Creating your dinner menu plan doesn’t have to be stressful! These 7 strategies will simplify the meal planning process and help you meal plan like a pro.
Planning out meals for the week is one of my favorite ways to save money on my grocery bill. Having a plan for each night keeps the dreaded “what’s for dinner” question answered. Because we all know that the “I don’t know” answer leads to ordering pizza, fast food, or going out for dinner!
If you’re brand new to meal planning (or have just found the planning process overwhelming), these seven strategies will simplify meal planning.
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1. Plan meals around your family’s schedule
Is your family busy with extracurricular activities like sports or scouts? When creating your meal plan for the week (or month), consider what days are hectic for your family.
Choose quick and easy to prepare meals for these busy days so you’ll stick to your meal plan.
2. Cook meals in batches
Batch cooking means making larger quantities of your meal at one time and saving the rest. You can take advantage of cooking and prepping food just once and eat twice (or more). Some meals freeze well and can be portioned out for the next meal.
Some meals I always prepare in bulk and freeze the extra: taco meat, sloppy joes, veggie burgers, stuffed shells, and crockpot meals. Most recipes can be adapted to freezing!
If freezer cooking isn’t your thing, the extra food you’ve prepared can turn into dinner the next night or the grown ups can bring it for lunch during the week.
3. Have a back-up plan
Despite the best laid plans, we all have days where we don’t feel like sticking to our planned menu. Whether it’s a bad day at work, a looming deadline, or sick kids, it’s okay to veer from the plan.
But on these tough days, we don’t want to break our budget with takeout, so we need a back-up plan. Keep one or two easy meals stocked so you know there’s always something easy for when it’s needed.
In my house the back up plan is pasta; I always keep an extra jar of sauce and box of pasta for when I need a quick and simple meal.
Sandwiches, soup, frozen pizza or even just a “fend for yourself night” are all easy ideas.
4. Simplify your meal plan with your family’s favorites
Does your family have certain meals that you make all the time? It’s simple to build a meal plan from these core meals.
Just rotate your family’s favorites when you build your meal plan.
5. Skip the schedule in your meal plan
Sometimes having a schedule of having tacos on Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, etc. can feel too restrictive and ruin your desire to meal plan.
Instead, create a list of meals for the week. Each day, you’ll pick whatever meal you are in the mood for off of your list.
6. Plan your meals around theme nights
Creating themes for your daily menu plan is a great way to simplify the meal planning process.
Each day of the week gets a theme. This theme could be a way of preparation, such as crockpot cooking; a certain type of food, such as soup; ethnic themes like Chinese; or a main ingredient, such as chicken. Once you’ve come up with the theme for each day, then it’s easy to find meals that fit in with those daily themes.
Theme nights example:
- Monday (Crockpot): Crockpot chicken & rice
- Tuesday (Italian): Spaghetti & meatballs
- Wednesday (Beef): Hamburgers
- Thursday (Leftovers): Leftovers from earlier in the week
- Friday (Soup & Sandwiches): Grilled cheese & tomato soup
- Saturday (Pork): Pork chops & baked potato
- Sunday (Seafood): Baked fish & roasted veggies
7. Use one pot (or pan)
Keep your meal plan simple with a night that includes a crockpot, instant pot, or sheet pan meal.
Nothing beats walking in the door at the end of a long day and having your crockpot meal ready to serve! Or throwing your favorite meat and veggies on a roasting pan to cook while you help the kids with their homework.
Ready to start meal planning?
READ MORE: How to Meal Plan