5 Easy Steps to Meal Plan Successfully

My family doesn’t like to make decisions and meal planning helps us avoid time wasting conversations. It takes the What do you want for dinner? back and forth convo out of our evenings (and we used to waste a lot of time on these conversations). Now, we have a menu scheduled out at least 2 weeks at a time, and we’ve found that we really enjoy having a plan. It allows us to get right to cooking and have dinner over with earlier in the evening, leaving us more time to spend together. And now, if I ever ask my husband what he wants for dinner he looks at me and says You’re supposed to already know! We’ve gotten so used to meal planning now, we don’t want to do dinner any other way.

It also saves us a ton of money.  Before we sat down and planned our meals, we would just buy aimlessly at the grocery store and spend more than we needed. And without a plan, we would end up going out or picking up food because we wouldn’t decide on what we wanted to make, which caused us to spend more money and waste the food we bought. It was a vicious cycle but meal planning put that to an end.

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Meal planning isn’t easy at first, but after a few months it becomes second nature. Sometimes now I forget how hard the beginning was, so I wanted to write a post about the first steps of meal planning. I know it’s intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! And I want to help any family out there struggling to eat at home, plan their meals, or save money on food.

So here is a step by step plan to getting organized and start meal planning today:

Step 1:  Make a list of meals!
Write a list down of 8-10 dinners that you and your family would enjoy eating. This doesn’t have to be fancy–if it’s simple spaghetti and hamburger helper, that’s okay! Be realistic in what you’re going to want to cook and what your family is going to eat, especially in your first few weeks giving meal planning a try. If you jump into complicated dishes that you don’t have experience with, you’re going to have a much harder transition into meal planning.

You also want to consider coming up with meals that use similar ingredients. For example, a lot of our meals use similar meats and veggies. We use a lot of cauliflower, ground beef, steak, chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, salads, fresh fruit and you’ll see other repeated ingredients in our meal list. This is crucial to saving money–you don’t want to waste anything! And buying in bulk will save you money, too.

So here is our list of 8 meals that we enjoy to rotate through. We eat “Paleo-ish” but this could easily give you ideas for all kinds of diets.

Steak and Cauliflower Mash
Bun-less Burgers and Sweet Potatoes
French Onion Soup (no crouton) with a Side Salad
Steak Stir-fry with Cauliflower Fried Rice
Taco Salads
Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
Bacon and Eggs with fruit
Pulled Pork BBQ with Cole Slaw

Step 2:  Figure out what meals are your quick and easy meals!
This will come in handy for when you plan meals on the busier days for your family. For us, Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes is our easiest meal, so if we have a lot to get done one night, then I can just toss it in the oven and forget it. Crockpot meals are great examples of easy meals! However, Taco Salads is our fastest meal, so this comes in handy when we get home later than usual and we want something made quick because I know I can whip it up in about 15 minutes.

You want to keep the time and effort each meal takes because you want to be successful with your meal planning. If you schedule a complicated meal on a busy day, you’re not going to feel like cooking it.  So keep that in mind when writing your list of meals. Step 2 is all about figuring out what meals work best with what days of your family’s schedule.

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Step 3: Grab that calendar and start planning!
Take it one week at a time. Match those quick meals with the late nights and the easy meals on the busy days. Then look at your next week and do the same thing.  Leave blanks for the more open days–that’s where you’ll put the more time-consuming meals. Here is an example of what our average two week plan looks like after I match up the quick and easy meals with our schedule:

M~ Dylan working late ~ Taco Salads
T~ Dylan working late ~ Bacon and Eggs with fruit
R~ Laundry day ~ Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
S~ Birthday party Bun-less Burgers and Sweet Potatoes
M~ Dylan working late ~Taco Salads
W~Dylan working late ~ Bacon and Eggs with fruit
R~ Laundry day ~ Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
S~ Visit family ~ Bun-less Burgers and Sweet Potatoes

Step 4: Fill in the blanks!
Take the rest of your meals (the more complicated of the bunch) and match them up with the days that are less eventful. And make sure that you don’t schedule your family to eat the same meal two days in a row (because nobody wants to do that).

