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Simple Meal Planning | How to meal plan in just minutes a week

Learn my simple meal planning method that only takes me a few minutes a week


I’m sure you’ve heard it many times…

If you want to save money, time, and frustration at dinner time, then you need to start meal planning.

But creating meal plans every week takes forever and seems to cause you more frustration. So what’s the point!!

That’s because you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be.

If you’re new to meal planning, or if you’ve tried to create meal plans in the past but failed, then you need to learn this simple meal planning method so that you can create your weekly meal plan in just minutes a week instead of hours.

53% of dinners are planned within an hour of eating

Benefits of Meal Planning

Before we dive into the simple meal planning method that’s going to save you hours creating a meal plan every week, let’s look at all the benefits meal planning has to offer.

As mentioned, the 3 main benefits of meal planning are to save time, money, and frustration or stress. But how?

  • Planning your meals for the week can help you to manage your time better
  • Reduces the amount of food waste since you have a plan for everything you buy at the grocery store
  • Reduces the stress of trying to figure out what meals you can throw together with the food you have on hand
  • Know exactly what you need to add to your grocery shopping list 
  • Allows you to choose healthier meal options instead of turning to processed or junk food
  • Adds variety to your meals
  • Saves multiple trips to the grocery store since you’re buying everything you need in one trip
  • Avoid unhealthy fast food or take out because you have no idea what to make
  • Allows you to take advantage of lower grocery prices and shop sales since you know exactly what you’ll need

As you can see, the benefits of meal planning are worth the time. Of course, if you follow my simple meal planning method then it’ll take you just minutes a week so there’s no excuse…

What to Consider When Creating a Meal Plan

Now, before we get into my simple meal planning method, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before getting started.

By taking these things into consideration now, you’ll save a lot of frustration by having to rearrange your weekly meal plan. Or ditch it all together…

Take your schedule into consideration

The first thing you’ll want to take into consideration when making a meal plan is your schedule. Specifically, what days do you have things going on that might not allow for much meal prep time.

For example, if you work later than usual on a certain day of the week or you have to taxi your kids to sports practices or other activities, you’ll have less time to make dinner so you’ll want to plan to make some quick meal ideas on those days.

Your abilities and time needed to make meals

One of the biggest mistakes people make when creating a meal plan is making it more complicated than it needs to be. They search Pinterest or the internet for new recipes that they’d like to try out.

The problem with this is that you really don’t know what goes into making those meal ideas. Then if the recipes are too difficult, use ingredients that you can’t find at your local grocery store, take forever to make,  they ditch their plans or give up on meal planning altogether.

Instead, stick to tried and true meals that you’ve made in the past and that you know your family loves to eat.

Simple meal planning lunchbox ideas

 

Special occasions and events

Next, you’ll want to consider special circumstances that go on. For example, if your family always has dinner at grandma’s on Sundays, then you don’t need to meal plan for those days.

Or if you’re family always has homemade pizza on Friday nights, then you know you need to pencil that into your meal plan every week.

Your grocery budget

Lastly, you’ll want to keep your grocery budget in mind. For example, if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll want to create a meal plan around the cheapest foods and recipe ideas.

Make sure to add some cheap meal ideas or meatless meals to your meal plan to keep costs down.

Simple meal Planning white board with veggies surrounding it on a counter

Which meals to plan

Another thing you’ll want to decide before getting started is which meals are you going to plan for? Are you just going to plan dinner or will you include breakfast, lunch, and snacks too?

I suggest you start with the meals that cause you the biggest headaches during the week. For most people that’s supper time but not always. If breakfast time is chaos, then, by all means, start with those meals. 

Once you have that running like clockwork, work on making a meal plan for all meals for the family to get the biggest time savings from meal planning.


Not sure what is a reasonable grocery budget for your family? Use our handy grocery budget calculator to use as a grocery budget guide.


Meal Planning notebook on top of vegetables

 

Simple Meal Planning

Now that we know what to take into consideration and the benefits of meal planning, it’s time to create your simple meal plan to save time, money, and frustration.

The main goal of my simple meal planning method is to make it repeatable so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week or month.

