Before I learned how to meal plan, the days I would get home from work exhausted, we ended up eating unhealthy (but quick) meals like mac-n-cheese or chicken nuggets — or worse, we’d spend money on takeout.
When we first opened our business, those hectic nights happened all too often. I was accustomed to having extra time in the afternoons to plan dinner. Then we opened our business and suddenly my schedule changed and it affected everyone.
It only took me a few more of those stressful nights deciding on last-minute dinners to finally convince myself I needed to make a meal plan.
Make sure you also check out our updated weekly meal plans! We create them every week to help you take the guesswork out of dinnertime.
Meal Planning can be a time saver. It can make the difference between a stressful night or a more relaxed afternoon. Exactly how to meal plan takes a little practice, but we’ve got you covered.
Have you thought about meal planning but weren’t sure how to get started? Are you looking for a good Meal planner template? Today we are going to show you all of the steps to successfully plan your meals and reduce dinnertime stress at your house.
5 Benefits to Meal Planning That May Surprise You
Meal planning is one of the most effective ways to avoid the “what’s for dinner” battle.
What do you get with meal planning?
- save time
- save money
- make healthy food choices
- get bonus meals
- cut stress
How to Save Time on Dinner
Time is a gift and a highly sought-after commodity in my house. We are a busy family of six and we have to utilize our time the best we can.
Not only do my husband and I own our own brick and mortar business (that’s enough stress all by itself) but we also have a lot of little mouths to feed. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
There are times when I am up at our business late, or I may be working on the blog later than normal. If I don’t have my meal planned out, then I am more than likely spending too much money on takeout.
I save time by using an action plan I have put in place over the weekend. I set aside time to decide on the menu, create a shopping list, and then write out our meal plan for the week.
While this may sound like extra work you may not be used to, it will become a lifesaver. With these simple steps, I always know which 30-minute meal I am making fresh, or which freezer meal I am heating up.
How to Save Money on Dinner
Speaking of spending too much money, we can easily spend $60 or more on dinner with our family. That unnecessary amount of money spent can add up really fast. Meal planning allows us to save money and buying in bulk can save us even more.
Once you have the hang of planning your meals for the week, consider planning out meals for an entire month. Meal planning can save a lot of time, but it can also save a lot of money if you prepare even further in advance.
It costs us on average $15 a meal for 6 people when we meal prep, down from an average of $60 for a last-minute takeout meal. That’s a huge difference! Here is one of our family favorites, Instant Pot Chicken Taco Soup.
Get Bonus Meals
When I prepare for meals I make sure that I make plenty of food for leftovers. Those leftovers are what I like to call bonus meals. My bonus meals are the leftovers from meal prep that I can either use for quick easy lunches (saving me even more money) or also use as a base for a different recipe.
A perfect example is making pulled pork nachos for dinner. I can easily plan to make extra, add a little barbecue sauce, and have barbecue pulled pork sliders for lunch. What does that mean for me? I just saved even more time and money because I planned an extra meal.
Cut the Stress
Have you ever felt the overwhelming stress of wondering what was for dinner at the last minute?
There are countless nights I remember feeling stressed when we first opened our business. I wasn’t fully prepared for the long days and extra hours it would take away from being home with the family. It taught me how important meal planning would be to our now even busier lives.
Just knowing what I will have for dinners during the week makes life so much easier, and I no longer have that feeling of panic over figuring out what’s for dinner.
It doesn’t take much to meal plan, but it does take a little practice.
How to Meal Plan – 5 Simple But Important Steps for Easy Meal Planning
While meal planning takes a little time and effort, it can end up saving you a world of time down the road. The best part? It doesn’t have to be hard.
Make a Schedule
Write down a list of the activities that you have planned for the week. This list will help you to decide the style of dinner you will have time to make each night. If it’s going to be a busy night at the ball field tennis tournament, I might even prepare my meal on the weekend.
Having an idea of what your weekly schedule is will help you plan your meals more easily.
Decide How Often You Will Cook
Deciding how often you will cook is also another benefit to meal planning. You don’t have to plan on cooking every single night. That’s the bonus of meal planning!
We always have nights where we will work late or be at a game late. Those are nights we will already have a pre-made dinner plan or even a leftover recipe from the night before.
Plan on a timeline
Now that you have figured out your schedule and how many nights you will be cooking, you can focus on how long you have each night to prepare for a meal. I have a list of my favorite 30-minute meals that I make on a pretty regular basis.
It’s also always easier if I know I am placing something in the slow cooker or if I am using my Instant Pot. Just knowing how long I will be cooking each night is important for my meal plan and stress level.
It’s always good to add a variety of meals when planning out recipes. That’s one of the reasons I find planning for the month to be so beneficial. It doesn’t have to be Taco Tuesday every Tuesday. 🙂 However, that is an easy and effective meal tradition at our house.
You can and should also plan out breakfasts and lunches. This will help to ensure that you don’t overshop or find yourself scrambling around on a school morning trying to find something to eat. One of my favorites are these breakfast muffins. You can freeze them and make them later in the week.
Keep It Simple
Remember to keep your meals as simple as possible. If you’re just starting on the meal planning bandwagon, you’re going to want to keep things simple for a while. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many details at the beginning. You can always get more detailed as you get used to it.
It’s best to start planning your meals for the week. Once you feel confident in your meal planning, expand your skills and start planning for the month.
Meal planning can help you save money, make better food choices and avoid the stress of daily meals. Start with the basics and grow from them. Making the choice to start meal planning is the first step to dinner time success.
3 Free Printables
One of the first things I suggest for you to do when beginning a meal plan is to take stock of what you might already have on hand. This can be with a simple checklist and inventory sheet of what you already have available and don’t need to purchase.
Getting the meal plan together and deciding what recipes you will have for the week is the easy part. The next part is making a grocery list. Save yourself time and money by doing a pantry inventory before your grocery store run. This is a simple step that shouldn’t take you too long once you’ve done the first inventory.
How do I use a pantry inventory checklist?
Use the pantry checklist to make a detailed list of everything you have in the pantry. Keep the list handy and mark off any items you use with the week’s recipes. By keeping a current list you will save even more money on groceries you possibly already have, and acquire more space overt time in the pantry.
Just like the pantry checklist, you want to make an inventory of your items in the freezer. You’ll use this detailed checklist the same way you use the pantry checklist. Once you have your detailed menu plan, go over the freezer checklist and make sure you don’t already have those items in stock. Cross them off as you use them to help keep a current list and to save yourself time and money in the future.
How Do You Make a Meal Plan? Meal Planning Template.
It’s always good to use a template when planning your meals. Whether you are planning for one, or you’re like me and are planning for a family, a template will help keep you and your meals organized. Once you have experience with a weekly meal template, consider expanding your boundaries and move to a monthly meal planning template.
If you’re looking for some ideas on healthy meal plans, check out what Whole Foods has put together and get inspired to try some of these ideas.
What are good meal planning recipes?
As a large family, we’ve discovered a ton of recipes that are quick, easy, and delicious. It doesn’t take long to make these 30-minute meals, and they’re perfect for planning out your busy week. Here are a few of our weeknight favorites:
- chicken fajita stuffed bell peppers
- mostaccioli bake
- sweet potato sloppy joes
- crispy coconut chicken salad