Plan Every Meal of the Week

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Planning out every meal of the week, snacks included, can be a great way to help you make ends meet, save money, and most importantly, eat well.


For home cooks, meal planning is one huge step toward success. If you’ve got an unlimited pantry and grocery budget, maybe you can eschew the practice. But, who has that?

If you’ve got limited resources, be they time, money, or even kitchen space, a meal plan can make you a rockstar when it comes to putting great food on the table in a reasonable amount of time without needing a fully stocked kitchen.

If you have a good meal plan, you will:

  • not be running through the fast food drive through at the last minute
  • avoid packing the family up to go to a restaurant (unless you really want to)
  • save money on more expensive convenience items
  • save space in your kitchen because you’ve got a plan to use what you buy and buy what you’ll use
  • waste less money, food, and time
  • eat well — Booyah!

There are plenty of meal planning services out there who will charge you a small fee and provide you with directions, recipes, and grocery lists. Over on Life as MOM, you can download a variety of family-friendly meal plans for free.

taco joe's

Meal Planning 101

If you want to make your own meal plans, then it’s time for Meal Planning 101.

I started this series last summer to help readers learn how to makes sense of what’s in the cupboard and how to prepare meals that fit the budget and please the whole family. So far in the Meal Planning 101 series we’ve covered the following topics:

If you’re just now joining the class, you can catch up real quick. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about other strategies for successful meal planning:

  • Freezer Cooking and Meal Planning
  • Planning for School Breakfasts and Lunches
  • The Color-coded Meal Plan
  • Meal Planning on a Small Budget

stone fruit tart

The 4×7 Meal Plan

Last year I shared my strategies for the 3×7 meal plan, planning out all three meals of the day for an entire week. Since my children are ravenous this summer — as is my husband when he comes home from work — I’ve adapted this to become the 4×7 meal plan, wherein snacks are included.

Here’s the way to do it:

1. Record it.

I use the meal planning sheets in my ebook Organizing Life as MOM. You can use a simple spreadsheet on your computer or buy a copy of the book. You could also use Google Calendar or some other type of grid.

Just make sure to write it down and consult it frequently throughout the day and week.

2. Plug in special occasions.

Special occasions call for a special plan. Place those on your week’s calendar along with any markings to denote busy nights when you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a plan, like softball practice, book club, or Bible study.

3. Plan easy meals based on what you have.

The best way to save money on groceries is to eat what you have, so plan your meals around what’s already in the fridge, freezer or pantry.

weekly 4x7 meal plan

4. Check the sales.

Once you’ve exhausted your in-house options, check the sales ads for ideas on what else to serve this week. For instance, bone-in chicken breast is $1.49/pound here, so I’m planning several chicken meals this week.

5. Plan for healthy snacks.

Snacking is controversial. Some folks say you should avoid snacks, others say to keep the tank full. I’ve found that having healthy snacks available, like fresh fruit, veggie dippers, or home baked goods, keeps my people happier and helps us make it to dinnertime without a meltdown.

In my experience, meltdowns lead to fast food. Just saying.


6. Make a grocery list.

It’s best to make a grocery list as you go through this meal planning process. If you’re already looking at recipes, you might as well go check the cupboards to make sure you’ve got everything to make that dish. Add to your grocery list anything that you need.

Need some help getting started?

If this is still a little intimidating, go download one a variety of family-friendly meal plans from Life as MOM. They start you out with five meals, sides, and a baked good or two. Plug them into the week and then fill out the blanks.

Do YOU plan all the meals of the week?

Why or why not?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Sandi says:

    I do not plan out every meal of the week. Our schedules are too hectic, frequently change with less than 24 hours notice, and are not conducive to solid meal plans. If I wrote one out and followed it, I would actually have MORE food waste rather than less. I generally have a concept of about 3 meals at any point in time. I can then decide which ones I have time and energy to prepare when it gets closer to meal time. There is pretty much always at least one meal of leftovers hanging out in the fridge for when plans change and cooking time is not an option. When I’m not focusing on using up stuff I already have (like the pantry challenge which is continuing here) then I definitely shop the sales for meal ideas.

  2. KimH says:

    Nope.. I definitely dont plan every meat for the week but when I had a bunch of kids at home I did.. We’re in our 50s and have an empty nest and Im not working right now so my approach is much more lackadaisical.
    Different times in life call for different approaches.

    • Jessica says:

      Exactly! I’m just tired of hearing, “what’s there to eat?”

  3. Angie says:

    I plan most of the 21 meals we eat in a week. . .I usually leave one or two spots blank because I know I’ll end up doing some shuffling when life happens. 🙂 We eat better (and cheaper) when I take the time to write out a menu before the week starts.

    • I find that if I plan “leftovers” one night, this does the same thing. You’re right, something always seems to happen and there is that one meal you didn’t get to.

    • Jessica says:

      My shuffling looks like a football play diagram, lots of arrows and Xs.

  4. Lisa says:

    I definitely meal plan! As a teacher this saves my life during the school year when I come home wiped out and deciding what’s for dinner is not on my radar. During the summer, I “test drive” some new recipes to add to the mix. I am so happy I have stumbled on your fabulous blog! Grilled chicken for dinner last night that was cooked and frozen last week. You could almost hear my sigh of relief as we sat down to the table! I usually just meal plan dinners but the 3×7 idea is interesting!

    • Jessica says:

      Yay! So happy to hear that!

  5. I do and love it. The methods have changed over the years, but it is now a necessary part of my life. I used to do just Supper (when we both worked outside the home), then lunches and suppers (when I was no longer working and DH could come home for lunch), then for all meals with snacks (when our kids were smaller). Now I do the 3 main meals and wing snacks.I actually posted about menu planning today on my blog, and gave some visuals of different way to do it.

    There are times when I convince myself that I don’t have time to do menu plan, then kick myself for it later when our grocery bill is huge because I just winged it and ended up having to always run out for this or that. I tend to plan a month at a time, though the meals don’t always get eaten in the original way planned. It at least gives me something to go off of and an idea of what is in the house. Last week one meal was changed three time due to various reasons. It is okay. The meal plan didn’t burst into flames or anything. Life went on and we all ate. And this weekend when we were sick and at home, I didn’t have to worry about thinking up meals – they were already planned and the stuff was in the house.

  6. april says:

    I plan but i dont assign. I only do dinners also. I shop every 2 weeks, buying what i need and then choose from my list based on what sounds good or works for that day. As for breakfasts, the kids get their own box of cereal(onefor the month) and they can choose from poptarts, granola bars, oatmeal, fruit, bagels, or carnation indtant breakfast. Weekends are for big breakfasts…waffles, pancakes, french toast, eggs, bacon, hashbrowns etc. snacks are never planned out either, they can find something from what i have on hand

    • Jessica says:

      Sounds like you have a great system!

  7. Sharon says:

    One of the best things I did was buy a 7 pound package of ground beef and cook it all up with onions and salt and pepper. I let it cool and then packaged it in 2 cup portions and froze it. Super easy for any casserole, tacos etc.

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