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Does just the thought of meal planning get you stressed? Maybe you feel like it's going to take you an hour just to get up the energy to do it? If you've been looking for a step by step guide for how to meal plan using a template, you've found it.
And even if it's not your favorite thing to do, that's okay. Because there are people out there who LOVE it.
Really love it. Like...get out of bed and all they can think about is meal planning. And those people have created awesome resources for you.
One of the resources is from me. it's my personal collection of meal planning templates. They're all yours, if you're interested.
What is Meal Planning?
Before we talk about how to meal plan. Let's define what it is.
Meal planning is a stress-reliever, a money saver, and something that will give you time back in your evenings.
Making a meal plan is simple. All you need to do is:
- Spend 20 minutes to think through meals for the week ahead.
- Grocery shop for the week using your meal plan. You'll save time (and money) by only making one trip to the store.
- Bonus points if you do some prep ahead of time.
- Throughout the week, just follow the plan you already made. You don't have to make any more decisions (phew!).
- If you use a template like I'll walk you through here, you can plan out what you need to do to prep for the meals ahead of time.
You make a plan...
And follow the plan.
Following a meal plan is a lot like using a GPS to get somewhere you haven't been before.
Sure, you could just figure it out without any directions, but it's usually more stressful and sometimes it's nice to just sit back and just follow the directions.
Meal planning ensures less stress around meal times, more time with your family around the table, and more home cooked meals.
Sounds nice, doesn't it?
You get to plan out meals based on what you already have, what you're able to get, and what your family actually likes to eat!
Meal Planning Reduces Weeknight Dinner Stress
I can tell a noticeable difference in my stress levels on the weeks that I meal plan.
I'm able to just follow the plan instead of making daily meal decisions. And, since we make so much of our food from scratch, I'm able to plan ahead in case there's any meal prep I need to do ahead of time.
Why Do you want to Meal Plan?
Before you start to meal plan, figure out why you want to in the first place.
Do you want to...
- Save money? Check out this awesome grocery budget course that's been helping me makeover my grocery budget.
- Eat healthier?
- Focus on eating real food again (instead of the processed stuff?) Learn about how to cut processed food here or about the surprising processed foods you should avoid.
- Spend more time with your family around the dinner table?
- Try new recipes without being overwhelmed?
Figuring out why you're doing this will be a big motivator to come back week after week and continue on your path.
Plus, after you do it a couple times you'll get the hang of it and the question of "What's for dinner?" will be an easy one to answer.
How do I create A meal plan for my calendar?
I couldn't do any meal planning without somewhere to keep track of it all. And that's where a meal planning template comes in handy. I have a collection of meal planning templates you can get here.
Below, I'll walk you through how to use my favorite one with a section to make a meal prep plan.
Grab this free 7 day gluten free meal plan to get you started.
FREE weekly Meal Planning Template PDF
I use this exact meal planning template to plan out the meals for my family. I LOVE knowing what's for dinner before it's time to start cooking.
I love how this template has a spot for everything - brainstorming meals and ingredients, meal plan schedule, grocery list section, and a make ahead meal prep plan.
If you're not sure you like the format of the template pictured above, don't worry. Grab my meal planning template bundle and you'll find ten other styles in several colors that might work better for you.
Great. So now you've got your template. Let's talk about how to use it.
How to Meal Plan With A Weekly Meal Planning Printable Template
This is the process I use every single week. Okay, well...most weeks. When I meal plan, this system works super well. I'll describe it below.
The important thing is you make it work for YOU and your situation.
- Print out your meal planning template pdf (or use your whiteboard or chalkboard...whatever method you've decided on).
- Brainstorm. Think through what ingredients you have and what meals you want to eat (or make).
- Fill in your template with your menu for the week, along with any other commitments you need to keep track of.
- Write out your grocery list based on the meal you chose for the week.
- Plan out your weekly cooking schedule. Is there anything you need to make ahead to make it happen? Write it down in the meal prep section of the PDF.
- Go grocery shopping and follow the plan!
Step 1: Print out your meal planning template
You can use a piece of paper if you'd rather. If you're looking for a template, I've got this awesome bundle you can download (just click the button below).
Step 2: Brainstorm Meals
After you print out your meal planning template, we need to start by brainstorming. Ask yourself these questions and use the box provided on the template to come up with a plan.
- How many meals do I want to make this week?
- What ingredients do I already have that I should use? Are there any meals I can make with these ingredients?
- Are there any meals I really want to eat this week? Do I want to try a new meal?
- Tip: If I need meal inspiration, I often type into google the ingredients that I have. Google is a great resource when you're looking for meal ideas.
Step 3: plan your meals in the days of the week
Next, think through these questions as you fill out the meal plan section of the template.