M~ Dylan working late ~ Taco Salads
T~ Dylan working late ~ Bacon and Eggs with fruit
W~ Steak with Cauliflower Mash
R~ Laundry day ~ Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
F~  Steak Stir Fry with Cauliflower Fried Rice
S~ Birthday party ~ Bun-less Burgers and Sweet Potatoes
S~ French Onion Soup and side salad
M~ Dylan working late ~ Taco Salads
T~ Steak with Cauliflower Mash
W~Dylan working late ~ Bacon and Eggs with fruit
R~ Laundry day ~ Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
F~ Pork BBQ and Coleslaw 
S~ Steak Stir Fry with Cauliflower Fried Rice
S~ Visit family ~ Bun-less Burgers and Sweet Potatoes

Step 5: Make a grocery list and utilize your freezer!
Make your grocery list, and make it happen. We are able to buy majority of our groceries 2-3 weeks at a time by utilizing our freezer space. We buy all our meat in bulk, separate it into portions, and pop it into the freezer. So for example, we weigh our ground beef into half pound portions so that for each meal I can just pull out what we need and defrost it to cook. Frozen fruit and veggies are also great for meal planning, and save a ton of time as well. The only thing we do make additional trips to the grocery store is fresh produce, but that’s usually only if we try to make our groceries stretch for 3 weeks.

Remember, it helps to plan meals that use similar ingredients because this will save you money and keep you from wasting food.

What about breakfast and lunch? 
Meal planning for breakfast and lunch are just as important as dinner, but tend to be a bit easier. Most people don’t mind eating the same things for breakfast and lunch each week, but having options is important to keep you out of the drive-thru line. So we plan 3-4 options for each meal to have on hand:

Cheerios & bananas
Bacon and eggs

Grilled chicken and veggies
Chicken Salad
Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Leftovers are huge for us as well and they can be so helpful in stretching that dollar at the grocery store. Meal prepping can help you and your family be successful with meal planning as well. I will often send my husband to work with lunch made or sometimes he will come home to make something. Whatever keeps his butt out of the Chick-fil-A drive thru makes me and our bank accounts happy.

And there you have it! Five easy, peasy steps for you and your family to be on their way to becoming meal planning pros. Meal planning has saved my family so much in time, money, and stress, and I hate that it has such a reputation of being hard because it really is simple once you get the hang of it. So don’t be intimidated and give it a try to see how much it saves your family.

Do you meal plan? What works for your family? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Xoxo, Sarah.

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34 thoughts on “5 Easy Steps to Meal Plan Successfully

  1. I’ve tried meal planning so many times, but I end up procrastinating my days and end up just throwing something together real fast. This post helped put a lot into perspective, and I think I might be trying again soon!

  2. Great tips! I just started meal planning this January and it’s a huge money saver. Definitely helps us stay on budget. Thank You for sharing these tips… I need to do better jotting down meal ideas when they come to me.

    1. It can be very overwhelming! But that’s why I came up with 8 meals that I knew my family would eat… and then expanded our horizon as I mastered meal planning. It’s totally doable 🙂 Give it another try!!

  3. I just started meal planning and I found it so easy, amazing and saves ample time. I remember I used to have the ‘what are we having for dinner?’ conversations with my hubby and kids 🙂 I normally plan my meals in categories (proteins, carbohydrates, starch, vitamin and water)

  4. I meal plan every week – I don’t know what we’d do without it! Like you, we have a bunch of different dinners we cycle through every week and then we all tend to eat the same thing for breakfast and dinner until we get sick of it. Works for us!

  5. Meal planning makes such a huge difference in how the evening goes! I found that once I set aside the initial time to plan my meal planning, it’s so easy to keep up with!

  6. Love this list! I totally agree with utilizing your freezer. It is so helpful to be able to just pull something out. We have started using more frozen vegetables too…they are actually really good in most things!

  7. This is super helpful. I just recently started meal planning as in today! My husband always works late so it’s usually just the kids and I eating. I try to make dinner super easy during the week.

  8. I LOVE meal prepping! We do it every Sunday and have even made it a family affair. My mom, in laws, brother all come over to prep with us. Maybe we can collaborate on Pintrest using this topic. I’m going to reach out to you because we have the same theme and I’ve been having issues. Love your pictures! I’ll be back 🙂

  9. Welp, I wrote this really long post about how my husband can’t cook and I get home late .. and then I submitted it but something went wrong. So here I am again thanking you for reminding me to get back into the swing of meal planning. We usually only do it 2 twice a week cause that’s when I get home earlier and we can all eat together otherwise I am making dinner with the kids I nanny for. With them we have been meal planning as well!

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry something went wrong with your first post, but I’m glad you tried again!! My husband also works late, and right now we just eat late (I don’t mind) but once our daughter is older I’m interested to see how that affects our meal planning. If you have any tips for the nights that are super late, let me know! 🙂

  10. I am so inconsistent when it comes to meal planning. It is something I am really trying to get better at. I usually start with a good basic idea and then fail to write it down and find myself scrambling last minute to get something ready for dinner. I love the tips you have provided here. I think it might actaully help me stay on course. Thank you for sharing!

  11. This is something I have problems with since I have a toddler. I try to keep to schedules on meals but things always seem to come up. I’m working on it though and love your meal suggestions.

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