By far, it is deciding what is for dinner every night in advance that causes stress for most first time meal planners. I got you! Follow the meal planning template below to learn how you can easily plan meals for the week.
I bet when you think of meal planning, you envision a refrigerator and/or freezer filled with labeled containers stacked neatly, ready for use. Maybe this is something you aspire to and it certainly is possible as you get more comfortable and skilled at meal planning. But in the beginning, your goal should simply be the act of recording (writing down) your intended meals a week in advance and shopping once for everything you need.
Your success to follow through with those plans, week after week, rests on following good menu planning principles.
What are the principles of good menu planning?
- Fits your lifestyle-There is no sense in being overly ambitious with your meal plan in the beginning. It sets you up to fail. So if your family is extremely busy, or you work all day, or you have toddlers vying for your attention all the time, planning new or complicated recipes for dinner will over-whelm and frustrate you. Your meal plan should adapt to you, not the other way around.
- Stick to family favourites-I know you probably would like to incorporate some variety in your meal plan but you should only do that if you know for sure that your family will embrace something outside of their comfort zone. Stick with family favourites on a majority of the days and you won’t have to deal with turned up noses at dinner time.
- Easy to follow-The simpler your meal plan, the easier you and your family will be able to adapt to this new way of life. Meals should be able to be swapped around when plans change and/or easily started by another family member if you are running late or otherwise occupied.
- Creates less stress, not more-Let’s face it, dinner is a chore. Everyone would prefer to have their own personal chef wouldn’t they? And more importantly, someone to clean up after, am I right? For me, less stress is less dishes. I try to use recipes that won’t have me using every bowl and pot in the house. I prefer one skillet meals. For you, less stress may mean less steps or not having to follow a recipe at all.
- Saves you money-Just like a capsule wardrobe saves you money, being able to use staples or foods that you regularly keep stocked in your pantry, will reduce your grocery bill. Of course, shopping once does that too. Avoid buying one off ingredients by learning how to substitute as well as buying in bulk the foods that you frequently use, can really stretch your grocery budget.
- Saves you time-The whole point of meal planning is to reduce your mental drain during the week and save you time going from preparing to eating. Grocery shopping once a week as opposed to daily and things like pre-chopping vegetables on a Sunday afternoon for meals during the week will make meal time a breeze on super busy nights.
- Less food waste-I hate throwing food out. Proper meal planning will incorporate leftovers into lunches or new dinner recipes. This will also supercharge your grocery budget savings.
Are you ready? Go grab a piece of paper or open up your planner or grab my free meal planning worksheet and let’s get to work.
Meal planning for the week
- Make note of any commitments on your meal plan. You will want to plan your meals around them.
- Assign one category to each of the days. i.e. pasta, protein & veg, freezer meal, eat with hands, leftovers, soup & salad, breakfast for dinner. Remember to work around your appointments, scheduling the easiest meals on those nights.
- Choose your recipes. Look at each of the days and specifically choose the meal you are going to prepare. Remember to stick to your family favourites. You will find ideas for each category below.
- Create your shopping list-Write down everything you will need to prepare all the recipes. Don’t forget to add things like condiments. Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and cross off the items you already have. Re-write your shopping list by grocery store aisle and go shopping.
Your meal plan should end up looking something like this:
Realistic meal plan ideas anyone can use
One of the easiest and most budget friendly meal nights on any menu plan is pasta night. You can literally pair any pasta with a sauce, vegetable and a protein to make a delicious, healthy meal that everyone will love. Plus the limitless combinations mean you can easily change it up for next week’s meal plan with very little effort.
I can whip up a spaghetti dinner in no time. Add pasta sauce, frozen meatballs or ground beef, throw in some broccoli florettes and top with parmesan cheese and done. A side of garlic toast completes this easy meal.
Pasta night is also a great way to incorporate a meatless Monday theme into your menu plan. You can opt to go super simple like me (minus the meat) or do a pasta bake with bread crumbs for a more casserole type meal.
If you need a gluten free option for your pasta night, try using a spiralizer. There are plenty of recipes on Pinterest using eggplant or zucchini as a substitute for pasta.
Protein & Vegetables
You can’t go wrong with meat and potatoes my Dad would say. From chicken, to pork chops, to steak to seafood, the options are endless. Pair with frozen, can or seasonal vegetables plus a side like rice, pasta or potatoes and you have a meal fit for a king.
You can also vary the cooking methods from baking to pan-fried to grilling or switch up your marinades to add variety to your meals.
Vegetarians can use tofu, nuts or beans as protein rich foods.
For super busy nights, a freezer meal is a quick way to get a delicious healthy meal on the table with very little effort. A freezer meal could be a meal you have prepared in advance or a store bought option.
I always have a lasagna in my freezer for a no fuss meal option for when I don’t feel like making dinner but still want something of substance to serve. Especially nice on those cold winter nights.
There are many crock pot freezer recipes on Pinterest that are easy to put together and freeze. Make them in bulk and you have a nice freezer stock of meals ready to go. Just pop them in your crock pot in the morning and you have a nutritious meal ready at dinner time.
Eat With Your Hands Night
Burgers, tacos, pizza, and chicken wings are just a few examples of eat with your hands night for those casual evenings when the whole family is at home together. Again, you can opt to make everything fresh or find frozen store bought options that are just as good.
Eat with your hands night can also double as your take-away night. Use this as a treat or on super busy nights when you are shuttling little ones here and there.
Literally a no brainer. Save money, effort and waste by incorporating a leftover night on your next week’s meal plan. All you have to do is open up the fridge, warm them up if necessary and put them on the table.
You can also get creative with leftovers and re-imagine them into a new meal altogether. Here are my ideas for using up leftover chicken.
Soup, Salad & Sandwich
There are so many hearty salads and filling soups out there these days that it is easy to make them into a meal on on their own. And you can adapt your soup and salad night easily depending on the season. Transition from hot to cold options as the weather gets warmer.
Egg salads, pasta salads and potato salads are a few great options for a hot, humid summer night and don’t forget to explore cold soups as well.
Add a proper sandwich or just a nice crispy baguette and you will be surprised how filling this meal option can be.
Breakfast For Dinner
I love breakfast but I never seem to have enough time in the morning to make a proper meal of it. If a full English breakfast, or jam/creme filled crepes or french toast dripping in maple syrup makes your mouth water, you are going to love serving breakfast for dinner.
How can I get better at meal planning
The only real way to get better at meal planning is to just do it. Over and over again. You will have slip ups, nights where you fall back into old ways and your family may not exactly embrace the concept. But with practice, I promise you, it will get easier and you will learn tips and tricks that make it easier and I daresay, more fun, for you.
And as your learn, you will be able to squeeze that grocery budget further and further. For example, I often make too much spaghetti or rice. Those leftovers are now re-used into soup night. Extra seasoned meat from taco night turns into nachos on game day. And leftover chicken breast gets shredded and added to salad day. Once you get into meal planning, you too will be able to spot opportunity to save more time and money.