Fail to (Meal) Plan, Plan to Fail

I hate making grocery lists! It’s one of my dreaded weekly chores because it is time consuming. I have to decide what I want to cook, find the recipes, check the pantry for ingredients, second guess my menu, consult Pinterest, ask my husband’s opinion, and the process continues until I’ve wasted hours on a simple task. These days I don’t have a minute to spare, so, out of necessity, I came up with a meal planning and grocery list system that works for me. Now I don’t dread this weekly chore, and I can make my list or fill my online pick-up cart in a matter of minutes.

My sister was telling me about an online subscription she had purchased for meal planning. This fancy system would spit out a store list and a menu in no time. Now, being a DIY person, I’m not usually going to pay for something I could easily do myself. So, I started thinking about what I could do to streamline my meal planning and grocery-list-making process. That is when my “Recipes We Love” meal planning binder was born! Invest a little extra time now to save a ton of time every single week! Now, I want to show you how to make it happen!

HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN MEAL PLAN FOR FREE!

Keep reading for FREE download!

1. MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE RECIPES YOUR FAMILY ENJOYS

Get out a notebook and a pen and write down all the recipes your family enjoys eating. I like to cook, so I had a ton of recipes. It should be a big range of things like roast, grilled cheese, chicken salads, spaghetti, French toast, and frozen pizza. Write it all down, even if you’re not sure you want it on your meal plan.

2. CATEGORIZE YOUR LIST

Categorizing will help when we make our meal plan so we don’t end up with three pasta dishes in a row. My categories were Pasta, Breakfast, Beef, Chicken, Soup, and Other.

3. DIVIDE MEALS INTO YOUR WEEKLY PLAN

Determine your strategy for dividing your meals up. When meal planning there are a few things that are important to me: variety, time, and budget. If I ate a certain food last week, I do not want to eat it again this week and probably not next week either. To keep variety in my menu, I made a six week rotation with very little repetition. For time management purposes, I only chose meals that could be made in 30 minutes to an hour, and two nights a week I included quick meals that can be made in 15-20 minutes. We don’t really have a set-in-stone grocery budget, but I do try to save money where we can. I tried to balance out more expensive meals with cheaper meals within each week’s meal plan.

Before you begin this step, you’ll have to download the meal planner (available at the end of the post). Using the strategy you came up with, enter your meals into each week of the “Recipes We Love” template. Don’t worry about the ingredients list yet, just arrange them how you see fit. Below you’ll see an example pulled from my meal planning binder. Each week I tried to do a soup, a beef dish, a chicken dish, a pasta dish, a quick recipe, a breakfast-for-dinner night, and a leftover night. Additionally, I tried to remember my strategy of considering variety, time, and budget.

4. CREATE INGREDIENTS LIST

For me, this was actually the quickest part of the whole process. With all your recipes in one spot, go through each week and make your ingredients list. You will have two categories. The first category is “Check the Pantry/Fridge.” Items for this list include anything you know you consistently have on hand like spices, eggs, or flour. The second category is “Purchase” which includes all the other needed ingredients. You will also want to give an estimate for how much of certain items. For example, don’t just type “shredded cheddar”. If you have two recipes that call for it, put the amount needed for both recipes, so you know you’ll buy enough.

5. PRINT IT

I guess I’m not millennial enough to go paperless when it comes to cooking; I still like to have my paper copies. After I printed the meal plan, I inserted each page into a sheet protector and filled my binder. I even used dividers to separate each week, but that’s optional. I just happened to already have some on hand. You can even print off the recipes and add them to your binder as well, so everything is in one convenient spot. 

7. USE IT!

The best advice I can give on using this meal plan is to TRUST THE MEAL PLAN. Go with whatever it says to make each week. You know you chose recipes everyone likes, so just flip to your ingredients page and make your grocery list. Do not look at it and think, “Ugh, I’m not feeling spaghetti right now.” You will fall back into the cycle of looking up recipes and wasting time. TRUST THE MEAL PLAN. BUY THE INGREDIENTS. COOK THE FOOD. SAVE TIME. Don’t let this be something you spend hard work on, and then forget about after a couple weeks.

Even though this is a “plan”, it’s still flexible. What if you want to make a special meal or you’re really craving something? I call my breakfast-for-dinner and my quick meal nights my “flex meals.” This means I can easily switch them out for another recipe because most of the ingredients are either frozen or something I already have on hand. For example, there is a salmon dish we love, but it takes more time than I really like to take on a normal night, Plus, I have to go to the butcher to get the correct type of fish. When we are craving this, I might switch it with frozen pizza or with pancakes. The same goes for if you are eating out one night. You’ll take out one recipe to account for that meal.

I hope this “Recipes We Love” Meal Planner helps you save time while providing your family with home cooked dinners.

Note: If choosing the editable template, it is a Google Slide. You will have to select “Make a Copy” to be able to edit it. 

I’m always looking for a new easy recipe! Post your favorite weeknight dinner below!

If you’re looking for new recipes, check out What’s Cookin’ Wednesday where I share a recipe I love each week!