When it comes to planning and being organized, there are very few things that will have as big of an impact on your day (and how organized you feel) as meal planning.
Yeah, I said it, and I’m standing by it.
I have to admit, I resisted meal planning for so long. It wasn’t like I didn’t know how to meal plan… I just didn’t think it would help me.
I don’t really know why, I think it was because I felt like I didn’t want to be ‘stuck’ in eating whatever was on the meal plan, and would rather eat whatever I wanted at the time.
What that meant though was that I didn’t have to think of what to cook at the end of the day, I didn’t have to make another decision after decision fatigue had set in, and that I didn’t just give up and order take out.
If you’re here, it’s likely you’ve at least heard of meal planning, and you’re probably wondering if it’s right for you (and how to do it).
I promise, it’s a lot more simple than it sounds, so much so you can easily get your meal planning for a week done in less than 10 minutes (and those 10 minutes will save you hours so much time during the week!).
What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is just as it sounds, making a plan for what you’re going to eat on a daily basis.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be exactly the same each week or each month, and can change depending on your schedule and desires.
You can find all kinds of ready-made meal plans available online, often these are tied in with some sort of healthy eating or weight loss plan, but I’m all about keeping things simple and eating what I want to eat – plus creating your own meal plan is so simple.
It’s up to you as to how much you want to plan, often we will plan all of our meals for the week (at the very least) and we already have a decent idea of what the kids get for school lunches.
Breakfasts at our house are pretty simple (either scrambled eggs, or granola and yoghurt – easy) but you can include these in your meal plan too if you’d like to change things up a bit.
Why Should You Meal Plan?
Meal planning has so many benefits, here are just a few of my favorites:
– Meal planning saves you money because you know what you’re going to buy, plus it keeps food waste down.
– Meal planning saves you time, having your meal plan ready to go means no more last-minute dashes to the grocery store for ingredients or take out.
– Meal planning keeps you accountable, knowing what is on your meal plan for the week means you’re much less likely to just give up, give in to your busy schedules, and eat junk food.
– Meal planning saves you time in the kitchen. No more thinking about what to make at 5pm when you get home from work (especially if dinner was an afterthought before you left for work). Meal planning means you can even get your slow cooker to do all the hard work.
– Meal planning is a great way to get variety in your weekly menus, trying new recipes or different ingredients to keep things interesting.
– Meal planning reduces the time spent grocery shopping, making a list means you’re much less likely to wander up and down the isles aimlessly adding items into your trolley (and later onto your kitchen shelves). This is a HUGE bonus for me as I mega loathe grocery shopping.
That’s just some of the many, many reasons meal planning is your secret weapon of organization.
How To Choose Your Meal Planning Style
When you’re first looking at how to meal plan, the different ways can be overwhelming, but it’s up to you how closely you want to stick with your plan.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a science experiment, in fact I think it’s best when it’s not too strict – unless that’s what works for you.
When thinking about how you want to approach meal planning, think about your lifestyle and what your week looks like:
- Are you away most evenings with after school/sports/commitments?
- Do you stay out of town often, or travel?
- Do you work from home and need to include lunches?
- Do you like to eat a big breakfast?
- Do you commute and get home late?
- Do you have varying numbers of people to cook for each night?
After taking into consideration what your week looks like, you can choose your own meal planning style based on what suits you and your needs.
Here are some of the most common types of meal planning.
– Meal planning for the week which includes shopping lists and an organized fridge/pantry (my favorite and most simple way).
– Meal planning breakfast, lunch & dinner for the whole week.
– Meal planning just breakfast, lunch & dinner for one day at a time. This can work well if your schedule is all over the shop and you don’t have much consistency.
– Meal planning breakfast, lunch & dinner for the whole week which often works best if you work outside of the home and your schedule is set in stone.
– Meal planning the same meals every week, this is ideal for people who don’t like to cook or hate cooking, they can plan their meals using the same recipes every week. You can do a meal of the day type situation where you have Taco Tuesday or Saturday Stir Frys.
