Are you confident in how to plan meals at home, or do you struggle with meal planning? Maybe you’re new to it and wonder, “How do I get started?” You’re not alone. Everyone, at some point in their lives, is new to meal planning. Even people who love to cook, like me, often find that planning a meal is more work than actually preparing the meal.
In fact, I’ve had lots of days where I have what I call a “menu planning block.” I’ll get out a piece of paper with all good intentions of writing out a menu for the week, and then I can’t think of anything to put down! It’s blank. No inspiration. Nothing.
At those times, I turn to Pinterest or my trusty cookbooks here at home. Visuals tend to give me a little menu writing inspiration.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a laborious process. You just need to find the method that works for you in the stage of life you are in. It can look vastly different for a parent with small children as compared to a parent of teens. In fact, I’ve done everything from a 3-week rotating menu to whatever I can find in the pantry and fridge that day.
Meal planning strategies
Over the years I’ve found some other tools and strategies to make my meal planning a little easier. Take what you need from these ideas and either make it work for you or throw it out, and don’t compare yourself to others.
- Decide how many days your meal plan will include
When my kids were young, I found it helpful to have a three-week rotating menu. That’s right…three weeks of meals already planned, both lunch and supper. Three weeks was a good timeframe for us. There were plenty of days to include favorite meals and a wide variety of foods. Once three weeks was up, we started over. This made meal planning much easier. I didn’t have to think about what we were going to have for a meal. I just had to look at the menu and I could get started. Other times, I used shorter cycles. Currently, I write a new meal plan every two weeks. So, decide how many days you want to start with, and go from there.
- Make of list of your family’s favorite meals
Ask your family what their favorite meals are. Then categorize them to make it easier for planning. For example – chicken recipes, beef recipes, side dishes, casseroles, Mexican, Asian, etc. Don’t forget to add side dishes like vegetables and fruit. That way, when you sit down to write out your menu, you have a list of favorites all ready to choose from. I have a free meal planning worksheet available for download here that can help you organize your favorite ideas for meals.
- Review your calendar
Look at your calendar and note any days you won’t be home and plan to either eat out, eat at someone else’s home, or make grab and go meals like sandwiches. Keep those days in mind when writing out your meal plan,
- Decide on your menu format
There are a couple ways to do this: recipe based and theme based.
Recipe based means to plan out a specific meal for each day your menu. You’ll know exactly what you’re making each day.
Theme based meal plans use a category instead of a specific recipe, providing a little more flexibility. For example, you could have meatless Monday, Mexican on Tuesday, pasta on Wednesday, stir-fry on Thursday, fish on Friday, and so on. From there it’s easy to come up with a simple meal plan as long as you know what ingredients you have available.
- Look in your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what you have on hand.
Now that you know what you already have available, fill out your menu with meals made from these ingredients. Then, add in other meals using leftovers (see below) or ingredients you plan to purchase at the store. Add side dishes, like veggies and salads, so help balance your meals and ensure and healthy diet.
- Plan for leftovers
Either heat up leftovers or use them as an ingredient in a new dish. It’s one less meal to plan and helps prevent food waste too!
- Be flexible
Now that your menu is all done and ready to go, remind yourself that this meal plan is just a guide. It’s there to make your life easier, not to stress you out when changes are made. A meal plan is just a tool. How you use it is up to you; and that looks different for everyone.
Meal planning resources
Need a little help getting started? I have a free menu planning template available here for download. It includes menu templates for breakfast, lunch, and supper. You can plan anywhere from one week to three weeks for each one.
And don’t forget the free meal planning worksheet available for download here to help you organize your favorite ideas for meals. Using these tools and the ideas listed above can help you plan healthy meals for you and your family every week.
Other helpful meal planning resources:
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