Most of us have heard of the term meal planning, not to be confused with meal prepping. Meal planning is simply the task of preplanning what you will be eating on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
It is also one of the first things I did to create a more organized home. And little did I know that something as simple as this would have such a big impact on our family.
You, see. Before implementing meal plans, we were the family that ordered takeout most days of the week. It was simple and we didn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning up.
But after awhile, it gets old. Not only were we wasting gobs of money on takeout, but the meals we consumed were not usually the healthiest either.
So frustrated and tired of our current meal situation, I was determined to make some changes. And to my surprise, it was far easier than I expected.
And that is what I will be sharing with you.
But before we get into what we did that made meal planning so easy, let’s talk about all of the benefits.
Benefits of Meal Planning
Meal Planning is Healthier (generally)
I would say the biggest benefit, by far, is the health aspect of eating at home. Sure you can buy healthy entrees while ordering in. But more often than not, this was not the case with us.
While planning out our meals, we could clearly see where we needed to add fruits and veggies into the mix. It really made us be intentional about the food we consumed.
And while neither of us were overly concerned about dropping any weight, we did both notice changes within just the first week.
But this was certainly not our first priority. First and foremost was to focus on fueling our body with good, healthy, wholesome food from the inside out.
And planning out our meals has definitely helped in that retrospect.
More Cost Effective
This may or may not be the case with you. When it was just the two of us, before any kids, it certainly was, at times, cheaper for us to order in.
As we now have more mouths to feed, it tends to be more cost effective for us to make our own meals. Especially when some dinners can be used as leftovers. Which is always a win-win.
I will say, however, that our first week of meal planning left us in a bit of shell shock. We RARELY spent over $100 on our grocery shopping. Usually, it was somewhere around $50-$70.
And I know. Some of you reading that may be thinking “WHAT?!”. But it’s true.
So when our first shopping trip was around the $150 mark, you bet it had us questioning if this was the right route for us.
But here’s the thing.
While we spent more money at the grocery store, we spent $0 on ordering in. So we essentially broke even that week.
We also didn’t account for leftovers. Truth be told, my husband is not a leftover type of person, but I can be. So, I was able to eliminate some of the lunches I had planned.
And lastly, our meals were very meat heavy. I believe I had some type of meat down for each day of that week (for both lunch and dinner). No simple meals, like a pizza or pasta.
So, considering the above and for the amount of food we get, meal planning has definitely saved us a few bucks during the month.
Takes the Guesswork Out of Dinners
We’ve all seen the memes. You know the ones.
Where the couple is trying to decide on dinner. Nobody “cares” what’s for dinner until … they do. That was 100% us.
There were days we weren’t eating until right before it was time to go to bed. Simply because we could not make a decision on what to have for dinner. And we all know eating right before sleeping is no good.
Having a weekly meal plan has completely eliminated this for us. We know exactly what’s for dinner every night of the week.
Are there days where we make changes? Of course! This isn’t an all or nothing set up. But, the fact remains. A few minutes of planning at the beginning of the week will lessen the pain points later in the week.
Meal planning has done nothing, but benefit our family. So, I want to show you how you can do it too. I’ve learned a couple of things, while meal planning for my own family, to make it fast, easy and efficient.
How to Meal Plan Easily
Creating a meal plan is so simple; it makes me wonder why we didn’t start it sooner. When it comes to meal planning, I do it in three steps.
Step 1: Create a Dinner Cheat Sheet
I initially got this idea from a YouTuber and thought it was genius. If I can find the video, I will list it here.
But essentially, we have what I like to call a dinner cheat sheet. It is a list of our go-to dinners so that when I sit down to create our meal plan I don’t have to brainstorm too long. They’re all right there in front of me.
Our dinners are split into four categories – easy dinners, crockpot dinners, healthy meals and favorite meals. By having a section for crockpot and easy dinners, this will allow you to quickly glance and choose fast dinners for those busy nights.
It takes just a few minutes to create a dinner cheat sheet, but you will easily make up those minutes ten-fold when it comes time to plan out your weekly menu.
Step 2: Take an Inventory of Food on Hand
This step is going to help eliminate food waste and save you money. Most of us would go into meal planning by sitting down with our weekly menu template and simply planning out our weekly meals.
BUT, this is not taking into consideration the food you already have on hand. By knowing what you have in your kitchen BEFORE you begin to meal plan, it helps you narrow down your meal options.
If you’ve already got the taco shells, cheese and toppings for tacos, why plan out an elaborate meal where you would need to purchase nearly everything?
You can take an inventory by simply noting it down on paper or you can have a more elaborate method, where you keep a running inventory list (like the ones below).
Either way, use what you have first (so nothing goes to waste) and then plan out the rest.
Step 3: Create Weekly Meal Plan
Now, it’s time to create the weekly meal plan. I like to use the below template and plan out EVERY meal of the day. Usually, there are a couple changes throughout the week, but this ensures that we have everything on hand.
I pick one day out of the week to spend about 5-10 minutes creating our weekly menu. To make it even simpler in the future, I plan to create 4-5 menus that we can simply rotate throughout the months.
That way, I am not creating a menu from scratch each week. Which will save even more time in the long run. I am all about using our time in the most efficient way as possible!
If you have no interest in meal planning for all three meals, it is perfectly fine to meal plan for just dinners. In that case, I would use a simple monthly calendar, like the one below, and fill in the days.
And that’s it!
It is that simple to start meal planning for beginners. Now, the hardest part is actually sticking to your weekly meal plan. The first week will be the toughest, but each week thereafter will become easier and easier.
They say, on average, it takes about two months for a new habit to form. For us, it took about three weeks for this to become a new “normal” in our household.
So, if you are ready to start meal planning for your family, I am here to say it is totally possible with commitment!
Interested in the templates on this page? They are part of my household binder, which contains 140+ templates, which you can grab here.