Master the Art of Meal Planning ||Free Printables||

Thursday, February 1, 2018

If you do the cooking and grocery shopping in your household, you already know how stressful it can be.  The whole idea of dinner isn't just coming home from work to say "What should I make tonight?" and if it is, then no wonder you're so stressed!  Dinner (and any meal) should be well thought out and planned so that it doesn't disrupt your day or add extra stress to your already hectic life.  Besides, if you're trying to eat better then you HAVE TO plan your meals otherwise you end up feeling tired, overwhelmed, and hungry for a frozen dinner.  Hello salt intake!! 

When I first became a homeowner almost 3 years ago I quickly realized that eating out every other day or eating unhealthy packaged foods wasn't going to cut it.  Then James discovered he couldn't eat gluten without getting terribly sick.  That's when I realized that what I put in my body needed to become a priority.  It was also around that time that I started paying attention to stuff I saw others doing when it came to meal planning and grocery shopping.  

Meal planning has so many benefits. 

Financially, you end up spending money only on what you need and you don't end up wasting food which is basically the same as wasting money.   You will start sticking to a grocery list so you aren't spending money on those impulse buys in aisles you shouldn't even be in! 

In your kitchen, meal planning benefits you by eliminating all the excess stuff people jam into their cabinets that they can never find until it's already expired.  I used to reach into my pantry to get something and everything else would start falling out.  It was stressful and I didn't even want to deal with it which made me want to start eating out more, which wasn't good for my budget.

Health-wise meal planning allows you to plan out the types of food you will put into your body so that you can take the time to make well thought out decisions on what you should be eating.  Then when it comes time to make dinner and you just want pizza, you'll be more likely to stick with what's on the menu tonight.  

I call meal planning an art because it really is.  There's a whole process to it but once you start doing it, it becomes an immediate part of your routine.  All aspects of meal planning are planned out - from the list making, the shopping, and the preparation.  So without further ado, here's how you can master the wonderful art of meal planning.  Even if you live alone, you can still benefit from doing this. And at the end of this post I have free printables that you can use each week!

[Schedule a day of the week/month to meal plan.]
Personally, I despise the grocery store and I try to go as little as possible.   So that means that I need to set time aside to establish what meals will be eaten and when, and what ingredients I need and when.  I actually have mastered this so well that I can basically do my big grocery trip just TWICE A MONTH!  In between there may be a trip or two where I need to get fresh produce but overall it's so much better than constantly running out to the store because you realized you were out of something.  So pick a day of the week every week and make that your meal plan day. 

Once that day arrives, this is where you sit down and do the actual planning.  I have a little calendar that I use for meal planning.  Some people make their own or use a template they find on a website.  At the end of this post you'll find a great template that even includes an area for writing the ingredients you'll have to add to your main grocery list.  

This is also the time where you should look at your regular calendar to see what your family has going on for the week or month.  On your meal planning calendar cross out any days where you already have dinner plans so that you don't plan a meal for that day.  If you live alone and you can make your meals last for 2 days, then go right ahead.  I also look at my calendar and know that the more complicated dinners should be on any day besides Tuesday and Thursday because those are my hair wash nights during the week and I usually work out then too so I'm not really into making a big complicated dinner. 

[Make your grocery list of ingredients.]
Looking at the recipes you  have for each meal, you will need to make a list of what items you need.  This will also involve you getting up and checking stock in your cupboards from time to time.  It's always a good idea to do that so you know if you have enough of a certain ingredient for all of the upcoming recipes.  But wait, you're not done yet.  Then you need to go around and take an inventory of the other items you use that you may be running low on like coffee, breakfast bars, toilet paper, milk, eggs, etc.  If you're the kind of person that always forgets stuff then do what I do and imagine yourself going through the day from morning to night and think of all the stuff you use and all of the stuff you eat.  For me, I'm a creature of habit so I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dessert every day.  If you kind of just figure stuff out on the whim, this may be a great time for you to start getting into a routine and choosing better habits. 

[Plan your grocery trip.]
This is where you'll look at your regular calendar and then look at which day you can get to grocery store before your week (or 2) of planned meals begins.  For me, I always go on the same day or if it's a holiday I'll go the day or two before.  Remember that your grocery trip should always be BEFORE your week of meals starts. 

[Make your final grocery list.] 
So if you go to the same store for groceries every week you probably know the layout by now right?   In that case, you can make shopping even easier and quicker by making your list based on the aisle layout and how you walk around the store.  Mine goes - Produce, meats, dry goods, frozen, dairy, personal/home goods.  Remember the first list you made where you just scribbled everything you need down? Now it's time to organize that list by making a new one on a new piece of paper.  There's a template below that you can use. Also, if you have coupons for certain items, it helps me to put a star next to those items so I know to grab my coupon and make sure I'm getting the correct item.

[Start shopping.]
Now you get to knock out your list when you get to the grocery store.  Remember, stick to your list and don't get distracted by impulse buys.   When you get home, enjoy your week of meals and then repeat the whole process again on a regular basis. 

I promise you your life will start to feel so much more organized!

Most people wonder what happens if a kink is thrown in your plans like you get invited out to a dinner on a night you planned a meal.  When that happens to me, I either push my entire meal schedule back a day, or sometimes if it's a meal that has non-perishable ingredients I just nix it entirely until another time or another week. 

And here are the free printables that should make your life much easier!

Are you going to try meal planning? What's your biggest challenge with meal planning now?



  1. Thanks for sharing these printable. I so going to use them.

  2. My husband and I started meal-planning when we bought a house too. Not because we were eating out too much beforehand, but because our previous rental townhouse was literally across the street from Kroger! So we would just pop over there every 1-2 days and pick something on Manager's Special to make for dinner. We saved a lot of money that way, but it was only feasible since we could walk to the store in less than 5 minutes.

    Now we meal-plan about once a week, usually just for 5 meals. Inevitably something will happen, like him traveling for work or going out with contractors, that will mess up a 7-day meal plan. We have plenty of food at home for 2 extra meals per week on the rare week that we actually follow the meal plan 5 days in a row!

    For us, meal-planning is a combination of looking at what we already have (we buy some things in bulk when it's a good price and put in a second freezer), our coupons, and the sales at Kroger. As we add a meal to the list, we then go over all the ingredients to see what needs to be on the shopping list.


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