives you more time to spend with your family and doing what you love.
It is healthier. When you plan and prepare your own meals you know the ingredients going into that meal. You can control your calories and eat healthier ingredients.
It cuts down on food waste. So much food is wasted by households every day. Planning your meals means you plan out all the ingredients you will use, so you won’t let food just sit and rot as it goes unused.
You will use up your leftovers for other meals, therefore completely eliminating food waste.
Here is my 10 step by step guide to everything you need to know to start meal planning today!
Step one. Where will you keep your meal plan?
Use a Meal Planning Sheet. You can use a special sheet on which to write down, and display, your meal plan. Place it somewhere visible to your entire family, so that everyone always knows what is for dinner (no more “what’s for dinner tonight?” questions!). You can download and use this meal planning sheet here.
Use an app. Cozi is a great FREE app that you can use for meal planning. If you prefer storing your meal plan electronically, this is a great FREE option for your entire family. It syncs across all your devices, and the information can be shared and seen by everyone.
Google Calendar. Google Calendar is a great option in which to store your meal plan. Google can sync across all your devices, and you can share your calendar with others.
Use a Paper Planner. Some people like to store their meal plan along with all the other information they keep and refer to in paper format.
Step two. Consider your week Ahead
How does your week ahead look? Do you have some late nights at work, evenings when your kids have events that mean you will all be home late?
Do you all go out routinely one night to a favorite restaurant? What time will you have available each evening this week? Are there days when you will literally have no time to cook – therefore will need to eat food prepped ahead of time or leftovers?
Are there nights when you will have 30 minutes in which to cook a meal? Write down your week ahead and all it entails. That might look something like this for instance:
Monday. Soccer practice for boys. Home around 7pm. Need a pre-made meal.
Tuesday. Home on time. No activities. Have 30 minutes to make a meal.
Wednesday. Work late. John will make dinner, therefore need something pre-made and simple for him to serve the boys.
Thursday. Home on time. Have 30 minutes to make a meal.
Friday. Go out to eat.
Step three. Make an Inventory of the food you already have.
Go through your refrigerator, freezer and pantry and figure out what frozen meals you already may have on hand, what leftovers you may have, what ingredients you have in your refrigerator and pantry to make meals with. Try to use the ingredients you already have in the meals you plan.
Step four. Check out coupons and special deals.
If you use coupons and follow grocery store specials and discounts, check to see what is on sale. You may want to plan some of your meals around what is on special or sale that week.
Step five. Choose your meals for the coming week.
There are several different types of meals to choose from for your meal plan.
Choose fast & easy meals to make. These meals are so fast and easy that they can be made actually on the night and don’t need to be made ahead of time.
These are typically meals taking 15 – 30 minutes to make from start to finish. These are great for evenings when you do have some time to cook, just not a lot of time.
Crock pot/Slow Cooker meals. Consider a crock pot/slow cooker meal for one of your meals (or more), that way you just have to put some work in doing the prep, but the meal will cook itself while you are at work, or doing other things during the day.
You can also try using an Instant Pot, and making meals with this. The cooking time with an Instant Pot is so much faster and there are numerous recipes available.
Your Go To Meals. All families have meals that they know everyone in the family loves. Incorporate some of your usual family Go To meals in your meal plan.
Freezer meals. These are meals you prep ahead of time and have on hand in your freezer. These are especially good for really crazy evenings when you just won’t have any time to cook.
You can freeze packs of meals for the crock pot also, either using Ziploc bags or pre-prepped meal packs. MyFreezEasy offers plans to help you make frozen meals ahead of time, with freezer-friendly recipes, shopping lists and instructional videos.
New meals to try. You can get inspiration from cookery books, online searches and Pinterest. You might want to try out one new meal a week for instance, or try out a different cuisine one night a week. Search around online for inspiration and recipes.
YouTube is also a great place to find recipes and meal prep ideas. Just type in anything at all, such as meal prep ideas, (cuisine) recipe ideas, etc. Here is an example of one that shows you how to Meal Prep for the week using Trader Joe’s products:
Step Six. Write out all the ingredients that you will need.
You can also use an app or paper to keep your grocery list. I also like to use this FREE Cozi app as you can also share your grocery list with all your family members also, and everything is in one place. Here is why Cozi is an incredibly easy way to plan meals for your family.
Step seven. Finalize the order of your meals.
For meals on your list that involve perishable ingredients, or things that need to be eaten as quickly as possible, such as fish, put those meals on your schedule for earlier in your week.
On the nights you are very busy and will be home late, put down meals that you have prepped ahead of time, or freezer meals, or set up the crock pot for those evenings.
On the nights you do have some time select the quicker meals to make. If you usually go out on one particular evening a week, mark that on your meal plan calendar. If you want to try a new recipe one evening, mark that down also.
Step Eight. Write out all your meals on your meal plan, and display it somewhere visible.
When you write in your meals, also write in the prep and cooking time needed per meal. That way you have all those details to hand ready when you are about to cook.
If you are going to use a freezer meal one night also make a notation on your planner that you might have to take it out of the freezer the night before, or the morning of when you are going to be using it.
You want your meal plan to really work for you – therefore put as much information on it to help you that you can.
Step Nine. Shop for groceries.
Shop at your favorite grocery store for your ingredients. Or if time is an issue here, use a grocery delivery service from the store you use. Here are 11 reasons why you should have your groceries delivered.
Step Ten. Meal Prep or Cook your Meals
Set aside some time every week, such as a couple of hours on a weekend day, and prepare any meals that you plan to freeze or refrigerate for the week ahead.
At first this might seem tiresome, but you will soon get in the swing of this, and it will quickly become your normal routine.
Pull together all the ingredients you will need to make several meals at once. Then start your cooking and baking session. You can play music while you do this or anything that helps you when you cook! Make up all the meals, and then freeze or refrigerate them when they are done.
There are also other ways of prepping meals ahead of time:
Make an extra batch. Whenever you are preparing a meal, make extra and freeze it. That way you will have another meal ready when you most need it.
Keep certain ingredients frozen or refrigerated so that they are ready to use. This works well for things such as chopped onions.
You can get special containers in order to store your meals, such as containers that can be frozen and the food also heated up in them to serve.
You probably already have many containers in your home that can be used for this. Just make sure that any container you plan to freeze is able to be.
Other considerations for weekly dinners and meals
If you really don’t want to have to prep and cook foods, there are some options out there, that are all quite affordable
MyFreezEasy offers freezer-friendly recipes, shopping lists and meal plans to help you with all your freezer meal planning needs.
The Dinner Daily. If you would rather somebody else puts meal plans together for you, the Dinner Daily will do just that. For a small charge each month they will put together customized meal plans for your family, taking into account the foods and meals that your family loves. You can get more information here.
Have fun with your meal planning. You will quickly get into a routine and it will be part of your weekly planning routine. You will start seeing the savings you are making, and also realize how much healthier you and your family are eating.
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Meal Planning will save you time, money and stress, and make your busy weeks so much easier!