10 Meal Planning Tips + A Meal Plan for the Week template
It’s been a long day and you know you need to get started on dinner soon, but you’re exhausted and have no idea what to make. Does that ever happen to you? To help you solve that all-too-familiar issue, I’m giving you a meal plan for the week template to help make your life easier!
Need more ideas? 12 Freezer Organization Hacks That’ll Make Your Life Easier and 12 Easy Tips to Organize a Deep Pantry
Meal planning is a huge time, money, and sanity saver, but sometimes it’s hard to get in the habit of planning your weekly dinner schedule out.
So, here are 10 tips to help you master meal planning!
Tip 1: Use a “Meal Plan for the Week” template.
Meal planning is a lifesaver. Honestly.
I used to hate when dinnertime rolled around and I realized I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed or I didn’t get the chicken out of the freezer to defrost in time.
But when I started using a “meal plan for the week” template, I found that I could easily check my schedule each morning for that day’s meals and get out anything I needed.
When I use a meal plan, I also know I’ll have all the ingredients I need because I made my grocery list according to my meal plan and bought everything for the week (or two weeks, depending on how often I want to shop) at once.
Tip 2: Make your meal plan into a consistent weekly schedule.
This isn’t something I do all the time, but I know some people who do and they love it!
Designate each day of the week as a different theme of some sort – like soup every Monday, Mexican food every Tuesday, crockpot meals on Wednesday, etc. Then, you’re still doing a different kind of soup or crockpot meal for some variety, but keeping a consistent schedule for what days you’re having each type of food.
This can help when you’re looking for new recipes or trying to think of what meals you want to make. It’s a lot easier to plan your dinners out when you have a specific category of food for each day of the week.
Tip 3: Use what you have on hand.
When you’re setting your meal schedule for the week, check your cupboards and pantry first to see what you already have on hand.
First, this helps you avoiding buying something you think you’re out of when you already have it in your cabinet (my two extra bottles of olive oil can prove this point).
Second, it will help you use up your food before it goes bad. Do you have some extra veggies from the previous week? Plan a meal for Monday that uses up those veggies before they spoil.
When you use what you have on hand, it’ll help you save some money while clearing out your fridge.
Tip 4: Find a way to use leftovers in another meal.
Another great way to save money and prevent waste is to try to use leftovers from one meal towards another meal. So if you’re making ham for dinner one day, then you can use the rest of that ham in a soup or different dish the following day.
Find ways to use the same items in new, fun ways – then you can buy something in bulk, cook it all one evening, and just change it slightly for dinner the next night. This can save you both money and time!
Tip 5: Have a leftover day!
If you can’t incorporate your leftovers into other meals, just designate one day of the week as “leftover night.”
Heat up all of your leftover foods and whip up some veggies or a salad to go on the side. Now you’re not wasting any food, and the meal prep that day is always super quick, which is a nice bonus.
Tip 6: Prepare food and meals to freeze.
I love making a large amount of chicken in a crockpot or instant pot and freezing it for later meals. You can also get a rotisserie chicken and shred it, put it into smaller baggies, and freeze it. Then you have pre-cooked and pre-shredded chicken to use throughout the week for tacos, soups, on salad, or any way you want!
This idea also works well for ground beef. If you have the space in your freezer, you can pre-cook all the ground beef you’ll need for the next few weeks and then freeze it in smaller increments. It’s easy to defrost and reheat for spaghetti or other meals.
You can also make quick meals to freeze, like beef and cheese burritos. If you spend one morning making a freezable meal like this one, you can have 20-30 burritos (or whatever food you make) on hand to just pop into the microwave for a quick last-minute meal or for a late-night savory snack (I mean, burritos are good day OR night).
Tip 7: Have a backup meal in mind.
I suggest having a few meals you can easily throw together when you need something quick and easy. That way if you have to readjust your meal plan for some reason and suddenly you need to cook something else, if you have a few extra ingredients in your pantry, you won’t need to stress.
Pasta is always great for this occasion. Keep pasta and sauce for an easy meal, or you can pre-make pizza dough or buy some from the store and freeze it. Homemade pizza is easy and fast, and all you’ll need is tomato sauce (olive oil works well for a base sauce too!), some cheese, and any toppings you have on hand.
Always having a few extra items that won’t go bad on hand is a great way to give yourself a back-up meal if you need one.
Tip 8: Keep a list of your favorite recipes.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I sit down to meal plan I suddenly can’t think of any meals my family actually likes. It’s as if I’ve instantly forgotten all of our favorite dinners.
Keep a list of meals your family loves so you can refer to it as you meal plan. Of course, you should try new recipes often for some variety, but it’s always good to have staple meals that you know your entire family will enjoy.
Take a few minutes to jot down some favorite recipes that you can think of off the top of your head. You can do this on your phone or in a notebook – just make sure it’s something you can easily access. Then continue adding to it as you think of more. Ask your kids what meals they have liked and write those down as well. And when you try a new recipe and enjoy it – make sure you stick it on the list!
When you have a favorites list, you’ll have a bunch of meals and recipes you can easily fall back on when you’re meal planning. You can also refer to this awesome guide by the famous HelloFresh where they give some awesome meal planning tips!
Tip 9: Use a grocery app.
This is one of my very favorite tips! Use the Walmart app (or your favorite local grocery app) to add groceries to your “cart” as you meal plan for the week.
Then, you can just choose a time to pick up your groceries, check out on the app, and they’ll collect your items in the store and bring them right out to your car at no additional charge.
This saves you about a couple of hours of work EACH WEEK!
You can add things to your cart throughout the week instead of creating an additional shopping list, and you can go back through your cart easily to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything. Plus, you aren’t wandering through the store and finding extra things you don’t actually need.
You should definitely take advantage of your local grocery store’s app and pick-up service! It saves SO much time.
Tip 10: Prep right when you get back from the store.
Doing a bit of prep as you’re putting the groceries away makes cooking later on much easier. If you’re already putting everything away, you might as well set aside a bit of extra time to prep the food you’ll be using that week.
Did you buy a block of cheese for some tacos? Just shred that cheese now and stick it in a ziplock bag so it’s ready when you need it. Did you buy some fresh fruits and veggies? Go ahead and wash them now so they’re ready for quick, easy snacking.
Evenings can be busy and chaotic, and sometimes it feels like a rush against the clock to get dinner on the table. Taking a little extra time when you’re putting away groceries to prepare everything for future use will make dinner-time cooking way less stressful.
How to Use My “Meal Plan for the Week” Template
Now that you’ve got all my favorite tips, I’m giving you a free “Meal Plan for the Week” template that I designed and use for my weekly meal plans.
Hang this freebie up on your fridge or put it with your planner or somewhere easy to see.
Then, you can add meal ideas to it during the week (as you think of them) for the following grocery cycle, or you can sit down one evening and plan out an entire week or two at once. Whatever is easier for you!
If you use this meal plan for the week template and create your grocery list according to your meal plan, you’ll never have to wonder what you’re having for dinner that night or worry that you’re out of the ingredients you need.