8 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Meal Planning

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Meal planning, preparation, and sharing can take up several hours of our days and weeks. Sharing a meal with our families should never feel like a chore, but often the planning and preparation that go into it definitely rank as “work” on many a day. Even those who love to cook can sometimes find themselves spinning their wheels as dinnertime rolls around.

But, planning, prepping, and eating meals does not need to be a chore. Especially if you simplify.

Here are some easy ways to make your meals come together in a snap:

1. Try out basic meal planning if you’re a beginner.

It’s not difficult to build a 7-day meal plan. And it can save you hours in drive-thru costs and last minute trips to the store — as well as those precious minutes that you waste standing in front of an open fridge.

2. Test out different theme nights to see what works.

Theme nights make it so easy for me to decide what we’re eating. Pizza night? Check. Taco Tuesday? Check. Meatloaf Monday? You get my drift.

3. Try a meal planning service.

Tired of your own ideas? Companies like The Fresh 20 send a weekly email that tells you exactly what to make each week based on in-season ingredients and provides recipes and shopping lists. Other services like Plan to Eat help you build plans and shopping lists from a database of recipes.

4. Plan a month at a time.

Seriously, it takes me about five minutes to fill out a meal plan for a whole month. Using theme nights and a monthly calendar, I just drop in menu ideas. It is done quick as a wink and I don’t think about dinners — until it’s time to get cooking.

5. Build a rotation of regular menus.

I’ve done this a lot in the past, though not recently due to The Cookbook cooking that’s going on. But, in former days, I would build three or four week’s worth of menus along with grocery lists and just rotate them. We rarely got bored and I wasn’t recreating the wheel.

6. Determine 31 Meals with 31 Ingredients.

Chances are good that you make a rough inventory of about 30 different kinds of meals. Spend a few minutes brainstorming the ingredients that go into those meals. You may be pleasantly surprised that a lot of your meals use the same ingredients, making stocking a pantry easier than you would think.

7. Copy others.

If you see a menu plan that you like on a blog — or even a friend’s refrigerator, use it! There’s no reason why you need to do work that someone else has already done. Try these weeklong menus using pantry staples from Food Your Way: Week One and Week Two. Or bounce around what’s available on Menu Plan Monday.

8. Let the kids do it.

Seriously, they’re the ones who will make the biggest fuss at dinnertime. Ask them to write you a list of 7 meals they like. Turn it into a learning experience and give them criteria to include, such as fruit, vegetable, grain, protein. You may even reduce the amount of fussing that happens at this week’s suppers.

How do YOU make meal planning simpler at your house?

About Jessica Fisher

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

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  1. Marilyn K says

    Thanks, this has given me some ideas. I usually do one week at a time, but might try some theme nights and maybe build a plan for a month!
    Where can I find the recipe for the Pesto Pizza with Feta? I tried searching here and Good Cheap Eats, but didn’t get any results.

  2. Thank you, what wonderful ideas. I’ve just taken to doing monthly planning and am loving it. But your idea of theme nights is a great idea. I might try that.

  3. Emily says

    I love meal planning. I added an extra calendar in outlook and it gives me reminders. I do plan a month at a time, and we eat leftovers every 3rd to 4th day, depending what is on the menu. Adding a leftover day has helped. And if our child doesn’t want leftovers, he can have soup or pb&j. I don’t cook a meal that night.
    I do love the ideas above. I’m off to read more. Always room for improvement!

  4. Lynette says

    I like the idea of having my 8 yr old help out with the meal planning! Since she is the one most likely to grip before I’m even half way done cooking – ready to give mer her opinion on what she prefer’s to have! The other’s just tend to go “I don’t yike it”. That helps me get her involved with the whole cooking thing!

    I too do my meal planning a month at a time. And the theme nights. Pizza night, Nacho Night, Spaghetti/Raviolli Night – it makes planning out dinner so much easier, and thankfully I’m blessed with a husband who just appreaciates food and doesn’t complain about me making the same thing every weeek! Though I try to mix it up by once a week planning a crock-pot meal and rotating them, and left over’s get us through a second night. 1 or 2 new recipes to try a month and I”m about good to go!

