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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, 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.
In this post I’ll provide some awesome meal planning resources, including FREE simple meal planning templates that you can use to make your own meal plans!
What is Meal Planning?
Before we talk about how to meal plan. Let’s define what meal planning is?
Meal planning is:
- Taking 20 minutes to think through meals for the week ahead
- Make one grocery shopping trip for the whole week (save time by making only one trip to the store)
- Follow the plan you made throughout the week (and save time and stress by doing so).
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 a little 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!
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.
But I couldn’t do any meal planning without somewhere to keep track of it all.
FREE 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.
Why Meal Plan?
Before you start to meal plan, figure out why you want to in the first place. Do you want to…
- Save money?
- Eat healthier?
- Focus on eating real food again (instead of the processed stuff?)
- 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.
Meal Planning Resources
So we’ve got our template. If you’re not sure you like the format of this template, don’t worry. There are SO many meal planning templates out there, here are 10 other styles you might like better than this one. Find one that works with your situation. If you prefer an Excel meal plan template, read this post!
Tools to Make Meal Planning Easier
Meal Plans You Can Buy
If you’re just getting started meal planning, or if meal planning 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.
The Prep Dish motto: Shop once, prep once, enjoy stress-free meals all week.
Related: 5 Digital Meal Planning Templates
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. 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’.
Make a Meal Plan Of Your Own!
You can use the resources above to get you started with ideas or you can come up with your own ideas to go in your meal plan. When you sit down to make your meal plan, here’s how I recommend going about it.
- Print out your meal planning template pdf
- Brainstorm to think through what ingredients you have and what meals you want.
- Fill in your template with your menu for the week.
- Write out your grocery list.
- Plan out your weekly cooking schedule. Is there anything you need to make ahead to make it happen?
- Go grocery shopping and follow the plan!
Print out your meal planning template
Print out your meal planning template
After you print out your meal planning template, we need to brainstorm. 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.
Make Your Meal Plan
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.
Make your Grocery List
Now that you have your meal plan, 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.
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.
Put your meal plan on display
Next, find somewhere to put your meal plan for easy reference. If you sign up and get my Kitchen Organization Bundle, you’ll get two templates. One for brainstorming and planning, and one that is a little simpler to hang up. Frame it and hang it on a wall.
Tips for Success
Now that you have the meal planning template and some resources to help you find meal ideas, you’re ready to get started!
Here are a few more tips to make meal planning go as smoothly as possible 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. Find a system that works for you. This worksheet works well for me and my family. But maybe printing a monthly calendar works better for you, or using an app on your phone works best. I highly recommend Prep Dish.
- Remember your “why”. Why are you meal planning in the first place? This will help motivate you to do it weekly and make it a sustainable habit in your weekly routine.
- 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.
- These glass containers make it easy to prep meals for the week in advance. They even have dividers to keep everything fresh.
- When you buy pre-made items at the store, I would 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.
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!
Ready to tackle meal planning? Sign up here to get the templates!