This way, once you’ve created a master meal plan, all you’ll need to do is tweak it based on what’s going on that week.

master shopping list of ingredients needed for a simple meal plan

Create a Master Meal List

So the first thing you’ll need to do is create a list of meals that you currently make on a regular basis. You’ll want recipes that are tried and true and that you know your family loves (or at least likes). 

Your meal ideas should also be recipes that you can easily make. It’s great to want to strive to feed your family gourmet meals, but if making those meals is difficult or too time-consuming, you’ll probably end up grabbing a take out menu at some point because you just don’t have the time or energy to prepare it after a long day.

Try to come up with at least 12 – 14 meal ideas to begin with. This will give you enough meals to make a meal plan for 2 weeks so there’s enough variety and you don’t have to eat the same dishes on repeat every week. 

If you have more than 12 – 14 meal ideas, that’s fine too, add those to your list as well. On the other hand, if you can’t think of 12 – 14 meal ideas you’ll probably want to find a few new recipes so you can create a full two-week (or longer) meal plan schedule.

Add a Variety of Recipes to Your Meal Plan

You’ll also want to add a variety of recipes types to your list as well. For example, you might want to add some quick and easy dinner ideas or slow cooker freezer meals for those days when you don’t have much time to prep dinner.

If you’re meal planning to try and save money, you might want to consider adding a few meatless meal ideas or cheap meal ideas to save on food costs.

Meal prepped vegetables flash freeze

Where to Find Recipes to Add to Your Meal Plan

There are many places to find recipes out there such as…

  • Google
  • Pinterest
  • Recipe Books
  • Family & Friends

But, you want to be selective about the ones you choose to add to your menu plan. You don’t just want to base the decision on how appetizing the dish looks in images or online.

Some things to look for are…

Ingredients – Mainly you’ll want to look through the ingredients to gauge the cost to make sure it’s in your budget based on your family size. The other thing to look for is its availability in your area. 

Cooking Methods – Does making the recipe require special cooking techniques. For example, do you really want to have to use a blow torch to make Creme Brulee? I know I don’t…

Equipment – Do you have the cooking equipment to make the recipe? For instance, if you need an instant pot to make it but don’t already have one, are you willing to invest in one? Probably not for just one meal I’m guessing unless you planned to anyways.

Time Commitment – Lastly, you’ll want to take note of how much time it takes to prep and cook the meal. 

Create a Meal Plan Template

Now you’re ready to create your meal planning template that you can use over and over again, instead of spending time creating one every single week.

You’ll want to grab a notebook or a meal planning template, preferably a monthly meal plan calendar since we’ll be creating a menu plan for a minimum of 2 weeks.

You can also use a weekly meal plan template worksheet as well but you’ll want to print out a few copies depending on how many dinner ideas you have on your master meal list.

Next, you’ll want to block out the days you might not need to make supper, for example, your family always goes to eat out on Saturday nights or dinner at grandmas every Sunday.

You might also want to dedicate one day a week to eating leftovers in your fridge to avoid throwing food in the trash.

Lastly, you’ll want to fill in the remaining days with dinner ideas from your master meal list. 

Your goal here is to create a meal plan for a minimum of 2 weeks that can be rotated without having to create a new menu every week while not eating the same dishes too often.

As mentioned, if you have more meal ideas or don’t want to repeat meals that often, you can create a 3 or 4 week plan. That’s totally up to you, do what works for your family.

 


Prefer more variety in a meal plan without all the effort? $5 Meal Plan can help! Easily create weekly meal plans with hundreds of amazing dishes and get a done-for-you meal plan and grocery shopping list in minutes.


Create a Master Grocery Shopping List 

Lastly, it’s time to make your master grocery list to go along with your meal plan. Again, just like the meal plan you created, you’re not going to have to do this every week since it’s repeatable.

All you need to do is rotate between your weekly meal plans and grab the corresponding shopping list once you’ve done the initial setup.

To create a weekly master grocery shopping list, all you need to do is write down all ingredients that you’ll need to make the meals you have listed on your meal planning worksheet.

Do each week separately if you prefer to grocery shop once a week. To save even more time with this meal plan method, create one shopping list for all your meals.

