41 Tips to Simplify Meal Planning!
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Meal planning is the act of thinking ahead for meals and snacks. You can meal plan a few days at a time, a week, a month, or a season.
Answering the question, "what's for dinner?" in advance takes out the stress associated with last minute arrangements, reduces the chance of ordering unhealthy take out food, and helps you shop for groceries efficiently and with a budget-friendly mindset.
Why Meal Plan?
helps you stay within your grocery budget
takes out the stress of last minute meal prep
helps you take advantage of grocery sales
ensures a variety of foods
improves the chances of eating healthy
reduces time spent shopping - stick to your list!
If you struggle with combing through too many cookbooks to meal plan, you might like to watch this video about applying the 90/90 rule to declutter cookbooks (tip #21 below!)
How do I make a weekly meal plan?
Here are 41 tips to simplify your meal planning each week and create a weekly meal plan that works for you!
Don't start with a blank week - template some meals in advance so you have to fill in less each week. For example, Taco Tuesday is dinner every Tuesday night and Spaghetti Saturday repeats each Saturday night.
Order takeout. Seriously. Write “takeout” as a meal on those busy days ahead. Choose a healthy salad, baked dish, or simply healthy pizza for the kids.
Keep a calendar of meals made in the past to get quick ideas for future weeks.
Choose "crowdpleaser" recipes. Pasta fagioli and chicken dumplings are fan favorites in my house.
Choose 5 ingredient meals. Less to prep, less to clean up, and easy to make.
Keep your basics stocked. Create a master grocery list of all the regular items (yogurt, apples, etc.)
Put your calendar on "seasonal autopilot" - set one month of meals and repeat for three months. Life in the Mundane has a great video about seasonal meal planning.
Utilize meal kits, like Hello Fresh (use code ERICA16).
Create your own meal kits in advance. Chop veggies in advance to grab and cook.
Slow Cooker! I have learned to pay attention to my meal planning pain points. Busy days drain me completely. I never feel like prepping or cooking on those days, and I love putting a meal in the crockpot to do the work for me. I find great recipes in this cookbook.
Instant pot! Great for meals and side dishes. We cook chicken breasts, eggs, and potatoes weekly in our Instant Pot to use for meals.
Set weekend or non busy days for the “new recipe“ night - use tried and true recipes the other 6 nights.
Plan leftovers as meals.
Batch cook. I batch cook meatballs and lasagna monthly. I also plan "leftovers" after lasagna night because I make an extra large batch on purpose.
Cook for the lowest common denominator. My 4 year likes plain pasta so I leave some to the side for him, but coat the rest of the noodles with sauce for my other humans.
Sheet pan meals. My kids love my sausage one pan meal: sausage, onion, pepper, carrots, and potatoes.
One pot pasta meals! Love this hack.
Jordan Page says planning monthly is bad. I disagree. I like planning for the month so it’s all done at once but I might shop a few times during the month. Her point is to be able to be flexible and take advantage of grocery sales. My point is do what works for you!
Ask for help. Have a teen or spouse who takes over Friday night dinner.
Scan and Plan! Organize your recipes. I have a master binder organized by type (vegetarian, sausage, dessert, etc.) and the meal has to be enjoyed by 4 out of 5 of us to make it into a sleeve in the master recipe binder. I keep a table of contents at the front of each section. (Check out my Instagram Reel about this!)
Declutter cookbooks. Too many choices can led to decision fatigue when it comes to planning meals. Check out how I applied the 90/90 minimalism "rule" to declutter cookbooks.
Meat free Mondays! Theme nights make it simple to plan.
Make space for grace. Yes, takeout is perfectly acceptable.
Organize your pantry. It is easier to plan from your pantry then augment your meal plan and grocery list after planning to use up what you have.
Keep a stash for easy meals and sides - Kraft Mac and cheese? frozen lasagna? I’m hippie adjacent. I read labels, shop organic and local, but I also feed my kids Kraft Mac & Cheese.
Use free printables. Lots of free weekly blank and completed meal plans out there in GoogleLand.
Plan combo nights such as soups and sandwiches, meat and sides, or soups and salads.
Keep a list of favorite meals handy and regularly shop for the ingredients. Stock up on sales so you can pop those faves into a week easily.
Pick a planning day and build a habit of meal planning.
Build a shopping list while you plan.
Plan ahead: if you plan on Wednesdays, then have the current plan run Monday through Sunday. Gives you a few days to shop for the next Monday through Sunday.
Plan breakfast for dinner!
Make double pasta on pasta nights and save 1/2 to use as a cold pasta side dish for dinner the next night. Pour some Italian dressing over the second 1/2 pop in fridge.
Plan from your shelves. What do you have that you can use up?
Keep “use up“ bins in your pantry, freezer, and fridge so you can plan from what you have (hello random almonds sitting in my pantry right now).
Build “extra” into your weekly grocery budget for sale items to stock up. Meat is BOGO? Your pasta sauce is $4.99 instead of $8.99? Then plan to use up from your extra inventory in coming months.
Use store apps to pre-order or organize your grocery order. Even get your order delivered to your home!
Use up 10 minutes now to make planning dinner later easier. Meal prep while the coffee is brewing. Take out that meat to thaw. Start the crockpot. Chop those veggies.
Meal prep while unpacking groceries. Keep out produce and herbs, and prep them for use later.
Need variety? Plan international nights. Try new ingredients and recipes!
Plan around events and tasks that take you out of the house.
What would you add? Comment below!
I mostly meal plan in 2 week chunks. Sometimes for an entire month, and sometimes weekly. I started feeling a bit of decision fatigue every week about deciding what to cook, shop for, and plan ahead for each week. Part of minimalism, for me, aims to reduce decision fatigue (choosing outfits, how to spend our time, school lessons, etc.).
Weekly meal planning makes grocery shopping, meal planning, and budgeting even less time consuming for me!
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