Meal planning…it saves us money, saves us time, and helps us eat healthier!! What’s not to love?! I hope this guide will teach you how to meal plan, free you from guilt when you follow your meal plan imperfectly, and will help you think LESS about what’s for dinner!
Although the spreadsheets and algorithms and meal planning boot camps on the internet may make you feel otherwise, I FIRMLY believe learning how to meal plan doesn’t have to be complicated! For me it is so much less stress when I know what we are eating and when we are eating it.
The glory of meal planning is you think about it once for the whole week (or two weeks or month or whatever floats your boat) and then you don’t have to think about it again! You just have to execute on your predetermined decisions.
How to Meal Plan As a Busy Mom
1. Consider your weekly calendar.
Take a peek at what you have going on–small group, night at the ball park, working late, etc. Put those events on your meal plan so you can eliminate nights you are cooking at home.
I meal plan one week at a time, but if you prefer to do it in two week intervals that’s totally fine! You do you, girl! My brain can only think ahead in one week intervals.
Also, we generally eat out once a week and I always put that on my meal plan first! Be realistic. It’s okay for pizza night to be part of the meal plan–it definitely is at our house!! (P.S. You can still make healthier decisions when you’re eating out! Check out this series for more tips on healthy eating out. )
2. Write it down.
Your next step is to take pen to paper (or whatever is your virtual version of that) and put down your meals.
I’ve created this Downloadable PDF Meal Planner for you to get started with! It has spots for all your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week! Plus a spot for your grocery list and to jot down anything extra you don’t want to forget!
Get it for free in my freebie library by signing up for my Vibrant Tribe! I have lots of other goodies in there for ya too–like a 4 week healthy + easy fall meal plan, a goal planning worksheet, my favorite places to shop for healthy ingredients and MORE!!
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m always raving about my Living Well Spending Less Planner. And I use it to lay out my meals along with our plans for the week every Sunday night or Monday morning! I LOVE that the meal planning area is built in already! So simple!
You do what works for you!
Once I have my meal plan established, I update my “Groceries” note on my phone with what I need for the week. I like to keep an updated meal plan at the bottom of my “Groceries” note just so I can reference it when I’m shopping or don’t have my planner with me!
3. Theme it up!
This is such an easy way to NOT plan your meal plan, just keep the same schedule of meals so there is less guess work from week to week! Each “theme” allows enough variety that you don’t get bored and you can always plug in your favorites! Here are some theme ideas to get you started:
- Mexican aka Taco Tuesday
- Soup night
- Crockpot dinner
- Grill night
- Stir Fry
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Baked potato bar
4. Keep it simple.
Do what you can friends. It’s okay to keep it easy, like really easy! Whole wheat pasta, a jar of marinara, some grilled chicken or brown ground beef (you can also prep the meat ahead of time) is a great dinner option! Add a side salad and a fruit and you are done. Don’t overcomplicate things. It’s okay to stick with what is easy and works for your family. I like to cook but when things get crazy I go back to the “old faithful” recipes like chili, pancakes, and tacos (using our DIY taco seasoning).
5. Don’t be boring!
I try to keep new ideas to once a week or so! Dust of your cookbooks! Actually MAKE something you pinned on Pinterest! My most used cookbooks are 100 Days of Real Food (also includes 4 seasonal meal plans!) and The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
For a huge variety and easy searching I adore Pinterest! I tried a new Whole 30 White Chicken Chili from Pinterest last week and it was amazing!! Old favorites are awesome, but keep things spicy by trying some new meal ideas too! Be sure to follow me on Pinterest so you keep things fresh with me!
Simple and Healthy Meal Planning Ideas
Here are a few of my simple, healthy, and budget-friendly meal plan ideas for you!
Eggs (I always make scrambled)
Oatmeal — Pineapple Coconut baked oatmeal is a favorite!
Pancakes (we eat pancakes for brunch every Saturday)
I rotate these breakfasts for the kids. But besides Saturday brunch I have a healthy smoothie for breakfast everyday.
Soups (Meal prep a batch of your favorite soup on the weekend)
Taco meat (Have on hand for tacos, quesadillas or taco salad)
I’ve given you quite a few ideas above that you can just plug in your favorite recipes, BUT here is an idea of our meals for the week.
Monday: Healthy Turkey Chili
Tuesday: Simple tacos using DIY Taco Seasoning (Make extra to have for lunches)
Wednesday: Marinated Chicken Breasts
Thursday: Pizza night using homemade whole-wheat crust
Friday: Eating out as a family
Saturday: Avocado Bacon Burgers
Sunday: Cereal slosh (kids pick favorite cold cereal) or small group
All of these meals are super-budget friendly–no expensive or crazy ingredients needed! I tend to stick to recipes that use ground turkey, ground beef, and chicken, using lower priced meat cuts helps us keep our overall budget down.
Where to start with meal planning?
If this concept seems crazy overwhelming start by planning 3 dinners for this week. Write them on your calendar or just on your fridge. Follow your plan this week! Next week, evaluate how it went and stick with 3 dinners or slowly add on additional dinners, lunch or breakfast plans from there!
I hope these meal planning tips have inspired you to make a meal plan for your family this week! Meal planning is a gift you give yourself every night of the week!