Want to do weekly meal plans, but don’t quite know where to start? Want to get more organised and waste less money AND food? Read on to find out how to Meal Plan for a Week in 10 Easy Peasy Steps!
Last month I shared the system I use to meal plan for a month in under an hour. I got lots of positive feedback, but also lots of comments about how a month was a bit too long! Many of you have super busy lives and schedules that change all the time and planning for a month at a time was just too much…I hear you!
So this month I am sharing a simplified version, where I show you how to meal plan for a week at a time.
It’s similar to the monthly system, and will definitely help you to reap all the benefits of meal planning I mentioned in this post: 20 Reasons Why You Need To Start Meal Planning
…but it is even easier and quicker AND a great place to begin if you are only just starting with meal planning. This is actually the exact system I used before I started getting into monthly meal planning and the system I still use when life is too busy to plan monthly. (Note – I’m just meal planning for dinner here, but the same basic principles would work if you want to meal plan for other meals too.)
If making your own meal plans seems just way too much hassle…you might like to know I’ve done all the hard work for you! CLICK HERE to download a copy of my FREE 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan today! The 4 weeks are completely standalone, so if you just want to plan weekly you can totally do that using my meal plan.
But if you want to plan from scratch, then this is the weekly meal planning system I use…
1. Look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer FIRST
This is super important! If you want to get into a habit of saving money and not wasting food (not to mention not having those full-to-the-brim kind of cupboards where everything falls down on top of you when you open them), then this should be your very first step.
Often the week doesn’t go quite as you expect and you find you didn’t use up everything you thought you would…or else you had to buy a bigger quantity than you needed for a meal you made last week. Or maybe you made a double quantity of something last week and stashed the extra in the freezer.
Have a quick look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Make a note of everything that you really NEED to use up and anything else you would like to use up. Hang on to that list you will need it in Step 4.
There’s NO NEED, however, to spend hours making an entire inventory of all your cupboards – you’ll be checking your cupboards again in Step 8.
2. Work out how many meals you need
Grab a piece of paper and write down the days of the week down one side and the meals you want to plan for across the top (or you could do this in a spreadsheet if you prefer).
Take a look at your calendar and cross off any meals/days that you don’t need to plan for (or better still, write a quick note about why you don’t need to plan – e.g. Dinner Out, Takeaway Night, Visiting Family etc.)
You now have a clear idea about how many meals you actually need to plan for.
This is also a good time to note down if there are any events that might affect your meal plans…e.g. Hubby Working Late, Kids at Gymnastics, Mother-in-Law for Dinner.
3. Write down any meals you already know
Do you have any regular meals or types of meals that you do every week? In our house Friday night is always Pizza Night and on Sunday night we nearly always have a simple pasta dish, such as Easy Tomato Pasta or Sicilian Tuna Pasta. Write those in first.
You may, for example, want to make Monday leftovers day, or Wednesday pasta day, or designate every Saturday night as curry night.
4. Add in your leftovers meals
Remember in Step 1 we wrote down the things in your fridge/freezer/cupboards you needed to use up? Now is the time to plan those things in so they get used up.
So let’s say I get to the end of the week and I find I have half a chorizo leftover in my fridge (a common occurrence) and a couple of chicken breasts in my freezer. Then I might decide to make my Chicken and Chorizo Paella – which uses both of those things.
Or perhaps I find that in my cupboard I have a tin of coconut milk that didn’t get used up the previous week, because my plans changed, and a random assortment of vegetable odds and ends in my fridge…I might decide to make my Easy Vegetable Korma, but just use the veg I have instead of the veg the recipe calls for.
If you are stuck for ideas…I highly recommend typing the ingredients you have into my search bar at the top of the page and seeing what comes up – I have a recipe index of over 300 easy peasy recipes – so there’s a good chance I’ll have what you are looking for! (And if not there’s always Google 😉 )
5. Add in any new recipes you want to try
Do you cut out recipes from magazines, collect recipe cards from the supermarket and pin recipes you want to try on your Pinterest boards and then NEVER EVER make them – well all that’s about to change, because that’s one of the beautiful things about meal planning – you actually get to make those new recipes you want to try!
Aim to plan in 1 or 2 new recipes each week to (so it’s a fun thing and not overwhelming!) Perhaps you could even designate one night a week as ‘new recipe night’.
Obviously it’s a good idea to plan to do new recipes on a night when you know you are going to be relaxed and have plenty of time (and NOT on the kids’ gymnastics night or then night when your mother-in law is coming round for dinner!).
6. Fill in the gaps
You may find after crossing out the nights you don’t have to cook, adding in your regular ‘must make’ meals, using up your leftovers and adding in the new recipes you want to make you don’t have any space left.
But if you do, fill in the gaps with regular meals that your family loves.
A really great tip for making this easier is to develop a ‘recipe bank’. This sounds fancy, but in reality can be as simple as a list of your favourite meals (which you can add to every time you try something new which you love).
Alternatively you can make this a little more fancy…but SO MUCH MORE USEFUL, by creating mini shopping lists for your favourites. This means each time you come to write your weekly grocery list, you will know exactly what you need to buy for each recipe.
