How to Meal Plan (and Why You Should Give a F*ck About It)

How to meal plan? What are the basic meal planning strategies you need for success? When it comes to meal planning I love how it saves my family time and money and keeps us eating a variety of healthy meals every week. Since I embraced a consistent meal planning routine, I’ve found it can actually be a lot of fun, and even, when done right, can even be a bit fun!  

Meal planning, when done right,  can save you time and money.

If you happen to be on a specific diet such as the ketogenic diet, weight watchers, paleo or even the Mediterranean diet, meal planning can help you stay on track with your food choices while you go through your week and help you to hit your weight loss goals.

If you’re managing a family budget, creating a meal plan can keep you on track and make sure you don’t also waste precious food.

Consider this a beginner’s guide to how to meal plan.

Be sure to check out this downloadable meal planner template to help you get organized with your meal planning.

Or you can download this editable and printable meal planner template here.

Weekly Meal Planner and Grocery list $3.99

Although expert meal planners could also benefit from some of the tips below.

Some of the links below contain affiliate linking, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

What is Meal Planning?

Simply put meal planning is planning ahead what you and your family are going to eat for the week or month. Meal planning can be very effective in helping you to save money by planning what ingredients you need for the week, and in saving you time in figuring out what to make for dinner.

If you’re on a special weight loss diet, meal planning can help you stay accountable to your fitness or health goals.

And when it comes to introducing new flavors and meal ideas to children, meal planning is a go-to way to make sure you can #GetItDone.

Meal Planning Ideas

Pinterest. Google.

Search for meal planning Ideas and you’re met with a barrage of options: Printable calendars, weekly emails sent to you with suggested recipes.

I’ve also joined some weight loss or “boot camp” style fitness routines that send you a very strict meal plan for the duration of the camp.

I loved this model because it stopped me from having to think about what I needed to eat or prepare, but I hated it because it wasn’t replicable.

And I couldn’t pick and choose the menu items from the meal plan and save them somewhere I could later access without going through several steps of creating my own file to save them, etc.

Plus if I really saw results from the fitness plan, how would I continue that after the eight weeks was over? And where would I store my favorite recipes or notes so I could access them again?

This ultimately led me to figure out the ultimate hack for menu planning and it’s my meal planner template and I’ll explain a bit more below but first…

Rear View Of Young Woman Looking In Fridge At Kitchen

How to Create a Meal Plan for the Week

A lot of this depends on your dietary needs, your preferences for food, your family’s ages and activities, and if you’ve got any picky eaters.

But here’s the basics streamline for how to meal plan with your weekly schedule.

1) Incorporate Weekly Activities

Look ahead at the week’s schedule: Any late night meetings? Are there any activities after school? I tend to organize my meal plan around these tent pole “busy” days. Fast meals, or take out/Delivery go here.

Then it’s a matter of filling in the other days…

2) Go Shopping in Your Pantry and Freezer First

I quickly look through the pantry and go shopping there first to see what we have that I can use in a recipe or as a side (such as the $22 bag of rice I got at Costco last month).

And then use that as a building block for the rest of the week.

If we are low on vegetables I make a mental note to add a variety of different veggies to my shopping list so we can be sure to have some choices to pair with each of our dishes.

Then it’s a browse down the freezer aisle of our home, and I assess how much frozen meat, veggies, etc we have from last month’s shop.

Can we defrost some shrimp to go with that rice?

What about a frozen chicken? Or are we totally bare…

3) Take Into Consideration Dietary Needs/Restrictions

IDK about you but in our home we cycle through some diet phases: The no dairy or sugar phase. The meatless Monday requests. The picky toddler who only wants white foods…

If we’re on any specific diets I look through our menu items and figure out 5-6 recipes that we can easily make with these considerations.

*This may seem like a lot but I promise once you do it a handful of times you’ll get into a rhythm of it where it feels really easy and mindless.

4) Plan for Extras and Left Overs

Utilize the chicken you made on Sunday for tacos on Tuesday. Plan to make enough rice on Monday for the stew on Wednesday. (Or as a lunch side).

5) Pick Seasonal Produce

Seasonal produce is almost always cheaper (and tastes better!). You’ll know something is in season because the price is on sale, meaning there’s an abundance of this goodie!

In the Fall/Winter we make a lot more soups/stews/chilis that incorporate root vegetables but opt for asparagus and string bean chicken sheet pan dinners in the summer/spring.

The Best Weekly Meal Plan Ideas

If you search for a weekly meal plan idea you’re going to find the most simple and effective version of the following presented in fanciful and expensive ways (sometimes free ways too!)

