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And don't even get me started on once-a-month meal planning. Our crazy schedules don't allow the luxury of knowing exactly what we're going to eat so far in advance!
I honestly wondered why I was so incapable of planning a week full of meals, that is, until I realized how much I had been overthinking this entire thing. The solution was ridiculously simple!
If you're tired of feeling tied to a specific meal plan, you're going to love this concept. And if you're new to meal planning in general, this post will give you the perfect introduction!
1. Create a List of Meals
Whenever it's time to meal plan, usually every Sunday afternoon or evening, I pull out a max of 3-4 cookbooks, plus my iPad to browse all the recipes I've saved Pinterest. I tend to vary my plan based on what I feel like making, but the cookbooks below are some of my go-to picks. I actually explain more about them in my post 5 Cookbooks that Help Save Money in the Kitchen.
My next step is to write down 3-4 recipes that are standard favorites, then one new recipe to try for the week. I love trying out new foods, but they often take much longer to prepare because I'm not used to the recipe yet. So I try to limit those as much as possible.
I also make sure one or two of the meals are quick and simple ones — like pancakes or pizza — in case we have a day that is too hectic for a complicated meal. Once I've established the main meals, I go through the cookbooks again, and add sides to the ones that need it.
My go-to sides tend to be:
- Homemade Applesauce from the freezer
- Fruit Salads
- Lightly seasoned vegetables
- Bread and rolls from the freezer
Note: If the meal is from a cookbook you don't normally use, write down the name of the book and the page number. I've spent precious time looking for a recipe before with no idea where to find it!
2. Make your grocery list
Every time I write down a meal plan, I skim over the ingredients and do a quick check of the pantry and fridge to make sure I have everything. Then I write down exactly what I need from the store. If it matches up with the sales that week, great! If not, I don't sweat it.
The only time I meal plan around what's on sale, is when we buy produce. I check to see what fruits and veggies are in season, then incorporate them into my sides and snacks as needed.
Having your entire list of ingredients ahead of time means no more guessing, and no more running to the store last minute because you missed an essential component of the recipe. Although, that still happens to me from time to time — I'm just super thankful we have a Publix 5 minutes away!
Why do I do it this way?
You might have noticed that I don't assign a day to each meal at all. Leaving this sort of wiggle room allows me the freedom to choose a meal based on the sort of day we're having, or tastes we're craving. And it's most definitely not set in stone.
I used to always use scrap pieces of paper to write down my meals, but I finally got my act together and asked Michelle from Elegance and Enchantment if she would help create my dream meal plan on paper. She said YES, and now I have a pretty printable that functions exactly the way I need it too!
You can download the printable for personal use below. It includes 5 dinner ideas, as well as spaces for sides, lunch, breakfast, and snacks. It even comes with a handy grocery list for ingredients!
I know this meal plan may not work for everyone, and you may want more boundaries than this gives you. In that case, here are some meal planning ideas from my friends around the blogosphere:
- Andrea from AndreaDekker.com meal plans by theme, and each night has it's own type of meal – Monday — Italian, Tuesday — Breakfast, etc.
- Mostly Homemade Mom goes completely paperless and uses Pinterest to meal plan.
- Laura from Organizing Junkie has a weekly Menu Plan Monday, where you can link up your meal plan as an accountability.
- If you'd rather meal plan by day, download Elegance and Enchantments Meal Planner.
- For loads of meal planning tips, visit Good Cheap Eats for her Menu Planning 101 series.
- And lastly, if you are constantly stumped at what meals to make each week, eMeals has some really great plans that match up amazing recipes with local store sales. I highly recommend it!
Even if meal planning hasn't worked for you before, I strongly encourage you to try it again. It's not only a life saver by answering that dreaded question of what's for dinner, it also helps stretch your grocery budget too — you'll eliminate excess food waste AND avoid takeout!
What Meal Planning Strategies Work for You?
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.
Just one more thing:
Don't let the stress of a new school year ruin important family time. These easy weeknight dinners come together FAST, and are loved by everyone!