Want some ready made shopping lists? Then download my Easy Dinners Meal Plan – I have created mini shopping lists for 28 of my most popular recipes – that’s enough to keep you going for a quite a while! Even if you don’t use my actual recipes, it gives you a good reference point for how to do it, so you can do it for yourself with your own recipes.
You could keep your mini grocery lists in a notebook (something like a bullet journal would be perfect for this), alternatively you could keep them on little index cards or type them up on the computer. Whichever system works best for you.
The huge benefit of mini grocery lists is they stop you forgetting things! Honestly the number of times I have tried, in the past, to just ‘remember’ what goes into a recipe and then end up forgetting to buy 1 or more of the ingredients – sometimes even the ‘key’ ingredient…having mini grocery lists makes sure this doesn’t happen.
7. Make a grocery list
If you’ve made mini grocery lists, this is super quick and easy – if not it will take a little longer, but is still fairly straightforward.
Grab a piece of paper (or use your notebook, or type this up on the computer) and write down the key headings for the sections of the supermarket (grocery store) you are going to go to, preferably in the order they appear in the store.
I use the headings: Fruit and Veg, Meat and Fish, Dairy and Chilled, Storecupboard. But you may want to use slightly different headings to suit your needs (and supermarket) better.
Then use your mini grocery lists / recipes etc. to fill in the grocery list.
At the same time you will need to add extra items to your list that are not covered by your meal plan. For me I only plan for dinners and weekend lunches, so I need to add to my list stuff for weekday lunches and breakfasts, plus drinks and desserts.
For me these tend to be pretty much the same thing every week, which is why I don’t use a plan for them, but of course you can make your plan more detailed and include breakfasts, dinners and desserts too if you want to.
8. Check your cupboards (AGAIN!)
I find it easiest to write my shopping list first and then check my cupboards afterwards. I find it much more time efficient to do it that way round, rather than getting up every 2 minutes to check to see if I have something in the cupboard.
So say I am making a curry, I will jot down chilli, garam masala, turmeric etc. on my list and then when I’ve finished my list I will go and look in my spice cupboard and see if I have these spices already and if it is enough for the week. And if I do I will cross them off the list.
I strongly believe that it is more productive to focus on 1 task at a time!
But if you prefer, you can always check your cupboards as you go along in Step 7.
9. Go shopping!!
Now you are armed with your awesome shopping list, you can go shopping…and shopping with a comprehensive and organised list means you will so much quicker – there will be less dithering and on the spot decision making, less getting distracted by all the offers and trying to work out recipes in the middle of the shop, less going back and forth (especially if your list is written in the order of the shop) – you will be so much more focused and purposeful!
Not only will you spend less time at the shops, but you are also very likely to save money too! You will be buying just what you need for the week ahead and wasting less food too – plus you will be less likely to get stuck in the middle of the week and decide to fork out for an expensive takeaway.
Alternatively you can use your grocery list to do an online shop in next to no time (this is the way I usually do it). No more stressing for hours over what to buy and getting fed up that you are not sitting next to your other half watching TV – just whizz through your list in 10 minutes flat and then go and enjoy that Netflix fix too 😉
10. Enjoy all those lovely meals…and then do it all again next week!
Yey – congratulations on planning a week’s worth of delicious meals. This week there will be no need to rush out to the shops at the last minute because you’ve forgotten something and no stressing over what to make for dinner, you will have everything you need to cook delicious dinners every night of the week and, as a bonus, you won’t end up throwing away food at the end of the week AND you will get a chance to try 1 or 2 of those recipes you always meant to make.
Then next week you can do it all again – and the best thing about doing it all over again is that it will be SO MUCH EASIER the second time around! And it just keeps on getting easier and easier the more you do it.
And don’t forget, if this all just seems like too much work and you wish someone would just do it all for you…then you can download a copy of my FREE 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan HERE!
I’ve planned out 4 weeks of easy dinners – that’s 28 different meals in total, all picked from my most popular recipes. I’ve also provided 4 master shopping lists, 1 for each week AND created all the mini shopping lists so you can easily make swaps and changes AND there’s a full guide and an FAQ section.
Still not quite sure about meal planning? Then do read my 20 Reasons Why You Need To Start Meal Planning. I almost guarantee you’ll be heading back over here afterwards to start on your first week’s meal plan!
Alternatively, if you are ready to take meal planning to the next level then why not check out my guide to how you can meal plan for a month in UNDER ONE HOUR.
Happy meal planning!
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Great post. Very similar to what I do in my home. I honestly don’t know how people survive without meal planning! I vaguely remember a time when I didn’t have planned meals – pre-children. So nice knowing it’s one less thing to worry about in the afternoon! Bonus when I make freezer meals or slow cooker meals!
Eb Gargano says
Thanks you Katelynn. I so agree with you – so nice not having thinking about/shopping for dinner to worry about every afternoon. One hit, once a week and it’s done. We waste less food, save money and eat way more healthily! Freezer and slow cooker meals are awesome too!! I love it when on my meal plan I have a frozen chilli or goulash or something. Then I know all I have to do is defrost, reheat and cook some rice – yay! Eb x