Inside: Tired of wondering what’s for dinner and rushing out for fast food…again? Here’s the best meal planning schedule that will save you both time and money.
With a crying kid strapped to your leg, you groggily look at the clock. 6:38 p.m. Ugh. It’s less than an hour until the kids’ bedtime and you still don’t know what you’re going to cook for dinner.
You load up the kids into the car, drive to the nearest drive-through to grab a quick bite. Hurrying home, you shove food in front of your kids and scold them for playing with toys at the table. “Will you just 👏 eat 👏 already👏?!” you cry as you rush around to fill up cups of water.
After what feels like a thousand years have passed, the kids finish eating and you scarf something down before running to brush their teeth and usher kids into bed.
Exhausted, you flop down on the couch and think “There’s got to be a better way!”
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you there is a better way. For years, I resisted the thought of having a meal planning schedule, viewing it as too restrictive. I wanted to be free and roam with the wind!
But instead of freedom, my lack of planning resulted in dinners that were rushed, stressful and most times unhealthy.
Having a meal planning schedule not only helps you decrease overwhelm of what to eat every night, but it can also save you a ton of time and money. In this post, I’ll walk you step by step through the process to create a meal planning schedule that works for your life and your family.
How to Create a Meal Planning Schedule and Crush Overwhelm
#1: Create a list of recipes.
The first thing you want to do is sit down and create a list of all the meals you and your family like to eat.
First, start off with a brain dump. Write down anything that comes to your mind — don’t judge the ideas or immediately state why they wouldn’t work. The goal is to get all your ideas down onto paper.
Next, take that list and circle or highlight the best recipes. The ones your family gobbles up with no complaint. The ones that are a joy to cook or super quick.
Write a list of these recipes with a note as to where you can find them. (i.e. “The Pioneer Woman’s cookbook, p. 25” or “My Pinterest board, ‘Favorite recipes’”)
These recipes become the foundation of your meal planning schedule. They’re your go-to recipes.
#2: Pick recipes for the upcoming week.
What are the recipes you want to cook this week? You may be wondering, “How many recipes should I choose?” and really, the answer is up to you.
You may be out of the house certain nights and decide to grab food on the go. You may also have tons of leftovers from cooking a big meal that will last you a couple of days.
We plan meals for 6 nights of the week. On the 7th night, we eat frozen pizzas we keep on hand. This allows for flexibility. If we have a ton of food left over, we’ll eat that and save the pizzas for the next week.
Pick as many or as few recipes as you like. If it’s too much or not enough, you can adjust week to week until you find what works for you.
The point is not to do everything perfectly. The point is to create a plan so you aren’t stuck with the stress of having to figure out what to cook every night. Without a plan, you risk wasting food, getting frustrated or cooking some weird concoction with the stuff you had on hand. 🍽️
As Harry S. Truman said, “Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” In other words, any plan is better than having no plan at all.
#3: Schedule meals.
Look at your schedule for the upcoming week. Do you have busy days that require an easy meal or eating leftovers?
Take the list of recipes you want to cook this week and schedule them out, day by day. You’ll also want to take into consideration things that spoil easily. Cook those meals earlier in the week.
#4: Write a shopping list.
Go through your recipes and write up a list of ingredients you have to buy from the store. If you know what you have off the top of your head, you can omit those items as you go.
If you don’t know what you have on hand (🙋♀️ I never do!), go ahead and quickly write down all the ingredients in your recipes with the quantities you need for each. Trust me and write down all the ingredients, even if you think you might have it already.
After you’ve written up your whole list, go through your fridge and pantry in one fell swoop and cross items off the list if you have enough of it on hand.
#5: Go grocery shopping.
One tip that can make your shopping trip go quicker is to organize your list by general area.
This is the path I take when I go grocery shopping: produce, bread, eggs, canned goods, dairy/deli, and lastly meat. I write my list so the items are in loose order based on my path. That means I avoid zig zagging all over the store, even if zig zagging means I get more steps in. 😉 🚶♀️
#6: Prep ingredients.
What are the things you can prep ahead of time? Here are some ideas:
- Wash and cut veggies.
- Cook rice.
- Marinate meat.
- Group items for the same recipe together.
Prepping as much as you can ahead of time greatly reduces the stress you deal with in the evenings. You can prep while the kids are napping or busy playing.
#7: Eat the same meals.
I know a lot of people aren’t a fan of eating the same thing every week, but you guys, this is probably one of my best tips for saving time and cutting down on frustration.
If you pick a group of meals to cook over and over, it will make it easier to cook. You’ll start to learn by memory what the ingredients are and the steps you need to take to prepare the meal.
For us, we have a weekly meal plan that is pretty much the same every week. Every few months, we’ll update the meal planning schedule with meals that are appropriate for the season.
Once you’ve been meal planning for a few weeks or a few months, create a master plan with recipes that are tried and true. From this list of recipes, you can create a master list of ingredients, so you don’t have to write it up every week.
If you don’t like eating the same thing every week, you could have 2-4 of these master plans and rotate them to mix things up.
Creating a meal planning schedule can save you a lot of time and money!
It may seem boring and time-intensive to sit down and create a meal planning schedule. But doing it once can save you a ton of time and frustration when it comes to getting dinner on the table, all while having a crying kid strapped to your leg. (Sorry, I can’t help with that! 😂)
The mantra I repeat over and over is “Focus on progress, not perfection.” This may not be easy for you in the first couple of weeks (or months). Each week, focus on getting a little bit better and making dinner time a little less stressful.