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Meal Planning Made Easy

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Meal planning can be one of the most daunting challenges moms face. The pressure to come up with a variety of healthy, affordable meals that everyone in the family will enjoy is difficult even when you don’t have picky eaters or food allergies to work around.

Add in one of those constraints and even the best of us are tempted to throw in the towel. The worst part is that deciding on the menu is only the first step in the process. After the menu is made, you still have to make a grocery , grocery shop and prepare the meals.

Lots of good ideas for meal planning to make it faster and easier each week. #mealplanning #dinnerideas

It’s no wonder that aside from cleaning, meal planning is the most time-consuming and dreaded task moms undertake (for complete transparency, this statement isn’t based on a university study, just my own personal survey of myself and my friends).

However, when we learn to master a one week meal plan, we have less stress, save money, save time, and prepare healthier meals.

Meal planning is also a great way to lose weight if weight loss is one of your goals. You’ll be eating out less and enjoying more nutritious meals.

Luckily, there are ways to make meal planning easier. Here are my favorite strategies for tackling this chore.

Meal Planning Techniques

Enlist Your Family Members

Let each person in your family choose a meal. Doing this accomplishes two things: buy-in from each family member on the menu AND less meals for you to think up. In my family, each child gets to select a dinner entrée leaving me free to balance the nutritive value in the side dishes.

Categorize Your Days

When I was a newlywed, I used to assign a different type of cuisine to each day of the week: Mexican Mondays, Italian Tuesdays, Chinese Wednesdays, Homestyle Thursdays, Dining Out Fridays, Leftover Saturdays, BBQ Sundays.

Later, I designated a different main ingredient to each day: Meatless Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays and Fridays, Beef Wednesdays and Sundays, Smoked Sausage Thursdays, Pork Saturdays. Right now each person has his or her own day.

Since there are six of us, this leaves us with one day for leftovers. Categorizing is a useful strategy because it gives you a smaller range of dishes to focus on, thereby helping you make decisions quicker and easier.

Always Keep an Emergency Meal in Stock

Some days, the time gets away from us and before you know it, it’s time to make dinner and you forgot to thaw the meat. Rather than caving in and ordering pizza or going out to eat, save your money and your health by pulling an emergency meal out of your freezer.

This can be a recipe you doubled so that you could eat one and freeze the other. It can also be a go-to meal for which you have the ingredients available at all times. For example, I always keep everything I need to make my Easy Tortellini Dinner on hand.

I also keep everything I need to make Chicken Enchilada Cups stocked in my freezer and pantry (when I don’t have wonton wrappers, I use a can to cut muffin-sized circles out of whole wheat tortillas which I usually have in my refrigerator). It doesn’t matter what your emergency meal is, as long as it is quick and easy and you can always keep the ingredients on hand.

Keep a Recipe File and Rate Your Recipes

Sometimes the hardest part of putting the family menu together is trying to figure out what to make. Keep a file, folder, or binder where you can store recipes.

You can organize yours however you want, but I highly recommend adopting a rating system so that you can easily choose recipes that your family has approved. When you try a new recipe, write your family’s reactions somewhere on the recipe.

For simplicity, I always have my family members assign it a rank from 1-10 (1 being “I would rather not eat again than be in a room with this food again” and 10 being “Wow mom, I think you should try out for Top Chef because this was amazing!”). If a meal scores 8 or higher from everyone, it goes to the front of the binder in our “favorites” section—the one I go to first for meal planning inspiration.

Want to make this even easier? Go digital.

Plan to Eat makes it easy to save the recipes and create your menu with drag-and-drop ease. You can easily adjust the recipes for your family size and taste, then plan your menu and generate a shopping list in just minutes. Cost: $4.95/month or $39/year

For Really Easy Meal Planning, Use Meal Cards

This strategy takes a fair amount of time and energy to set up, but once you’ve got it set up meal planning becomes effortless. One day, when you have an hour or two to devote to thinking about your menus, sit down with a stack of index cards.

On each index card write down one complete meal (entrée, sides, and condiments). On the back of the index card, write down all of the ingredients needed to prepare the meal. Stop groaning at me—I told you this was going to take a while!

Now, put all those cards in a recipe box or clip them together and put them somewhere you’ll remember. Every time you have to plan your meals for the upcoming week, pull out the cards and randomly choose seven. Make your shopping list from the back sides of the cards. Done!

Free Menu Planner

Use this Free Printable Meal Planner each week to create your menu and grocery list.

Meal Planning Apps and Websites

When you really want to simplify your meal planning routine, you can let tech take over most of the heavy lifting. These meal planning apps and websites make creating a menu and generating a shopping list a snap!

Your Dinner Is Planned

Ready to hand off the entire meal planning process? Sign up for Your Dinner Is Planned to get weekly dinner plans that include delicious, easy recipes and mobile-friendly grocery lists.

If you want to enjoy healthy meals several days a week but have been struggling to make it happen, Your Dinner Is Planned can help.

  • Cost: $18/month or $180/year
  • What You Get:
    • 5 entree recipes per week
    • Side dish recipes
    • Grocery lists
    • Videos with cooking tips
    • Members-only Facebook community


Eat at Home Meal Plans

This is a great choice for families that tend to eat out a lot due to time constraints and convenience. Eat at Home Meal Plans feature fast and easy recipes and color-coded lists.

