Meal Planning Made Simple (plus a free printable!)

Need help planning your meals but don’t know where to start? Then you’re in the right place! Don’t miss these meal planning tips complete with my free printable meal planning sheet! 

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Do you ever feel stressed trying to figure out what to cook for your family for supper each day?

If that’s a feeling you know all too well, then a meal plan is exactly what you need!

Instead of aimlessly staring into the abyss of your refrigerator hoping to find a handful of ingredients that you can quickly toss together and call a meal, why not spend a little bit of time on the front end planning your meals so suppertime is a breeze? It really isn’t that hard, I promise. ๐Ÿ™‚

After trying several different meal planning methods, I finally figured out a system that works well for me. I’ve been using this system for a few years now, and I really don’t know how I ever managed without it! Since it works so well for me, I have a feeling it will work well for you too. Let me share it with you!

Meal Planning Made Simple

By following these easy steps, you’ll be able to tackle meal planning like a pro and save yourself time, energy, and money in the process! Let’s dive right in.

1. Set up a schedule

Decide what day you want to designate as your meal planning day. Since I typically do my grocery shopping on Monday morning, I like to work on my meal plan on Sunday afternoon. This ensures that my shopping list is ready to go first thing on Monday.

You should also decide how often you need to grocery shop. Since we eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with our mostly plant-based lifestyle, I need to shop weekly. If you don’t want to grocery shop every week, you can plan out your meals for two weeks at a time.

Related: Why We Transitioned to a Plant-based Lifestyle

2. Print off my free meal planning sheet

You can easily write out your meal plan on a blank sheet of paper, but I find that using a printable meal planning sheet really helps keep things organized. You can get my free meal planning sheet at the end of this post!

I like to print off several meal planning sheets at a time so I always have a new one for next week.

The left side of the sheet has boxes for you to write down the meals you plan to cook each day of the week. The right side of the sheet serves as your grocery list. It’s even organized by category so you can shop more efficiently!

3. Fill in the meal plan portion of your meal planning sheet

Decide what you’ll cook each day based on the ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry. I call this “shopping the kitchen.” Shopping the kitchen keeps you from wasting food and money by using up the ingredients you already have on hand.

In our family of two, I find that I usually have ingredients left over from the previous week’s grocery shopping trip.

For example, if I only needed a few potatoes for a particular recipe last week, then I probably have half a bag of potatoes left in my pantry. For this week’s meal plan, I’ll try to include a recipe that uses up the rest of those potatoes so they don’t go bad.

You may not run into this scenario quite as often if you have a larger family, but I’m sure you still have some ingredients left over that you could use in this week’s meal plan.

Not sure what to include in your meal plan? 

If you can’t figure out what to include in your meal plan, then search for some new recipes online or in a cookbook. Pinterest is a great resource for finding all sorts of recipes!

If you want to include more healthy recipes in your meal plan, I highly recommend The Garden Grazer’s website. I’ve been overly impressed with almost every recipe I’ve tried so far! She’s my go-to when I want to try something new.

Some of our favorite Garden Grazer recipes include Asian Spaghetti, Avocado Quesadillas, French Bread Pizza, Vegetable Lo Mein, Orzo Salad, and Minestrone Soup. All are fantastic!

Related: 15 Plant-based Recipes You Need to Try

Bonus Tip: I like to keep a master list of all the recipes we enjoy in my Meal Planning Binder. Having a big list to choose from keeps me from cooking the same meals every week!

4. Fill in the shopping list portion of your meal planning sheet

Once you fill in your meal plan with the recipes you want to cook this week, you need to make your shopping list.

Starting with the meals you plan to cook on Sunday, read through every single recipe and check your kitchen to see if you already have the ingredients. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, write it in the appropriate category on the shopping list.

Writing down ingredients as you read through each recipe ensures that you have everything you need when it’s time to cook. No more discovering that you’re out of onions thirty minutes before suppertime!

5. Take your meal plan with you

When it’s time to go to the grocery store, bring your meal planning sheet with you. I like to carry mine on a clipboard so the page is a little more manageable.

And even though I’ve never actually seen anyone else carrying a clipboard around in the grocery store, I’ve never received any funny looks from other shoppers. Well, not that I’m aware of. ๐Ÿ˜‰

If we’re being totally honest, most people are just too busy to even notice, so don’t feel silly if you want to carry a clipboard with you too.

Related Post: 3 Grocery Shopping Tricks You Need to Try this Weekend

Related Post: What to Expect From Lidl (my first trip to Aldi’s competitor)

6. Display your meal plan

After you finish grocery shopping, put your meal plan on your fridge or somewhere else where you can easily see it. Each morning, look at your meal plan so you’ll know what to cook that day. This is especially helpful if you need to thaw a frozen ingredient.

Back when I cooked meat on a regular basis, I was the world’s worst frozen-meat-thawer. 5:00pm would arrive and I’d discover that I had planned to cook meatloaf for supper. Do you know where the ground beef was? In a frozen block in my freezer.

Not only did I waste precious time defrosting ingredients, but I also caused myself extra work in the cooking process.

In case you didn’t know, defrosted ground beef straight from the microwave will NOT form a loaf (or patties. or whatever else you want to mold it into). It needs to be cold to hold its form.

So I had to defrost the ground beef and then let it chill in the fridge to get nice and cold again. Talk about a lot of wasted time and unnecessary stress!

Get in the habit of checking your meal plan first thing in the morning so you can do any necessary prep work BEFORE it’s time to cook.

7. Keep a running list for next week

I actually keep two meal planning sheets on my fridge at all times. The first one is this week’s sheet, and the second one is for next week. As we use up ingredients, we write them on next week’s sheet so I don’t forget to buy more. I call this our “running grocery list.”

Let me tell you why we started keeping a running grocery list.

I can remember getting up one Thanksgiving morning and heading to the kitchen to make deviled eggs. My family has a serious thing for deviled eggs, and I’m always the one in charge of bringing them to the family lunch.

When I opened the fridge, I discovered that I BARELY had enough mayo to make them. I really had to scrape every. single. bit. out of that jar, and even then the eggs were a tad dry.

Needless to say, I was stressed out!

I didn’t know we were low on mayo (we had plenty when I last checked), and by the time I realized it, it was too late to buy more. 

Because of this incident, when we get low on a particular item or ingredient, we go ahead and write it on next week’s grocery list. We (almost) never run out of ingredients these days because I replenish them before they run out.

It’s especially helpful to get your family on board with a running grocery list. If your husband uses the last of the ketchup but doesn’t write it on next week’s grocery list, you have no way of knowing that you need to buy more.

It takes a little bit of training, but the system runs so much more smoothly when everyone sticks with it.

Meal Planning Printable

And now for the free meal planning printable I promised you! You can get it here.

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it! Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. By spending a little bit of time planning out your weekly meals, you can save money, waste less food, and eliminate that stressful feeling of not knowing what to cook for your family at suppertime.

Other posts you may enjoy

Do you have any meal planning tips? Let me know in the comments!

XO, Summer

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