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How to Create a Weekly Meal Plan

Updated on October 9, 2012
Your weekly meal plan doesn't have to look like this!
Your weekly meal plan doesn't have to look like this! | Source

I started creating meal plans for my family's evening meals about two years ago. If you had asked me before then if I'd do this every week, I would have said that I didn't have time, or that it was too restrictive. Now that I've started, I realize they are both untrue! Meal planning actually saves me time AND money, and frees my brain to think about more important things besides "what's for dinner?"

Meal planning doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming. This method works well for my family, and it can for yours too! Follow these simple steps and start saving time and money!

Benefits of Meal Planning

Creating a weekly meal plan has many benefits. It's the fastest and easiest way I've found to save both time and money!

  • Grocery shopping is easier! With a meal plan, your list is already made. Just put the ingredients for the meals onto your list and you have what you need. No more trying to figure out what you need while standing in the store!
  • Save money! When you have a grocery list, you don't buy things you don't need. The list will cover every meal. No more buying extra "just in case."
  • Less stress! When you know ahead of time what you are going to make for dinner, you don't have to stress about it during the day. The evening meal is planned, and it's ready-made to fit your schedule for that day.
  • Eat out less often! With meals planned, you are less likely to feel forced to pick up fast food on nights when the schedule is tight. More meals at home can also lead to more family time.

Quick and Easy Meal Plan
Quick and Easy Meal Plan | Source

Money Saving Tip: Use Store Ads for Meal Planning

To save even more money, look at your store's sale ad prior to planning your meals for the week. Pick recipes that not only fit your schedule, but also coincide with what's on sale taht week. Do the same with coupons for an even bigger savings!

Weekly Meal Plans

I do all of my grocery shopping on the weekends, so I also create each week's meal plan on the weekend before I go shopping. The meal plan feeds directly into my grocery list. In fact, I sometimes write the plan on the side of my list. It doesn't have to be just has to work for you!

The first thing I consider when making my meal plan is my family's schedule for the week. Which nights will I have only a little time to cook? Which nights are busy, and which nights are free? Be realistic about the time you have available. This is an important first step in meal planning. Meal plans won't work if you plan to make elaborate meals on nights when you will have no time.

For example, if my son has swimming lessons on a given evening, I won't have much time to cook. On those nights, burgers on the grill, leftovers, or a quick one skillet dish would be best. If you plan something that is unrealistic for the night's schedule, you will end up frustrated and may even give up on meal planning.

And here's a real shocker: meal planning doesn't mean you have to cook every night! It's a plan, and sometimes that plan is to grab fast food on the way to baseball practice. The point is, if you plan for it, you can budget your time and money appropriately, and you don't have to think about what's for dinner. You already planned it - fast food or pizza it is! You will also find yourself less likely to eat out if you know you have a planned dinner out later in the week.

Money Saving Tip: Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can also save money and make your meal planning easier! You can often find items in bulk packaging for a cheaper unit price. For example, buy pork chops in bulk and then plan two meals around it a few days apart. Or, freeze some and you have a start on next week's meals!

How to Make a Meal Plan

  1. Get the Big Picture: Look at your schedule, and be realistic! Write down everything you need to do each day (or look at a calendar or planner if you have one), so you can identify how much time you will have to cook each day.
  2. Select recipes for each night: Keep in mind the prep and cook times for each item. You don't have to be exact, but for meal you've made in the past, you should have a ball park figure of whether it takes you thirty minutes or two hours to prepare. Make a list of each day of the week (I use the abbreviations M, T, W, etc.) and write the planned meal next to each day. It doesn't have to be neat or pretty, as long as it works for you! And, you don't have to cook a full meal each night. If there is only time for a quick pizza one night, write that down also. The most important part of this step is to select meals that are realistic based on the time you have each night.
  3. Double check: This is an important step, so don't skip it! Look at your schedule one more time, matched up to the meals planned for each night, and make sure it works for you.

Make your grocery list from your meal plan
Make your grocery list from your meal plan | Source

Make Your Grocery List from your Meal Plan

Now that you have a solid list of meals for each day of the next week, it's time to make your grocery list. I do this by first gathering any recipes that I need for the week.

Next, I check my pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients I already have. This is another money saving tip - meal planning means you won't buy what you already have!

Finally, I write all the ingredients I'll need for each meal (even frozen pizzas, if that's what I'm making one night!) onto the grocery list. When you are finished, this should be a complete list of what you need for all evening meals, with nothing on it that you already have. You are ready to go to the grocery store!

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Flexible Meal Planning

One of my favorite benefits of having a meal plan is that I don't have to think about what to make for dinner each night! All I have to do is look at the plan, and it's done!

But, obviously, sometimes things change during the week. One of my kids' events gets changed to a different night, or something comes up and I have to work late. Your meal plan should be flexible so that you can shift meals around if needed. I also always keep a few things on hand for a quick dinner if I have to postpone one of my bigger recipes because of a schedule change.

Meal Plan Example (along with a lasagna recipe!)

Start Saving Time!

Follow these steps to create a weekly meal plan, and you will start to see the savings immediately! Less stress and time spent on meal planning means more time to do the important things in life. Happy planning!


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    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 5 years ago from Austin, TX

      And a home-cooked meal is more satisfying and enjoyable, especially during meal time with the family. Thanks for sharing your great ideas.. at least you know what to have for dinner and lunch beforehand. Voted up and useful. :)

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Glad to help! I occasionally skip too, but I usually regret it. Thanks for reading, Melovy!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      I go through phases of being very organised with planning and then being less so for a while. We have some evenings that are busy so I do like to plan ahead even if sometime that plan is just in my head, rather than written it down, and I always have a shopping list!

      I agree with you that having a plan saves time, and your hub has encouraged me to get back to it! Thanks for the reminder.

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Marcy, that is a common problem. At the end of the week, I used to end up with odds and ends that cost money but couldn't be combined to make anything!

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Crystal - meal planning is a great way to stick to dietary restrictions and avoid allergies! It's amazing how fast it is to do also!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Such a wise idea - I'm guilty of buying almost randomly in the store and having trouble deciding what to cook when I have choices but no plan. Excellent advice!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Very helpful hub. Meal planning is especially important for me, because, in addition to dietary restrictions and allergies, I have a schedule that leaves little time for cooking. So I need to know what I'm having in advance and either get it prepared on the weekend or figure out easy dishes to prepare during the week to avoid digging into something unhealthy when I get home from work. Voted up!

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      xanzacow and Julie - thanks for reading!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      Nice hub...lots of good ideas! :)

    • xanzacow profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from North Myrtle Beach, SC

      Great ideas!