For example, if you have a 2-week meal plan, create a shopping list for all the meals within that time frame. This way, you’ll only need to go grocery shopping twice a month.

If you created an entire monthly meal plan, do the same and you’ll only need to do one large grocery trip per month.

Meal planning with what you have on hand in the fridge

Maintaining Your Weekly Meal Plan

Now that you have all the pieces to your meal plan ready to go, you can meal plan in minutes a week. Basically, all this means is that you may need to rearrange a few meal ideas based on that week’s schedule. 

So if you realize you have a 5:00 appointment on Tuesday and won’t have time to make what you had planned, simply make it on another day when you have more time and swap it out for a quick and easy meal idea.

If you rearrange meals, try to keep them within the same week so you won’t have to adjust your shopping list. On the other hand, if you created a monthly shopping list, it really won’t make a difference since you have all the ingredients in your pantry, fridge, and freezer already.

Simple Meal Planning Recap

Create a master meal list

Take your schedule into consideration

Create a 2-week (or more) meal plan

Make a master shopping list for each week

Rotate through your weekly meal plans and shopping lists

 

More Ways To Benefit From Simple Meal Planning

Now that you have your meal plan set up, there are so many more opportunities to easily benefit from this simple meal planning method besides all the other benefits mentioned earlier.

Here are just a few that’ll save you more time and money…

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is not only a great way to save money but time too. And since you know exactly what ingredients you need, and how much, you can buy food in bulk knowing that it won’t be wasted or end up in the trash.

Save Money Sale Shopping

Just like buying in bulk, sale shopping is a great way to keep food costs down. So if you’re grocery store has a sale for chicken at rock bottom prices, you can buy enough to make all chicken meal ideas on your plan to last until the next big sale rolls around. 

healthy meal ideas for simple meal planning

Meal Prep

Because you have a repeatable meal plan, you can save a ton of time prepping meals and freezing them for the next time that meal is on the menu.

For example, if you’re making your famous casserole for dinner, why not make 2 or 3 at once. Then you can put two in the freezer so you can just pull them out and bake the next time it’s on the menu. 

Batch Cooking Tasks

Same as meal prep, you can batch tasks to save time. So for example, if you’re browning ground beef to make tacos tonight, you can brown an extra pound or two and freeze it if you have other recipes on your meal plan that calls for browning ground beef.

Or if you’re making roasted chicken, you can get a bird a few pounds larger than you need, then use the leftover chicken to make chicken stir fry on Monday and chicken fajitas on Thursday.


Monthly grocery shopping or buying in bulk requires good organizational skills to manage your food stockpile. Check out these kitchen organization ideas to help manage it all.

Pantry Organization Ideas For Every Kitchen

How to Organize a Small Chest Freezer (so you can actually find what you need)

23 Brilliant Spice Organization and Storage Solutions


 

Easy Meal Planning Alternatives

eMeals – eMeals makes dinnertime a breeze with meal plans custom build by you to suit your families needs. They even save you hours a month grocery shopping with a done-for-you shopping list or skip the the store and have it sent directly to Walmart, Amazon Fresh, Instacart, Shipt, or Kroger.

$5 Meal Plan– Trying to reel in your grocery budget? If so, then $5 Meal Plan could help you out. Create weekly meal plans from a database of delicious budget friendly dinners your family will love.

My Freeze Easy – Don’t have time to meal plan and much less cook on those crazy busy days? If so, then freezer cooking might be the best option for you.

Get personalized freezer meal plans so you can get home after a hard days work with dinner ready to serve with slow cooker freezer meals or pull a casserole out of the freezer and throw it in the oven when you get home and dinner is done!

Simple Meal Planning Conclusion

As you can see, meal planning can be simple and easy by creating a master meal plan that you can rotate through. Of course, it does take some initial work to set up, but once complete, you can literally meal plan in just minutes a week.

So if you’re ready to save money, time, and stress in the kitchen, try this simple meal planning method for yourself!

 

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Meal Prep 101: Easy Meal Prep for Beginners

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How To Build a Sensible Stockpile

How to Avoid Food Waste

23 Things You Should Always Buy in Bulk

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