Meal planning may be a trendy topic with various iterations, but it serves real and valuable purposes.
Many people create meal plans to stay within a specific budget, or to save time, or to ensure they are choosing healthy meals.
Whatever your reason(s) for planning your menu and grocery list, I am excited you are here to get started!
How to Use a Weekly Menu Planner
Step 1: Know Your Schedule
Each week, I start with a blank weekly planner. The first thing I add is any important events that will impact meals.
This includes any nights we won’t be home or will have company.
PS: I created a free weekly meal planner printable for anyone who joins the weekly Polished Habitat Insiders email newsletter. Just fill in the box below to get yours. It has spots to plan your breakfast lunch and dinner.
Also, the amount of time you have to cook will vary by day based on your prior commitments. I always start with my print out in front of our calendar before moving into the kitchen.
It’s imperative to be realistic about the time you have to make dinner. Many times we find ourselves eating out because whatever we’ve planned to cook isn’t feasible.
Step 2: Know Yourself
You should also plan around your levels of motivation. If you’re like me, you are less motivated to make a time-intensive dinner on Monday nights.
To work around this, I will plan an easy dinner that uses the slow cooker or schedule a frozen pizza night so I am not stressed and frazzled trying to prepare dinner when I’m not particularly motivated to do so.
Along those same lines, you can prepare larger meals to have leftovers for those days where you know you’ll be tired or too busy to prepare anything.
Feel free to use this Easy Baked Ziti recipe! It’s perfect when you need leftovers.
Step 3: Know Your Pantry & Freezer
Once I have my calendar filled with the week’s important events, I like to take inventory of my pantry, freezer, and fridge to see what I already have to work with.
I like to look at meal planning as a challenge. I have x, y, and z, what can I make with this? Some of my best and most creative meals come from using what I discover.
As an added bonus, this will help keep your pantry clean and organized, and also save you some money.
Now that you have your calendar, and you know what you already have, compare your list to recipes/ meals you want to make.
Grocery Shopping Tips
Create a shopping list for the week based on the meals you plan to make. Don’t forget to add healthy snacks to your planner and shopping list!
Now it’s time to prepare to shop. Look at your local grocery ads. All your local grocery stores have ads available online, and even through their mobile apps.
Some stories will still deliver ads to your doorstep, too. Look through the ads searching for the specific ingredients you need. Then look at what meat and produce is on sale.
Meat and produce end up being the most expensive components of any meal, so planning around the sales will certainly help you stay on budget.
Once you’ve planned and shopped, it’s time to organize your pantry and get started prepping your first meal!
Bonus Tips that Help with Our Meal Planning
I like to order my groceries online and pick them up myself. This requires a little planning and forethought, but trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll time and money because you won’t be trolling through the grocery store.
Be open to switching up your meals to accommodate changes in your calendar. All good planners are flexible and able to adapt to changing schedules.
Have a Back-Up Plan
You know those weeks everything goes to heck and you haven’t planned at all or are just not in the mood to cook?
Sometimes we forget that it really is easier to throw together a quesadilla, BLT, or fried eggs and toast than it is to get in the car and drive to pick something up.
We also fall back on what we call Dip Duo night – hummus (either this Mediterranean hummus or store-bought) and guacamole or pimento cheese). It’s the perfect low-stress meal when we’ve had a big lunch.
Consider a Little Help
We’ve tried several of the meal boxes like Blue Apron & Home Chef. Working those into our weekly meal plan is a great little short cut that also helps us avoid turning to fast food. Since those meals are normally more elaborate (and more expensive per serving), we balance them out with inexpensive easy meals the other nights of the week.
Like I said before, planning beforehand may take extra time and effort, but you will see that it is a valuable tool to save you time and money.
I’m excited to see how meal planning can help you! Please share any of your own tips below!
Lori K says
My weekly meal planning process is very similar. However, I’ll glance through the grocery ads prior to actually deciding on the dinner menu. Many times, the meats on sale will help me formulate my menu. I’ve found that meal-planning first often leads to significant menu changes, because of what’s on sale — for example, if I’m thinking about stuffed pork chops for a dinner, but another cut is on special for significantly less, I’ll switch things up. Easier to write the menu once, rather than erase or write over it. Just my thoughts.
Sue Coles says
I like to cook once and eat 2, 3, or 4 times. The freezer usually holds several boxes of soup as well as the main part of the meal. Of course, if we liked it enough to eat again the next day we can swap lunch for dinner or the other way round. Makes life hugely easier.