– Meal planning on a tight budget – if you want to save some money or are particularly needing to cut back your food budget, a great way is to really ‘eat down’ your pantry/freezer stock. A lot of the time you can create a whole heap of easy meals and simple recipes by using what you have and adding a few extra ingredients. Plus there’s about a million ways you can jazz up ground meat.
– Meal planning for a month at a time. This is some serious hard core meal planning and it works great if you’re on a budget as you can buy a lot of your staple products in bulk, then buy fresh produce as needed.
– Meal planning a majority of healthy meals and then planning for a ‘cheat meal’ or an unhealthy meal once a week. This can help you stay motivated to eat healthy and still enjoy the food you love to eat.
Whatever type of meal planning works for you, go with it!
Meal planning can be as simple or as complex as you like. Your only “rule” is to stick with it and don’t give up.
Before You Start Meal Planning
You’ve decided on your meal plan style, you know what to expect every day of the week and now it’s time to get your game face on.
Before you start planning there are a few things you need to do first. You can do these each week and they only take a minute or two each:
Take Inventory Of Your Pantry
Simply go through your pantry and take note of what is there.
Do you have any items that are going out of date soon that need to be used (or have already gone out of date and need to be tossed)?
Do you have a stash of items in a corner that you’ve forgotten about/couldn’t see?
Do you need to restock your staples like grains and spices?
You may want to move things around so it’s easier to see the items that need to be used soon.
Take Inventory Of Your Fridge/Freezer
Have a look in your fridge and freezer, especially if you have a deep freeze, and take inventory of what you have.
What needs to be used?
What have you stored in your freezer and never used (mental note – don’t buy that again)?
Make a note of any meat that you already have/needs to be used as this can help form the base for your meal plan for the week.
Have In Mind Your Go To Meals
We all have meals we love to make and know how to make without giving much thought. They’re the ones everyone loves and are so darn tasty.
Make a note somewhere (I usually keep a little note tab) of all of your quick and easy to go meals and favorite recipes. They can be healthy meals, quick meals, meatless meals, whatever you know and love making.
It’s a good idea to have a list of easy recipes to fall back on when you have a busy week and need quick meals, or when you’re just out of inspiration and aren’t sure what to plan for the week.
Add in some healthy recipes, recipes you can batch cook, and a good instant pot recipe or two and you’ll have a great little recourse meals you can use for your own weekly meal plan.
How To Create Your Meal Plan In 10 Minutes
Now it’s time to create your meal plan.
We’ve probably used around 4-5 minutes so far to take inventory of our pantry and fridge/freezer.
It really doesn’t take long to do a quick scan through, but if you’re just starting out you may have done a bit deeper of an inventory – that’s okay.
This is where the magic happens though! The next few minutes are going to save you hours this week!
Here’s how you do it:
Step 1 – Choose How Long You Want To Meal Plan For
While we are talking about meal planning for a week, you may choose to do yours for more or less time based on your needs.
Some people like to meal plan as per their pay cycles so they only have to do one main grocery shop.
Choose how long you want to meal plan for and make sure you have a meal planner to suit.
Step 2 – Look At Your Calendar
Looking ahead at your calendar, mark as a note on your meal planner any days where you’ll be late home, away from home, or when there are other meal considerations to be made.
On days you’ll be late home or away from home, make a note of these days to be ‘leftovers’ and make a note of how many ‘double’ meals you’ll need to make during the week to cover these leftover meals.
Make note of any other events in the upcoming week that you need to consider when meal planning.
Step 3 – Add In The Meals You Want To Eat For The Week
Using the inventory list you took earlier as inspiration, add in the meals you want to eat this week.
If you’re stuck you can always refer back to your go to meals you wrote out earlier.
Step 4 – Create Your Grocery List
One of the best ways to keep your grocery budget in check is to stick to a shopping list when buying your groceries.
To do this with your planning, write down the ingredients you’ll need to make the meals on your meal plan and mark off any ingredients you already have.
What is left on the list gets added to your grocery list for the week.
If saving money is a goal of yours, consider buying items like meat and staples in bulk, and then using the excess items as the base for your meal plan the following week.
