Meal Planning for Dummies

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I had always thought that making a meal plan for my family was out of the question. It seemed too complex, inflexible and organized for me. However one day I just got frustrated enough throwing out what was perfectly good food because I forgot to cook it in time. Why did I waste my money on food anyway when all anyone wanted to eat was takeout? We were not only living expensive but unhealthy lives and I was done with it!

I sat down and created a meal plan for that upcoming week. I figured I could do one week at a time, at the very least. It took me some time but once I had a pattern in mind it got much easier. Now I make a meal plan for the month in just a short time and I don’t have to stress about what I am going to feed my family. I save money, eat more well-rounded meals, and I get to have fun cooking again. It is a win-win all around.

The first thing I did was find a template calendar I could type in. I simply used the Word search to look for a free one. I knew I had to type it up because my handwriting is so bad I wouldn’t be able to read it in a week!

Once I had a calendar I could type in I then wrote down the days I knew would be hard. Things that would make it hard to cook like kid’s sports and activities, doctor’s appointments, Bible study night, and shopping night were on the calendar. By writing that down first I knew I could then set those days up for easy meals or even crock pot or frozen meals.

I started with Monday. That is the best day for me to go shopping. Also that is the day my local pizza place has a big sale on carry out pizza. I can get enough to feed my family for half what it would normally cost. As an emergency backup I also made a mental note that fried chicken is on sale Tuesday nights, but I prefer to not go that route. Saturdays are also very busy, so having a healthy take out meal like Subway sandwiches set up is a good idea.

By planning one night only for shopping I don’t end up spending fifty dollars four or five times a week. I just make a list and stick to it. It helps a lot and also makes my stress levels go down. Of course I keep an eye out for good sales and am flexible with my menu in that way, but having definite meals planned makes it easy to get what I need without having to come up with it on the spot. Is it any wonder we get stuck eating the same meals over and over again?

I also set up one dessert night a week. I know everyone loves dessert, but having it once a week is enough. Usually it will last a couple days too, so it is not that big of a deal. I try to stick with fruit based desserts for the most part as they are better for us.

Every meal I had three categories: the main dish, the vegetable, and the starch. The starch may seem like a unhealthy idea for you, but it is essential to keep my family full and satisfied without running to get something to snack on an hour after dinner.

The main dish is usually meat based, although I try to make a low meat or no meat dish at least once a week. An example would be Teriyaki Chicken. Then I have the vegetable, like salad or grilled asparagus, and then the starch like rice, corn, or potatoes. That way we have a well-rounded meal.

I also make a note of anything I need to do the night before. Marinades and crock pot meals have to be put together early, so by making a note I don’t forget to do it. I have found my food tastes better too because I actually have time to let it marinade!

If you can, you can shop for more than one week at a time. However I have found that my small refrigerator and freezer can really only hold one week’s worth of food at a time. I also don’t end up letting things spoil or having someone eat an essential ingredient!

When I find a recipe, usually on Pinterest, I always mark it. That way I have a bunch of great recipes to look through when it comes time to plan. I can mix and match to make sure we don’t end up eating chicken two days in a row, and can use leftovers as part of a meal for the next day.

I also learned to include a shortened link on my meal plan to the recipe. That way if I can’t remember how much I need at the store or I need to cook in a hurry I can plug it into my phone and bring it up in a snap.

Making the shopping list can seem overwhelming too, but it really is not. Make a mental note of what you already have and then as you set each recipe for the day go through the ingredients and write down what you need to buy, along with the amounts. I type it up so I can read it later and I can also make changes. For example if I have a recipe that calls for a pound of hamburger and then another that calls for a pound and a half I can simply delete the original measure of one and replace it with two and a half.

If you are super organized you can even separate your list into categories like canned goods and frozen items. One thing that does help me a lot is when I get home to unload the groceries is that I keep the ingredients near each other in the refrigerator. Sometimes I even keep them in the bag together so they don’t get eaten. A Sharpie can work wonders in marking each bag with the day it will be used.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a meal plan and it sure does pay off. Try making a meal plan for your family’s dinner and see how much money, effort and time you can save!


Rachael Cherry is a wife, mother, and writer who is passionate about helping connect families in need with high quality caregivers. She has taken that passion and put it to work through NannyPro, a respected online nanny referral service. Learn more by visiting @NannyPro on Twitter.


  1. When I had children at home I use to plan out the week’s meals now that it is just me and Tim there is no point

    • I just often find it hard to plan meals other than earlier that same day. Other things though I love to plan way in advanced.

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