Plan Every Meal of the Week

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To plan 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.

girl holding platter of fruit kabobs

You already know that a meal plan can help you out. You already jot down meals that you can make during the week so that you’re better organized and have an answer when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”

But those simple meal plans, well, they’re more like guidelines, aren’t they? A list of dinners doesn’t really help you when your kids are starving when they awake or when they ask what they can snack on after school.

You need something a little more. You need to plan every meal of the week.

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?

With 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!

But, how do you take it to the next level, the one beyond the evening meal?

weekly meal plan on the fridge

Plan every meal of the week!

Planning every meal of the week can help you shop better, help you prep better, help you remember to thaw those freezer meals, and basically make life in general a whole lot easier.

Not sure how to level up your meal planning? Here’s the way to do it:

1. Record it.

Written plans are more likely to happen, so be sure to record your meal plan somewhere. You can use a meal planning printable or you can use Google Calendar or some other type of digital tracker.

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 meal 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.

collage of easy meals to prepare

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.

Choose easy meals that you can put together quickly and easily. The easier it is to make, the more likely you’ll actually make it!

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. Meal planning from the sales is a great way to stretch your dollar.

For instance, if tri-tip is on sale, I’m a gonna snatch it up. I’ll also buy some extras for the freezer for another time. Stocking up on groceries saves me time and money later.

When all else fails, boneless, skinless chicken breast is regularly $1.89/pound at my ALDI, so I usually plan a chicken meal or two unless there are other great proteins on sale locally.

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 meltdowns.

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

grocery list on clipboard

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.

When you’re at the store, be sure to cross out the things you’ve already put in the cart so you won’t miss anything.

7. Work that meal plan.

Now that you’ve spent the time to plan all the meals of the week, time to work that plan! It’s important to stick to your meal plan so that you can actually save the money and time that it’s supposed to save you. 

Be sure to check the plan daily and do the meal prep needed to make it happen.

logo for Kitchen Winners CircleNeed some help?

Not really sure you can swing this meal planning thing?

Join the Kitchen Winners Circle to get done-for-you meal plans as well as custom help in creating plans for all the meals of the week.

You’ll also receive free access to a rotating resource library (including free printable like the one above!), monthly master classes and video coaching calls, and a 24/7 chat forum to ask questions and get help for all your kitchen challenges.

Do YOU plan all the meals of the week?

Why or why not?

Plan Every Meal of the Week | Good Cheap Eats

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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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.

  8. Kathleen says

    I plan my dinners for the week so that when I get home from work I know exactly what to do. I have lunches mostly planned knowing sometimes leftover dinner will be lunch.

    • Kathleen says

      OH and I wish we had an Aldi’s here in northern California. I can’t believe you can get boneless chicken so cheap. I think the lowest I’ve seen is $3.99 a lb on sale.

    • Good job!

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