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How To Make A Meal Plan

I’ve written before that meal planning is essential to feeding a family on a budget.  Without a meal plan, there is waste, either of food or of money or both.  That’s easy for me say, I‘ve been making meal plans for years and am naturally inclined toward list-making, organizing anything that can’t outrun me and generally exercising my control issues in socially acceptable ways.
Most of the time.

For those of you who don’t know how to make a meal plan, it may seem a little daunting.  How do you get started?  Where do you find inspiration?  Don’t worry, mamas!  I’ve got you!  Check out my simple guide for learning how to meal plan.

Decide on a Weekly or Monthly Meal Plan

I suggest a span of a least a week, but I currently make monthly menus for my family because it’s less time consuming.

I like to do as much meal prep as possible on a single day of the month or week to save time daily.  I use Plan to Eat.  More about that later.

Set a Single, Regular Grocery Shopping Day

Whether I’m shopping weekly or monthly, I pick a certain day of the week or month to do all of my shopping so that I make fewer trips to the store in between.  Except for picking up more perishables like milk or fresh produce, I try to stay out of the stores.  I buy fewer impulse items and spend less money over all that way.

I make sure my regular grocery shopping occurs at least a few days before my meal plan begins.  That gives me time to shop and prep without being rushed and helps to prevent having unplanned days where eating out might be tempting or even necessary.

Plan Your Dinners First

In my experience, making a dinner menu plan requires much more creativity than breakfast, lunch or snacks.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when beginning your dinner menu planning:

  • How many nights will I need to plan dinner for?  Do you eat out one dinner per week? Do you have a special event coming up in the next week that will mean dinner is eaten away from home?
  • How many dinners will be meat-less?  I suggest that you make things really simple for yourself by declaring certain days to be the same each and every week.  You could have Vegetarian Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Beef Wednesdays, Pasta Thursdays, Mexican Fridays, etc.  Knowing the type of meat or cuisine you will serve each day makes finding recipes a breeze and prevents you from having chicken every single night of the week.
    Your family will thank me.  I mean you.  They will thank YOU!
  • Bookmark the recipe pages of your favorite websites for easy access.  Spend a few minutes each week on Pinterest getting inspired.  Don’t be afraid to try new things, but be sure to make notes about those recipes that you will definitely make again.  Menu planning gets easier when you have a list of family favorites to pull from!
  • Subscribe to a meal plan system that specializes in real food meal plans.  I use Real Plans and Plan To Eat and recommend them.

Plan to Eat Meal Planner

Plan Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks

I keep breakfast and lunch really simple–all breakfasts are the same (or a variation of the same) each day of the week.  For instance, Monday is oatmeal day.  Whether I make it apple cinnamon or maple cream, we’re having oatmeal on Monday.  Saturday is always bacon day.  And so on . . .

Lunches are almost always leftovers.  Easy.  I highly suggest this if you are short on time or money. Making a little extra at dinner to eat at lunch the next day is a beautiful, time-and-money-saving thing.

For snacks, I have a list of about 50 that I rotate.  Two per day, until they tell me they are tired of something and then I bring a new snack into the rotation until they crave an old favorite.

Make a Written or Printable Meal Plan to Post in Plain Sight

menu plan

Print your meal plan and keep it posted in plain site.  This will prevent the “What’s for dinner?” question.  I find that it also helps me to plan when to defrost which meat, when I need to run to store for fresh produce that must be purchased the day that it’s being used (mushrooms!) and how much prep I need to do that evening if it couldn’t be done ahead.

Check out my free printable meal planner OR, use a meal planner from Real Plans or Plan to Eat!

Make a Grocery List

I go through my meal plan day by day and list the ingredients I’ll need and how much of them I’ll need.  I look in my kitchen to see what I have already and narrow down the list.  Then, I divide the list by store.  I put everything I buy at Costco in one list, everything I get from a local farmer in another list, etc.

I keep a separate list of the fresh items that I can’t buy until it’s closer to the day I’ll need them.  I list the day, the items needed and the store where I plan to purchase them so all I have to do is add the list to my daily planner.  I make it as easy as possible on myself.

Meal planning has saved me time and money over the years.  Without a meal plan, it gets chaotic and I waste time and money.  Meal planning is the number one way we are able to stick to a real food diet and not break the bank.  Give it a try!

How to Create a Meal Plan

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