- Is there anything in my schedule that will affect cooking or eating times? (Kids sports or activities, birthday parties, family get-togethers, prior dinner commitments, etc.).
- You can write specific meals in each box, or (like I did here) you can write several options for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that you'll have on hand throughout the week.
Where to Buy a Ready-for-you Meal plan
If you're just getting started meal planning, or if making a meal plan is something you've learned that you just don't enjoy, there are a lot of meal planning services out there.
Unfortunately, a lot of the meal plans you buy just give you the meal plan, and then say...."okay, go cook everything now". In my opinion, that's not nearly as helpful as how Prep Dish does things.
I'm a big fan of Prep Dish (read my review here). I'll talk a little more about them in the "prep" section.
Step 4: Make your Grocery List
Now that you have your meal plan ready to go, you can make a grocery list.
- Look back at the meal plan section and think through the ingredients needed to make each meal happen.
- Write the ingredients in the corresponding category in the Grocery List section.
- When you go to the store, bring this paper with you (or take a picture with your phone) and you're good to go.
Note: When I filled this out, we'd already done a lot of grocery shopping (mostly online). If you haven't already discovered the wonder that is online grocery shopping, here's some information on a few services we've used and loved. This has been a BIG time saver for me.
Step 5: FIgure out what to Make Ahead
We make most of our food from scratch in our house. So, while our grocery list is typically on the smaller side, the make ahead list is bigger. Do what works for your family. Here are some things to think through.
- What meal prep you want to get done ahead of time? Do you like having all your veggies pre-chopped and measured? Or do you like cooking meals ahead of time and then re-heating them?
- Think about when you'll have time to do those things. Do you have some time Sunday afternoon that you could devote to meal prep? Or maybe on the day you're eating leftovers for dinner you take 30 minutes to meal prep for the next day.
Why I Recommend Prep Dish
The Prep Dish motto is "shop once, prep once, enjoy stress-free meals all week".
Their meal planning system has completely changed my dinner time routine (for the better). The idea is that you take a couple hours to prep food for the week and then when it's time to cook dinner, you've already prepped and you're halfway done.
What if you ran a race and started at the half way point? At the end you'd be thinking...hmm...this is easier than I remember.
When the prep work is done, there's no stress for the rest of the week. The first week I used Prep Dish, I actually found myself twiddling my thumbs...trying to figure out what I was supposed to do since I barely had any dinner to prepare. It was a strange feeling.
You can try them FREE for 14 days with this link. I highly recommend you try it out. Give them a chance. It could be life changing...just sayin'. When you purchase an annual subscription, you can save $10 by using this link.
Step 6: Put your meal plan on display
Next, find somewhere to put your meal plan for easy reference. Here are a few ideas for this.
- Print it out and hang it on the fridge or somewhere you can see it easily.
- If you'd rather NOT print it out every single week, consider laminating it or framing it in a document frame. Use a dry erase marker for an easy way to write and start over.
- Make your own meal planner to display (like a white board or chalk board, or a DIY template).
Tips & Tools for Meal Planning Success
Now that you have your meal plan created and displayed, here are some resources to help make the process go as smoothly as possible this week (and in weeks to come).
Tools for meal planning success
- Meal prep containers - these are the ones we use. We love the separate areas built into the design. My husband takes his lunch to work in them, and I use it for on-the-go meals and snacks for my kids.
- Meal planning template - Download my collection of templates here.
- Document frame to hang your meal plan template (and these fine tip dry erase markers to fill it out)
- Write directly on your fridge with dry erase markers
- Meal planning workbook- Use this workbook and the system I discuss in this post to get familiar with meal planning and make meal planning work for you.
Tips for Meal planning success
- Do what works for you. You can plan as much or as little as you like in your meal plan. If you're a planner...plan, plan, plan! If you're not, just plan enough to keep the stress levels down. This worksheet works well for me and my family. But maybe printing a monthly calendar works better for you, or using a meal planning app on your phone works best.
- Remember your "why". Why are you meal planning in the first place? Remember your "why" to stay motivated week after week.
- I highly recommend taking a picture of your grocery list with your phone (even if you prefer to physically hold your paper grocery list). I can't tell you how many times I get into the grocery store and realize I left the list in the car. With two young kids in tow, I definitely appreciate having my "backup" on my phone.
- When you buy pre-made items at the store, I highly encourage you to read ingredient labels on the back of the package, not just the health claims on the front. Make sure you understand what you're putting in your body. And whenever possible, choose single ingredient foods. Learn more about what's wrong with processed food here.
Meal planning takes less than twenty minutes a week, but can impact your whole week by lowering stress and giving you a clear plan for your weekly meals.
Take the time to make a meal plan and you'll be glad you did!