4 Steps To Meal Planning Made Simple | Growing Up Herbal | Here's my 4 step system to simplifying the weekly meal planning process!

I’ve been saying that I’m going to write a post explaining how I plan meals for my family for a while now. Well, today is the day! However, this isn’t just any ole meal planning how-to. This is how I really do it, and today, I’m sharing the 4 steps I take to meal planning made simple.

If you’re frustrated with meal planning because it takes you forever, then hopefully, this post will help you because I’ve been there, done that. This is the best method I’ve found to simplifying this process for me. Sure, it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point, but now that I’m here, meal planning is faster, easier, and more enjoyable.

4 Steps To Meal Planning Made Simple

1 – Organize Recipes

In order to make a weekly meal plan, you’re going to need recipes to make. These recipes can come from your favorite cookbooks, from your grandmother, or from your favorite food bloggers. No matter, you should have them on hand.

Now, I love cookbooks as they can be very inspiring, but when it comes to meal planning made simple, I have to have the cookbook recipes I like out of the actual book and in my recipe binder. Not only does this make the recipe more portable while I’m cooking, but it helps me to organize it better. Sometimes I copy the recipe from the book onto a recipe card, but othertimes I simply tear the recipe right out of the book. Gasp! I know, I know, but this is how I do it, and it works really well for me.

When it comes to organizing my recipes, I use a recipe binder. I have categories for each recipe and then I divide each category further. For example, my “main dish” category is divided in to my nightly themes which we’ll talk about next.

Also, all the recipes in my binder are those that my family actually likes and will eat. If someone doesn’t like a new recipe, it doesn’t go back into the binder. And, as soon as I use a recipe to make a meal, I put those recipes back in the binder, storing them at the back of each section so I don’t pull them for next week’s meals. This helps to keep our weekly meals fresh.

Having a recipe binder, in my mind, is THE key to meal planning made simple because it helps me keep my family’s favorite recipes organized and I only need to pull out one thing as opposed to 15 cookbooks when I plan my weekly meal plan.

2 – Assign Daily Meal Themes

The next thing I did to simplify meal planning was to follow my friend Kristin’s advice and give each night of the week a meal theme. 

These daily themes change depending upon our schedule, but for the most part we have the following themes:

  • Italian
  • Mexican
  • American
  • Seafood
  • Soup, salad, sandwich
  • Vegetarian
  • Leftovers

Not only does this help to vary the meals we’re eating, but it helps speed up the actual meal planning process as it cuts down on the overwhelm of finding a recipe from all of the ones you have on hand.

Breakfasts and lunch is always kept simple, and I only follow themes when it comes to dinner meals. 

3 – Use A Meal Planning Calender

Next, I print off a weekly meal plan calender. You can find these free online, (this is the one I like to use) or you can simply write your meals on a piece of paper. 

I start by finding the breakfast section of my recipe binder and pulling recipes (2-3 that can be made in large batches) that I’ll make for breakfast that week. I also assign specific breakfasts to each day of the week. For example, Monday may be crustless sage quiche, Tuesday may be carrot and sage muffins, and Wednesday may be kefir granola with berries, but if I double my recipes and make enough, we’ll eat the leftovers for breakfast on other days of the week as well. Many times, breakfasts are made on Saturdays, which is my typical “meal prep” day.

Lunch is simple… always. We almost always eat dinner leftovers for lunch. However, there are times when there are no leftovers in the house so I always have things on hand to make quick meals like tuna salad, tomato soup and grilled cheese, spagetti, or something else that’s quick and along those lines.

When planning dinner, I, again, pull out my recipe binder and find the appropriate theme for the day. Once I know what our main dish will be, I pull the recipe and flip to my section on side dishes. I pull 1-2 side dish recipes from the binder and then I write everything on my meal plan calender. 

For example, if Monday is Mexican food then I may pull black bean soup, Mexican zucchini, and Mexican cornbread from the binder and write all of that down under “Monday dinner.” Leftovers will be eaten for Tuesday’s lunch.

Again, having my recipes organized and following daily themes makes finding and planning meals much easier. 

If I ever feel bored with the recipes, I’ll simply go to my cookbooks or search my favorite food blogs for some new recipes to try.

4 – Make A Shopping List

Now that I have all my meals planned out and recipes handy, I go through the recipes, one at a time, and write down anything I need to buy at the grocery store. I check my fridge, freezer, and pantry as I’m making my shopping list so I don’t write down anything I already have. This also helps me to know whether or not I need to stock up on foods that may be running low in these areas.

Once I’m finished with all our meals for the week, I’ll add in snacks and other things I want to buy for the kids or for Dean and I for that week such as extra fruits, raisins, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, guacamole, etc. If any snacks require me to make something (like homemade ranch dressing, yogurt, or fruit roll-ups) I’ll add it to my meal plan for the week so I know what day to make that for them.

And there you have it. Four steps to meal planning made simple. 

Like I said, this is how I do it. If you have a food budget, I’d suggest pulling recipes that are budget friendly and don’t use expensive ingredients. I’d also recommend shopping sales ads for your local grocery stores as well as that can save you a good bit of money.

If you’re looking for some healthy, real food meal ideas, be sure you check out my free weekly real food meal plans right here to see what our actual meal plans look like.

Do you plan your meals each week, and if so, how do you do it? Share your tips with me in the comments below!

Post updated: September 2016