Trying to figure out how to meal plan and aren’t sure where to start? Whether you’re a kitchen novice or just seeking a more efficient approach to feeding your family, I wanted to share how I plan and cook for my family throughout the week.
If the term “meal planning” overwhelms you, just know that all it really means is deciding what you want to eat for dinner a little ahead of time instead of every night! I’m hoping that by breaking down my super simple system, you’ll realize how easy it is!
Also, I want to remind you all that my meal plan system is what currently works for our busy family of 4. Yours might look different. Decide what matters most for your season of life — easy, healthy, inexpensive, minimal ingredients, etc. And know that it will continue to evolve!
Why I Love Meal Planning
Taking the time to meal plan saves me time, and brain power throughout our very busy week. It also helps me reduce food waste, cuts down on the “what’s for dinner” question (I post it right to our fridge for all to see!), and saves me from spending too much money on DoorDash and takeout!
- Time Saver: Meal planning saves me time by organizing and prepping our dinners a little ahead of time, so I spend less time stressing about dinner during our busy weeknights.
- Budget Friendly: I order most of our weekly groceries online for delivery, so I can shop for the exact ingredients I need, avoid unnecessary purchases, and cut down on last-minute grocery store trips.
- Healthier Choices: Planning in advance allows me to make healthier choices for my family.
How To Meal Plan
There’s many ways to meal plan and our system has changed throughout the years as our needs and schedules have evolved. Our current system is simple and effective, and has worked really well for us for a few years now, so we will continue to use until it no longer works for our family.
I usually plan out our meals on Friday or Saturday and order my groceries for Sunday delivery. I also meal plan in front of our calendar to see if we have any events or extracurriculars that I’ll need to adjust for.
Weekly Dinner Themes
To keep things super easy, we have a standing meal theme for several nights of the week (taco Tuesday, pasta Wednesday, pizza Friday). Depending on the season, we may add a soup Sunday, grilled Saturday, etc. I should note that Taco Tuesday doesn’t necessarily have to be tacos each week. Sometimes I’ll make pork carnitas, enchiladas, etc.
How to Meal Plan Using the Recipe Binder Strategy
I pull all of our meals from my printed recipe binder which contains a mix of recipes in ONE place that I’ve saved and printed from Pinterest, Instagram, etc.
My recipe book is not fancy at all. It’s a simple 3-ring binder with divider tabs for organizing recipe types. It’s evolved quite a bit over the years but currently, my sections are organized by dinner theme night (plus a few other random categories). So when I’m ready to plan our meals for the week, I flip through each section and find a recipe to add to the meal plan. So for Pasta Wednesday, I’ll visit the pasta/rice section of my binder and pick out a meal that fits our plans for the night (example: if we have a late basketball practice, I might make our pasta dinner in the slow cooker).
- My binder has been known to get a little out of control as I am constantly printing new recipes to try. My advice is to truly limit your binder to the recipes that are family crowd-pleasers.
- For NEW recipes you want to try, place them in the divider pocket. Once you’ve made them, if you want to keep the recipe, move it to the section. If it’s not a keeper, toss it!
- As you make the recipes in your binder, don’t be afraid to mark them up with notes for next time. Sometimes I’ll substitute certain ingredients, note what to serve the meal with, remind me to double the recipe, etc.
Once I have all my meals planned out, I’ll make my grocery list and order everything online to avoid impulse buys in-store.
Where I Shop: I use Walmart+ delivery service for 90% of my groceries and household items to save money, avoid Target, and honestly the convenience is just so good. I also try to make a Trader Joe’s run once a month to stock up on a few staples. And I use Butcher Box (referral link) for all our proteins since I’m super picky when it comes to meat and seafood, and it’s less expensive than Whole Foods.
Meal Planning Favorites
- Pocket Divider Tabs: I really like these tabs because they are wider than the sheet protector pages, they have a pocket (where I store recipes I haven’t made yet but want to try) and are cute!
- Meal Plan Pad: I have re-purchased this notepad a million times. I love that it has a Sunday start, a perforated grocery list side, and a strong fridge magnet. It also comes in two sizes and you can pick between Sunday or Monday start.
- Felt Tip Pens: My favorite pens for color coding everything in my life. These pens have a very fine tip, come in a pack of 10, and are less than $5!!!