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Looking for a super simple way to plan your meals? Here you can find the step-by-step instructions of the meal planning method I use.
Are you intrigued to know how to start meal planning? Wouldn’t you just love to have a system in place and spend less time thinking and stressing about meals. I’m not a big fan of couponing, overoptimizing or overplanning so the method I use is a super simple meal planning system perfect for beginners.
Here you can find the step-by-step instructions on how to start meal planning and a few helpful tips.
What is meal planning? and why you should start doing it?
Meal planning means to take the time to plan your and your family’s meals for the next day, week or month.
In a nutshell, the idea behind meal planning is to relieve the stress of thinking every day “what’s for dinner?”, and to plan your grocery shopping so that you can save time and money, and have one less thing to worry about when you’re running your household.
The super simple meal planning method
The steps on how to start meal planning with this super simple method are:
- Brain dump & brainstorm
- Schedule meals by week for the next 3-4 weeks
- Create a meal plan for each week and place it on the fridge
- Create a “master” grocery list for each week according to your weekly meal plan
- Circulate the weekly meal plans every 3 or 4 weeks
You can use this method if you want to make a meal plan just for you as well as if you want to plan meals for you and your spouse or the whole family.
If you have a big family, or if the kids and the adults eat different foods or someone has dietary restrictions, then you might want to modify this a bit or create two different meal plans so that the plan will meet everyone’s needs.
In this post I’ll walk you through the super simple meal planning method I use.
Even though it helps me save time and money, it’s not geared towards frugality and it’s not going into detail on how to optimize bulk shopping and your existing pantry and freezer items. On the other hand this method can help you free up your time and energy and optimize your grocery shopping.
I hope you find it helpful!
Step 1: Brain dump and brainstorm
1. First decide which meals you’re going to be planning:
2. Then take 1-4 pieces of paper depending which meal categories you want to add to your meal plan
If you’re going to be planning all of them, then take four pieces of paper and write on them:
- ideas for breakfast
- ideas for lunch
- ideas for dinner
- and ideas for snacks.
The reason I like to have the brain dumping and brainstorming for each “category” on a separate paper is that the meals usually are very different from each other and it makes it so much easier to stay organized and schedule them on the second step.
Use letter or an A4 size paper and turn it sideways so you’ll have more room to make the schedule on the second step. Write down the dishes on the left side one under another and leave about 2/3 of the paper on the right side empty, so that you’ll have room to create the schedule for these meals.
Here’s an example of this page from my meal planner.
Use a US letter or A4 size paper and turn it sideways so that you’ll have enough room to list the dishes AND to create the schedule as in the picture above.
3. Then start writing down all different dishes and snacks that are easy to cook and are your and/or your family’s “favorites”.
The easy way to start is by writing down the usual dishes that you or your spouse already often make.
Then you can ask your family what meals they like that you’ve made (or they’ve made!) in the past so that you don’t miss some family favorite in your meal plan.
4. At this point you should already have a good amount dishes written down on each paper
5. To use this method effectively, have space for 3-4 columns next to the dishes.
- Write down week 1, week 2, week 3 and week 4 on top of the “columns”.
- Write down the days of the week under each week. And on each line under each day make a little box.
- Check the image below for reference.
And you’re ready to move to the next step.
Or grab these printables from my shop.
Step 2: Schedule meals by week – I like to use 3 or 4 weeks and cycle the meal plans.
Now it’s time to start scheduling those dishes you listed on each sheet.
1. How often would you be eating each dish? Every week? Every two weeks? Once a month?
2. Then write an X or color the the box on each week/weekday you want to have that dish.
When you schedule this way you can easily see with week needs more meals and if you’re scheduling some dish too often.
- So if you want to have chicken pasta every 2 weeks, then you can schedule it on weeks 1 and 3 or weeks 2 and 4.
- If you like to create some dish each week (taco tuesday!) then you can schedule it on weeks 1, 2, 3, and 4.
- If you want to make sure that you and your family are eating fish once a week then make sure that there’s a fish dish scheduled on each week.
We have a home-made smoothie each and every day for breakfast, so for us the breakfast schedule is easy to make, but then on the weekends we have pancakes with the smoothie!
Every other week on Saturdays we like to treat ourselves with this amazing pizza from this small take out place that uses imported Italian products and it’s just to die for. Only in Italy have I had better pizza! So I write on my brain dumping sheets “takeout pizza” and then I schedule it to every other Saturday. And because the pizza is huge, we have it on Sunday for lunch, so I schedule “leftovers” for Sundays.
So remember to also write down and schedule takeout and leftovers.
Takeout: If you have take-out food some times, you can write down take-out on one of the lines and then schedule that on each week, or every two weeks (or whatever your takeout food schedule would be).
And you don’t need to know what the takeout on each day will be, you can make the decision on that day you’ve scheduled having takeout food.
Leftovers: And write another line for leftovers and schedule them the same way you’d schedule takeout and the homemade dishes.
And after the brain dumping, brainstorming and scheduling it’s time to transfer that information on the meal plan schedule sheets.
Remember to add a line for leftovers and takeout and to schedule those on the next step as well as all the dishes you listed on each sheet.
Step 3: Create the meal plan and place it on your fridge door
Take a new paper and create a grid with 4 x 7.
Write down breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and then the names of the weekdays.
If you scheduled the meals on four different weeks, then create four plans – one for each week. If you want to circulate the meal plans every 3 weeks, then create 3 plans.
Now you have a schedule that you can use to transfer the information from the previous step.
Here’s an example of the dinners for week 1.
In this example you can see now that you’ll need to come up with two more dinners!
Write down all breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks you scheduled and create plans for week 1, week 2, week 3 and week 4.
After your schedule is ready you can place the schedule on the fridge door or somewhere else where everyone can see it and replace the meal plan each week with the new one.
Place the ready meal plan schedule somewhere everyone can see it. And when the week changes replace the schedule with that week’s meal plan.
Step 4: Create a “master” grocery list for each week according to your weekly meal plan
Now it’s time to create a “master” grocery list for each week according to your weekly meal plan.
This doesn’t have to be exact. If you buy an extra milk or too much bread, you can just buy less next week.
But the idea is to write down everything you do need and then when you go do the grocery shopping for the week, you can first check what you have in the pantry, fridge and freezer and then adjust the grocery list accordingly.
But I think it’s good to have a list of ALL the things you do need so that you won’t forget to buy something.
Create a “master” grocery list for each week.
Write down everything you need and before you go shopping that week, check your pantry, fridge and freezer of the things you already have and adjust your grocery list accordingly.
Step 5: rotate weekly meal plans every 3 or 4 weeks.
Keep the meal plans as they are and circulate them every three or four weeks depending how you made them.
If there’s something that you need to change on your meal plan, adjust what’s needed and optimize it to your needs.
Circulate the weekly meal plans every 3 or 4 weeks. This way you don’t need to re-invent the wheel so as speak and you also have the “master” grocery list ready.
So those are the 5 simple steps on how to start meal planning.
After you come up with the perfect meal plan for you and your family, you don’t have to worry that much about “what’s for dinner” and grocery shopping as you might have had to before!
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