If you find yourself eating a lot of convenience food and want to cut back, Eat at Home is the perfect solution.

  • Cost: $14/month or $84/year (plus a 30-day money back guarantee)
  • What You Get:
    • Access to four meal plans (a total of 72-80 recipes) every month: Traditional, Wholesome, Slow Cooker, and No Flour/Sugar
    • Monthly 1-hour freezer stash menu (prep 6 meals in one hour)
    • Side dish suggestions and recipes
    • 16-20 dessert recipes each month
    • Printable menus and recipes
    • Color-coded grocery lists
    • Ability to choose serving sizes for a small or large family
    • Instant Pot recipes are included in each monthly plan
    • Recipes for meals that are ready in 15 minutes are also included each month


Once a Month Meals

Prefer to get all of your cooking out of the way at once so you can just reheat during the typically chaotic dinner hour? Once a Month Meals is the meal planning system for you!

You create your menu from the thousands they provide, then print the instructions and shopping list. Buy the groceries, batch cook your meals. Then, pop them in the freezer until you’re ready to thaw and serve them.

  • Cost: $18/month or $162/year (plus a 30-day money back guarantee)
  • What You Get:
    • Immediate access to all recipes and pre-made menus
    • 24-hour access to the menu builder tool
    • 12 different menu types (e.g. paleo, vegetarian, Instant Pot, slow cooker, gluten free/dairy free, dump and go)
    • One-on-one support
    • Weekly live freezer cooking workshops
    • Weekly tips & encouragement
    • Online learning library
    • Members-only community

The only downside of Once a Month Meals is that in order to provide amazing service for their members, they only open to new members a few times each year. However, you can download a free mini menu at any time to try their system and then be added to their waitlist to be notified as soon as membership opens again.



Another great meal planning tool for anyone who loves batch cooking and freezer meals is MyFreezEasy. It doesn’t have the same filtering options available in Once a Month Meals, but membership is always open and it comes with a great mobile app. MyFreezEasy meals are also budget-friendly so you’ll see a dramatic savings in your grocery bill.

  • Cost: $12/month or $120/year
  • What You Get:
    • Immediate access to all recipes and pre-made menus
    • Ability to easily adjust serving sizes
    • Mobile app
    • Easy-to-use drag & drop menu tool
    • New recipes and themed meal plans every month
    • Shopping lists
    • Instructional videos
    • Members-only community


Meal planning saves time AND money once you’ve chosen a system that works for you.

No more dreading the grocery store because you’ll be walking in with a plan and a list of exactly what you need. Meal prep will be a breeze when you have everything you need at your fingertips.


31 thoughts on “Meal Planning Made Easy”

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  6. Like your idea of having the kids choose what to eat on their day. I may need to tell hubby that so we don’t have to whack our brains each day! Thanks for sharing at My Favorite Posts SHOW OFF Weekend Blog Party 🙂

    The Wondering Brain

  7. I love these tips–I find there are some weeks I plan real well then I leave the meal plans for a few days and wing it. I like having a theme for the days.

  8. I dont have kids but I am responsible for my family! and the daily different types of food is genius I think it will help keeps things fresh

    • When it was just me and my husband, it was really hard to get motivated to whip up a tasty meal every night for just two people. The different cuisines helped keep me motivated (and inspired).

  9. I liked the idea of meal cards. I agree 100% that meal planning is truly a daunting challenges for all moms, I guess. Thank’s for this helpful tips.

  10. That’s one thing i am guilty of, i don’t plan our meals that’s why it’s always a dilemma to thing what we have for our next meal.

  11. These are great tips! My son and I split cooking chores he cooks 3 days a week and I cook the other 4. We always plan our meals which also makes grocery shopping much easier. I agree with the emergency meal idea. There are days when you are starving and need to make something quick.

    • I am making my teenage son read your comment! Although my 13 year old daughter has helped me make dinner, no one (besides my husband) has ever attempted to make dinner on their own for the family. Maybe I’ll start a “Kids Cook” night!

  12. I always plan out our meals for 2 weeks at a time in a list and then let everyone else pick from that list what sounds good to eat.

  13. I just cook what I decide to cook, they can like it or not lol 🙂 Usually they like it though, but my son is a bit picky and I often end up making him something completely different. I do try to make him eat the same thing as us though.

  14. That’s how I menu plan! I have Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays (which is any form of Mexican food), Crock Pot Wednesdays, Italian Thursdays, Fun Fridays (kid friendly foods), Fend for Yourself Saturday, and Something New Sundays!!

  15. I have always wanted to set a weekly menu but I just haven’t been able to manage it. Thanks for the tips, I can now see what I was doing wrong (like listing meals that do not have similar ingredients -which would help save $$)

  16. Great idea. Things really work SO much better when you take a few minutes and plan ahead. You can cut out so much stress!

  17. Thanks for some awesome planning ideas! I always mean to meal plan, but something always goes wrong. After reading this,it seems like the way I was approaching it could use some help! Thanks again!

  18. I just recently got my daughter involved in cooking. Next step is to get her involved in the meal planning process! Great tips.


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