Meal planning made easy with these 4 simple steps. Get more efficient, save money and have more time to do something fun with this FREE Meal planner.
“What’s for dinner?”
Don’t you just love getting that question right after you step into your home after a busy day at work? Wouldn’t it be great to skip the 5 o’clock scramble all together?
Imagine coming home from work and you’ve got dinner all planned out, even, in some cases, partly prepped? How nice would that be?
Plus, what if you could save a little money at the same time?
That’s exactly what you’ll get out of meal planning!
And yes, I know what you’re going to say next! You’ve tried meal planning and it didn’t work! Yes, it can be tricky at first, or even for a while. But stay with me, we’ll go over this together!
What is meal planning?
So, let’s dive right into it!
Menu planning is the process of deciding what you will eat. Either just for dinner or you can also plan the whole day, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Meal planning also entails knowing how many meals to plan for and when to serve them.
If you’re new at this and have never even heard of meal planning before let’s take a closer look at what meal planning can do for you:
- Meal planning is an opportunity for you to go through your groceries in an organised manner, helping you to save both time and money.
- Meal planning helps you see what your family is eating, what are your favourite recipes and can even help you to work in healthier eating habits if that is what you want.
- Meal planning can reduce stress, you won’t have to deal with decision fatigue every day about what’s for dinner.
Meal planning is not:
- A set in stone plan you’re never allowed to deviate from.
- Something that should take hours of your time every week.
How to meal plan in a few easy steps
It probably sounds more complicated than it really is but I promise as soon as you’ve tried this method a few times it becomes second nature to you and takes no time at all!
So how does it work?
Once a week, when you have about 10 – 20 minutes to spare sit down with your meal planning kit and plan out the next week. This may take a little longer for the first one or two times but after that it should be a smooth sail.
I’m going to tell you my work flow in 4 easy steps:
Step 1: Create the menu master list
This step will really set you up for an easier work flow later. But first, you need to put in a little work. But, don’t worry this is an easy task!
Print out the Menu Master List or grab a notebook, a paper or use a Notes App in your phone and start writing a list of meals that you already know how to cook, your family loves, your regular go-to meals, your favourite quick-fixers. These could be tacos, burritos, soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, burgers, pizza anything you would normally put on your dinner table.
If you don’t have a long list, don’t worry, use the time to do a little research. Give yourself time to go through your recipe books, visit a family member who collects recipe books or browse on Pinterest for some recipes. Write down a few recipes you would like to try.
Here are some examples of the recipes on my Menu Master List:
- Spaghetti Bolognese
- Alfredo Pasta
- Loaded Mac and Cheese
- Carrot and sweet potato soup
- Cobb salad
- Noodle stir-fry
Step 2: Take inventory
The next step is to take stock of what you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer and plan as many meals as you can with those items first.
Use the Kitchen Stock list from the FREE Meal Planner Printable and write down what you have in the pantry, freezer and fridge.
This is probably the biggest task for some. The pantry tends to be the place where various groceries tend to pile up and some get stuck in the back unused.
Use this time to also check the dates and throw out anything that is no longer safe to eat. But keep in mind that many products are still perfectly safe to eat despite being out of date.
For optimal frugality set aside things that need to be used up soon and start working your way through those items in your menu planning. Put those in a separate basket or shelf labelled “Needs to be used!”
Just like you did in your pantry, start checking dates and throw out anything that is damaged by freezer burn or has obviously gone past its prime time. Set aside anything that needs to be used soon.
Take a look at your Master Menu List and see if you can start using anything from your freezer for your weekly menu.
Then check your fridge to see if there’s anything that needs to be used up soon or need to be tossed. Make a list of the things that need to be used soon and try to incorporate them in your weekly menu.
For example, those potatoes starting to sprout in the bottom of the veggie drawer can be used in a curry or a vegetable soup.
A few tips!
If you have kids, get them involved! They will love this project. Not only is this a chance to spend quality time with their parent, but it’s also an opportunity to learn about food and food safety. Or practice reading the labels and maybe coming up with their own ideas for food combinations.
After you have done the inventory keep the list of your stock so that you can modify as needed. You can cross out those ‘need to be used items’ or add new items the the list after you’ve done the shopping.
I like to keep a list in my Notes App for everything in my pantry, fridge and freezer. When I run out I can just tick the item and know what needs to be added to the shopping list.
Step 3: Planning the weekly menu
Now that you know what you like, what you have and what needs to be used up. You can start working on your weekly menu.
Looking at the items you need you use up and your Master Menu List write down your menu for the week. Try to plan seven dinner meals in total.
You don’t need to decide at this time what you’ll cook on what day. But if you have something that ‘s time sensitive try to use that first.
Also, check your family’s schedule for the week and see what meal fits best for what day. For example, if your child has soccer practise on Tuesdays and you know that you’re crunched for time. Plan something quick or even better something that can be cooked in advance and heated up on Tuesday.
For example, you could make a big batch of chilli sin carne on Monday and then use leftovers in tortilla wraps the day after.
Remember! The purpose of a weekly menu is to make meal planning fun and easy. Don’t be hard on yourself if something doesn’t go as planned. Take away can be the perfect solution for a very busy day if that is what you need that day!
Here’s an example of our weekly menu:
Step 4: Create your shopping list
Grab the Shopping list from the FREE Meal Planning Printable or that handy notebook again, or use the Notes App in your phone to make a separate list.
Look at each meal you’ve planned and the ingredients you’ll need. Check the ingredients and if there’s anything you don’t have (or can’t be replaced with something you already have) write that ingredient on your shopping list. It’s a good practise to also write down how much you need. For example, if I’m cooking tofu I know I need two blocks for one meal or if I’m baking sweet potatoes I know that we eat one medium sized potato each.
Remember to also write down some items for breakfast, lunches and snacks for the week.
Personally, I don’t plan breakfast, lunches or snacks per se. My kids are old enough to make their own breakfasts and lunches. But I make sure to have some basic items such as cereal, porridge oats, Nakd bars, instant noodles, bread, vegan cheese slices, vegan ham, peanut butter, jam and more. Everyone then just makes their own breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Here’s a look at my shopping list after looking at my menu, my fridge, freezer and pantry.
There you have it!
These are the four simple steps to successful meal planning. And once you get used to a system this will completely change how you do your meal planning and shopping.
I would also LOVE to hear about your meal planning methods! Write to me in the comments if you meal plan!?
ALSO Grab your FREE Meal Planner Printables to make your meal planning a breeze!