Meal Plan 101: The Meal Planner


Making the Plan

We now have our recipes and our master list. It’s time to plan our meals for the week.

I generally plan one week of meals at a time usually the day before I intend to grocery shop. Planning any further out than one week usually spells disaster. All those once-a-month shopping people have my deepest respect. I cannot think that far in advance. My brain would explode.

The first thing that I do is consult my planner calendar for anything special coming up during the week. If I know that we are going to be out for the evening I don’t want to plan some big elaborate meal for that night. I note any busy evenings on my meal planner by putting a little star by the day.

At this point, I will quickly review the contents of my freezer, fridge and pantry. I buy a lot of meat in bulk when it's on sale and then freeze it. A quick review each week helps me plan my meals with what I already have.

If I don't have ground beef, and it's not deeply discounted that week, then I don't plan meals with ground beef. The same applies to vegetables and fruits. I don’t plan to make homemade salsa unless all of the ingredients that I need for it are on sale for their lowest (or close to it) price.

I believe one of the biggest mistakes people make with making a meal plan to save money is planning based on what they want rather than on what they have or can afford.


My goal with meal planning, as with all other things, is to spend as little as possible. 

Just because I CAN spend $125 on groceries doesn't mean that I SHOULD!



Dinners are relatively set in stone around here, otherwise my sanity is severely compromised.

I always fill in one dinner box as leftover night when we clear out the fridge of all leftovers. This usually happens the night before grocery shopping day so my fridge is nice and clean for all the new food.

Another night we plan to have pizza, tacos or spaghetti. We always set aside one night each week for movie night and these three meals are our favorites for that night.

That leaves 5 dinners to plan for the remainder of the week.

Keeping in mind what I currently have on hand, and any special events going on during the week, I write down four meals from the master list. If I have a printed recipe for them I pull them from my recipe binder and set them aside.

For the last day, I refer to the "recipes I want to try" section of my binder. I pull one of these recipes and add it to my list for the week.



We tend to view lunch as this necessary, but unwelcomed, interruption to our day. As such, we keep it pretty simple - leftovers, sandwiches, etc. - things that can be prepared and consumed with minimal time and effort. We're weird like that.

I prefer to not plan a specific lunch for a specific day. Whenever I tried to do that my kids would always....always....complain about what they were supposed to eat that day. I would end up making something else and my pretty meal plan would look like a toddler decided to go happy scribble on it.

Soooo, I just make a list of 3-4 lunch options for the week on my meal plan. The kids and I can then just pick and choose what we feel like eating that day.

Printable Weekly Meal Planner at


Breakfast, too, has to be quick and easy. We are more zombie than human when we roll out of bed (except for Nerdlet who hits the ground like the Tasmanian Devil). I usually prepare breakfast for the week on my prep day so that we can just grab it, nuke it, and carry on!

Again, these are not planned for a specific day, I just make a list of 3-4 breakfast options for the week on my meal planner.


Snacks used to irritate me. Badly. Probably because I had to think about them, or maybe because my kids seem to! I got tired of answering "Can I have a snack?" all day, so I set up a snack station.

I write down what I put in it on my meal planner for the week.

Side note: More on the snack station in a future post! Sanity.Saver.People!


Sweets are thought of more as an unnecessary expense around here rather than a necessity. If we do have a dessert it’s generally a cookie or maybe a bowl of pudding. You know…sophisticated stuff.

However, there are times when we splurge a little and make something special - cherry pie, peaches and cream cake, cheesecake, cupcakes, etc.. For those times, I will write them down on my meal planner.

The Final Step

Now that we have our list of meals for the week it's time to put together our grocery list that we'll take to the store. Come back tomorrow when I'll share with you how I prepare my list each week.

Don't forget to grab your free meal planning kit!

How do you plan your family's meals?

I'd love to hear from you!


Don't miss all of the post from the Meal Plan 101 Series:
Part 1 - How a Meal Plan Saved Us Thousands
Part 2 - Recipes
Part 3 - The Master List
Part 4 - The Meal Planner
Part 5 - The Grocery List

Posted in Family Life, Meal Planning and tagged , , .

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