Step 5 – Display Your Meal Plan For The Week
After you’ve completed your meal plan, be sure to display it somewhere in a place where you will see it daily.
This is especially important if you have a family as hanging it up allows everyone to see what’s happening for dinner that day.
No more running out of ideas or complaining about what’s for dinner!
Step 6 – Cook, Eat, Enjoy
Now that you have a meal plan to work from, enjoy cooking and eating your meals knowing that they don’t have to be difficult or time consuming.
Don’t stress if you deviate from your plan or if something happens to change what you’d planned. These things happen.
Instead just jump back into the planning process and pick it up again the next day.
How To Use Our Meal Planning Template
We’ve included a FREE Meal Planning Template for you to get you started with your meal planning.
Print off the template as much as you’d like, or you can even print it and frame it, then use dry erase markers to write on the glass.
You can download your copy of the Meal Planning Template here:
Things To Consider When Meal Planning
Now you’ve got the basics of meal planning down pat, there are a few things you can consider that can help you get the most out of your meal planning time:
Cook More, Less Often
Even those of us who love to cook, get frustrated at having to cook every night, over and over again, especially when we have a whole lot of other things the demand out attention through the week.
So my go to is to cook more, less often.
I will often cook a double (or more) batch of dinner one night and freeze or repeat the meal through the week.
This is an easy way to get ahead on your meal planning as you can cook more one week, meaning you’ll be able to cook less the next week, using a whole bunch of freezer meals to save you even more time.
Use Versatile Basics
Versatile basics are ingredients that form the base of other meals.
For example, boiled eggs can become egg salad, hard boiled eggs, or even part of an egg casserole.
Canned tuna can become a tuna salad sandwich, a tuna pasta bake, or a tuna melt.
Eggs and avocado can be put into an omelette, an egg salad sandwich, or a breakfast taco.
Grated cheese can be added to almost anything from pasta bakes to popcorn.
Using versatile basics means you can buy in bulk (and save money) and make simple tweaks to meals to create a whole new dish.
Often these basics will form the main ingredients in your recipe and can help you create a quick meal, or a whole range of different meals by simply changing out a few ingredients.
Create a Staples Pantry/Fridge/Freezer List
The best way to save money is to only buy the ingredients you need.
Create a list of staple items for your pantry, fridge, and freezer so that you don’t overbuy things or let them go bad.
When you run out of something, take note so that next time you can head to the store with a list of the things you need to buy.
Be sure to have a whole heap of healthy foods on your list to keep you motivated with healthy eating habits, and that you can create simple meals in little time rather than eating fast food or peanut butter sandwiches.
Freeze As You Go
As we mentioned earlier, if you cook a double batch of a meal, make extras to freeze for later.
You can even try freezing only the sauce or mix and adding fresh ingredients when you need to make it.
This will really help you cut down on waste as well as save time during the week since all your meals are already made for you!
If you have access to a good local farmers market, you could even buy seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and freeze them too!
Plan As Little Or As Much As You Want
Most importantly, remember that meal planning is not a rigid event. Meal planning can be as flexible or inflexible as you like it to be.
If you’d prefer to simply buy foods for the week and work with what’s fresh in season each day – that’s fine! Meal planning is something that can change with your needs and life.
It’s designed to help you create a structure and save money. Meal planning isn’t about perfection and rules, it’s about saving you time, saving you money, and using your planning and organizing skills to give you more control over your day.
Find A Meal Plan Timeline That Works For You
We spoke earlier about how to choose your meal planning style but don’t feel like you have to stick to it if it’s not working for you.
Try different styles, see what works for you, and tweak as you need.
It’s easy to overcomplicate meal planning in our heads, making it out to be a big time consuming task.
But the truth is, you can create a meal plan for a week in less than 10 minutes that is going to leave you feeling like you have more control over you day and give you more time back in your week.
By following these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to successful meal planning and saving yourself a lot of time while eating delicious meals.
I hope this article has helped you work out how to meal plan in a way that works for you and helps you to save time, save money, be a little more organized and a little less stressed.