Once you’ve done the above, you’re on your way to drafting a meal plan for your family.

It seriously can be as easy as pulling up the notes app on your phone:

Monday – Minestrone Soup, fresh bread.

Tuesday – Taco Tuesday – with frozen fish/beans/rice, tortillas.

Wednesday – Order Out (late-night meeting)

Thursday – Instant Pot Spaghetti and broccoli

Friday – Slow cooker beef stew

Saturday – Dinner out/order out.

Sunday – Leftovers.

See? Easy peasy dinner’s done.

(I legit wrote that up in about 30 seconds…but I’ve also been doing this a hot minute.)

Also, I want to give you these leftover cooked chicken breast recipes to save for later! Leftovers won’t ever go to waste!

Don’t Forget Your Grocery Staples!

Make sure you spend a hot sec reflecting on what ELSE you’ll need for the week’s meals: Lunch meats? Milk and cereal? Butter and coffee (and wine!!??)

Make your list and get ready to…

Go Shopping

With the world as it is I’ve been shopping on Instacart for most of our meals. And it makes it super easy to get what you want and not linger and figure out other items.

You can also do grocery pick up for this.

Check off what you’ve got on your list…

Boom. Done. Dinner is Planned for a Week!

BTW I have a meal planning system that makes this process go even faster (if you can believe it). It also incorporates a simple customizable grocery shopping function….I’ll get to that in a bit.

Steam from frying pan. Black portable cooker. Cooking tasty food requires mastery. What’s for dinner.

Meal Planning for Weight Loss

This is a big one. Pun fully intended.

If you’ve got weight loss goals then meal planning is one of the most effective and useful ways to stay on track with your nutritional preferences and health and wellness goals.

Little known fun fact about me – for about a year and a half I worked for Weight Watchers as one of those people who weigh you and check you in before a meeting. Every week I’d help members navigate the emotional roller coaster of what the scale told them – ranging from joy to despair and about what happened to get them the results they were seeing.

A pattern began to emerge – for the members who had success, they were likely on top of their food choices and their points and typically doing some meal planning and preparation.

For those who were falling off the wagon, so to say, there was a common theme of “this week got away from me,” or “I had so many dinners out I couldn’t keep on top of my points.”

(If you’re not familiar, Weight Watchers counts calories via a trademarked point system which allows you to “eat everything” without feeling the guilt of being on a diet).

Meal planning is one of the best ways to become successful in your weight loss goals.

Keto, ketogenic diet with nutrition diagram, low carb, high fat healthy weight loss meal plan

Mary Beth over at Lifestyle for real life has thoughts about how meal planning can help her and her family stay on a ketogenic diet (and spoiler alert, this article features my meal planner as well).

Meal Planning on a Budget

Oh hey while we’re on the topic of slimming down, meal planning can be a surprisingly beneficial way to keep you on a budget to make sure you don’t spend any more or less than you actually need to feed yourself and your family each week.

As we used to say in Weight Watchers if you fail to plan you plan to fail. The same goes for your budget.

When you figure out exactly what your family is going to eat each night of the week, it makes it a lot easier to figure out the ingredients you need to buy and can then figure out what to do to stay within your budget.

Since we’ve been using my meal planner template, we’ve saved an average of $100 – $400 a month on our average monthly grocery bill.

How Do I Create a Weekly Menu with Grocery Option?

Let’s get into it for a second here because there are, as I’ve mentioned, as many meal planners as there are types of meals for you to make.

It can be overwhelming to figure out which one works for you or what you even need out of a meal plan.

There are half a dozen apps that now allow you to meal plan with the addition of beaming your grocery list to your phone for easy and convenient shopping.

Here are a few steps to get you started on meal planning for the week with a grocery list:

Once you’ve navigated the choice section of meal planning you’ll be on your way to figuring out a consistent routine.

If you need help building a repeatable process you’re going to want to check out my meal planning system.

It also allows you to add your family favorite meals seamlessly. Here’s a sneak peak at how:

Meal Planning with a Weekly Meal Kit Delivery Service

Since we’re already deep into the weekly meal planning let’s talk about incorporating a meal kit delivery service.

For me it comes down to math…7 days in a week, 1 where we eat out for dinner (or order take out)…and that leaves us with 6 more days.

If I use a meal kit delivery system like something from Blue Apron (such as this review here), I’ll shorten the number of days I have to plan by 2 more meals.

So I only have to think about 4 dinners for the week.

You can check out the full review of some of the best meal kit delivery services here.

This is where my meal planning system comes into play, which makes it super easy to just drag and drop and shop.

Weekly Meal Planner and Grocery list $3.99

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