How To Meal Plan

I love sharing my 7 day healthy meal plans with you, and many people have reached out to ask me how I meal plan so I thought it was about time that I wrote a post explaining how to meal plan!
How to Meal Plan: Easy Healthy Meal Plans made easy, plus a free printable grocery list

There really is more than one “right” way to meal plan, and it all starts on what your goals are with meal planning.

Are you meal planning…

… to cut down on your food waste?

… to eliminate or reduce take-out, delivery, or restaurant meals?

… to increase balance, or healthy options?

… to help your budget?

… to make less decisions throughout the day and be more organized?

Whatever your reason(s) for meal planning, they are going to effect what strategies you employ to create a meal plan that works for you and your family.

For example, if your goal is to cut down on food waste, you’re going to prioritize what you already have on hand and try to be creative with those items.

If you are trying to budget, you’re going to potentially shop the sales and look for creative meals using frugal ingredients.


Know What You Need

  1. Look at Your Schedule
  2. Check the weather
  3. Outline your needs

Take a look at your schedule and assess how many meals you need, and what kind of meals are practical for you. Are there some nights that will work better if you have a crockpot meal planned? Do you have time for that elaborate two-hour recipe that you have pinned?

Look for nights that have other obligations, or are typically hairy nights for your family’s routine. For us, Monday nights are rough so I always plan to use left-overs from Sunday’s supper.

Even on nights that you won’t be able to stop off at home to pick up a prepared meal, you can still avoid take-out by investing in a cooler or a portable crockpot. I personally don’t have a problem with planning to use take-out meals occassionally, but it is different when you plan on it versus having to resort to take-out from sheer desperation, and if you’re thinking about take-out in advance you’re more likely to plan for balanced choices. I personally love hitting up the deli counter at a grocery store, and often you can pay at the counter rather than get into a cashier line.

Also, if you’re meal planning for health or dietary reasons, write those out and keep them in mind while meal planning. Schedule in the difficult items first to ensure that they are covered.


Consider a System

Do you want to have a new plan every week?

Do you like having “themes” for each day to have structured variety? (I.e., Soup Saturdays? Fish Fridays?)

Would you prefer to have a set menu that cycles throughout the month?

Would you prefer to have a list of meals that your groceries can make and pick what appeals to you on any given day?


Also, where do you want your meal inspiration to come from? Do you have several stand-bys that you like to use? Are you a Pinterest fanatic like me? Do you like to go with what’s seasonal (and possibly on sale)? Or, are you a cookbook lover?

Grab our free grocery list printable here:



(Meal) Plan It Out!

Based on what was discussed above, follow these basic steps to get started:

  1. Write down what types of meals you need (i.e., “one soup, one fish dish, etc” OR “one quick meal before hockey, one large family meal with leftovers on the weekend”)
  2. Go through your cupboards and fridge and figure out what that can be used for, or if one or two extra ingredients can form what you already have into a meal
  3. Grab your recipe box, your computer, your flyers — whatever it is that you are using for inspiration — and start slotting meals in. Keep in mind the preparation needed, how big the servings will be (will you have planned leftovers? will you need side dishes?), and what you’ll do if a new recipe fails.
  4. Keep an ongoing list of needed grocery items as you go through recipes and add them to that week (or month’s) meal plan. Double check it.
  5. After grocery shopping, reevaluate and make any necessary changes before finalizing your meal plan. You can set phone alerts, post it to the fridge, or hide it in a cupboard. Just make sure it’s written down and accessible.


Stick With It

As you go through your first few weeks of meal planning, be aware of what you are struggling with, and re-evaluate what works for you.

Trouble-shoot your problem areas, for example, maybe you can prepare several ingredients or snacks right after grocery shopping to save on prep time throughout the week. Maybe you overestimate how much food your family consumes in a week and have been overbuying, leading to food waste.


At first, meal planning can seem time consuming, and the initial time investment of figuring out your system and making weekly plans can seem that way, but I guarantee you that in the long term you will save time and be happier with the food that you are preparing and eating.

Rather than think about what we’re going to eat at every meal time, I plan things out once per week and look forward to the upcoming meals knowing that all of my ingredients are assembled and waiting. I don’t worry during the week about a lack of balance as I’ve already thought that through. I get to have fun making food for my family, rather than stress if I’ll have it done in time.

And most of all, I’m proud of the food that I set in front of my daughter every mealtime, knowing that I have developed a nourishing diet and lifestyle for our family through sustainable meal planning.

How to Meal Plan: Easy Healthy Meal Plans made easy, plus a free printable grocery list

Check out our 7 day healthy meal plans plus printable grocery lists and please subscribe to receive these, plus hands-on learning ideas, parenting inspiration, and recipes straight to your e-mail inbox once per week.

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  1. Wow, this is well-considered and thorough!
    I’ve got a calendar in the kitchen that I use for keeping track of meal plans, and I find that it is helpful as a history for future planning. I’m your neighbor today at Women with intention.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I desperately need to get better at meal planning, but it just doesn’t come naturally for me! I am taking small steps. Thanks for the further motivation. You included great reasons for meal planning!

    Visiting from Women With Intention. 🙂

  3. I’m a big fan of meal planning and having a menu. I love that you mention to check the weather. In the winter, I don’t bother. But once it starts getting warmer, I like to not plan grilling on a rainy day or plan an oven meal on a 90 degree day.

    (visiting from WholeHearted Wedneday)

    1. Thanks for visiting, Julie! That’s exactly it, plus sometimes I’d prefer comfort food depending on the weather, or I find the kids may be acting a certain way because they’ve been running around outside all day.

  4. I love meal planning, especially when another mom does it for me, LOL! Great post! Will pin it for sure!

    1. It really is one of those things that’s hard to get into, but once it’s part of your routine, it’s sooo essential and easy to upkeep. I just stared some meal plan printables 😉

  5. Great post! When I first started meal planning I wrote a list of “Meals We Like to Eat” and I was totally surprised at how long it was, primarily because we were essentially stuck in a rut eating the same six or seven meals and I was BORED! by writing that list, I was reminded of some old favorites. Then, like a previous commenter, I used a calendar to track a meal’s worth of meals and see where we had repetitions. Now, I’m much more likely to use the system you described above – it’s so helpful for making meal time smooth and keeping my shopping within our budget. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks for sharing great ideas about meal planning. Its funny how much life has changed since we were little. This is probably what our parents just did and didn’t have to think twice about it. I had a home-cooked meal every night growing up. Today our lives have changed so much and are so packed full useful and useless activities that we forget what is important. The basics. Thanks for the reminders and tips.

    1. It’s truly amazing all of the work that goes into just having that routine work day after day. It really makes you appreciate what we had, and those simple basics 🙂

  7. OH, I need to do so much better on the planning and sticking to it! THANKS for this great post and bringing it to the Wonderful Wed. Blog Hop. I featured it on my FB page. Carrie, A Mother’s Shadow

  8. Hi Jennifer, thank you for sharing this with the Pinteresting Pintastic Party last week, I featured it as one of my favorites this week. Swing by to see it, grab your badge, and share with us again! Thank you!

  9. your post really helped me and all the diffrent lists are making abig diffarence in the way i am working at home
    thanks and keep up the good work you are doing here

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