    I also do my main shopping 1 a month based on that meal list. Of course it doesn’t cover milk, and veggies – but if I have a plan all made out than weekly glance at it – I know what fresh veggies I will need for whatever meals I’m planning, and can shop accordingly without spending a lot of time weekly in the store. 1 month of shopping only takes me 1 – 1.5 hours, and then the weekly trips take no more than 1/2 an hour. That is, when I’m on my game.

    I love leaving my monthly meal plan list on the fridge. I also add to it specific things like Birthday dinner’s, or special breakfasts I want to make – so I can always glance at any time to know what I have planned. I also highlight a meal once I’ve served it, so that I know what i have left – but also haven’t crossed out something so that I can’t see it.

  5. Amy says

    I recently asked my family what meal they would like served once a week. The began giving suggestions which I loved!! When I make something new it’s always fun to hear, “let’s add this to the once a week meal plan.” Now I don’t make ALL those meals once a week, but it was a way to get them to think about what they loved and wanted more often.
    My kids are teenagers and I wish I would have tried this a long time ago.

  6. Cheryl says

    I’ve tried meal planning & it hasn’t worked for us generally because I hear a lot of “I don’t want that tonite” from the kids or grumbling from my husband. I tend to do more casseroles when I meal plan because I also wanted to do freezer cooking. other times I didn’t want to cook what I had planned or some main ingredient went missing.
    So how do you handle those times?
    I am doing more prep work & just keeping that stashed in the freezer but find myself spending to much time in the kitchen

    • Jessica says

      I do a two week menu plan but I try to be flexible. I probably keep to it 75% of the time but sometimes I am too tired to cook, forget to thaw out the meat, or simply don’t want what was planned. Normally I can just swap meals and it is not a big deal for me. If I don’t make a meal I make a mark beside it and it goes on the next menu cycle since I have the ingredients for it.
      When I make my menu, I also make my shopping list so I almost never have a missing ingredient.
      On the weekends I tend to make bigger meals and meals that I can double to freeze such as lasagna, enchiladas, etc. during the week I stick to meals that take 30 minutes or less or that I can do most of the prep work the night before such as a casserole, stir fry, etc.

  7. Mary says

    Love the idea of theme night! What could be more simple. Lots of good ideas to put into practice. Do you have a recipe for the enchiladas on the plate with avocado salad? I would like it on my theme night menu.

  8. Hey, I’ve been a reader of your blog for a while now and I really like your approach to meal planning. I was just wondering if there is a tab on your blog that has all of your meal plans in one place? Thanks so much for any help. 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Now, THAT is a great suggestion! But, no, there isn’t.

  9. Lisa says

    Found you on MPM. Good advice. Yummy pics!

  10. Anna C says

    Recently I grew very tired of menu planning. I asked each member of my family to tell me of the meal they would like during the week. By the time I am done I have 4 meals planned and I wing the rest with leftovers and pantry items. Never mind they each person seems to pick the same meal every week and our menu doesn’t vary much! They are happy and I’m happy spending less time planning. And very little arguing about what I am making as they know that they each get a turn.

  11. I also asked for my kids input into meal planning back when they were younger. They each picked their ‘fave’ meal and we had it at least once a month.
    I also make my grocery list the same time I menu plan, so I won’t forget something needed for a recipe. Really helps on budget and with time at the grocery store.
    Now that we have a new 3 yo in the house (guardians of my nephew); I am planning meals around things he likes plus introducing him to new things. Worked out fairly well so far! He LOVES your meatballs. Asks for them and I’ve got them on the menu again this week.
    Love your list! I even picked up a few new ideas. 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Sherri, how fun! Thanks for telling me that the meatballs are a hit. So nice to hear.

  12. brejida says

    hello i am a mother of 4 i have always had a hard time planning out meals my husbad can not eat tomatoes or anything with them so this makes it even harder too cook … i am not the best cook so i was wondering if anybody had anyfood idieas to help any help would make meal planning alittle bit easier any idieas on were to find recipes

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