Tips on Meal Planning for the Meal Planning Hater (With Free Printable Template)

If you’re anything like me, meal planning doesn’t get you excited. The idea of spending hours in the kitchen preparing delicious and nutritious meals for your family sounds like a great idea in theory, but actually doing it is something else altogether. And now that we’re all staying home to stay safe,  you probably feel like you have to cook all. the. time.

Don’t worry, friend. I’ve got you covered with my tips on meal planning, you can simplify the process (even if you hate it). I’ve also created some free meal planning printables to help you save time, energy and money in the process.

Why meal planning?

There are SO many reasons why you should consider meal planning: just to name a few, it saves you time, energy, and money. 

I know what you’re thinking, though. “Is it really that life-changing, Marci?” And the answer is YES!

I haven’t always been a meal planner, but I embraced it as part of my normal weekly habits in the past few years. I quickly learned that when you have a plan, a map and a system, it helps you avoid that frantic, last-minute “what do we have, what are we cooking, let’s just order out” stress.

When I take a simple 15-20 minutes to take inventory of what I already have in the house, my juices get flowing on what I can build from there. So, I made it a habit to jot down meal ideas for the week and simply add in what I need from the store. That 15-20 minute once-a-week habit saves me SO much time from no longer figuring it out on the fly. 

Which leads me to the energy I save not stressing about meals midweek. I have a plan, I have what I need and I can easily prep, enjoy and leave the clean up to my family. I mean that’s only fair, right?!

But the biggest impact I’ve seen for my family has been the monetary savings. Prior to my meal planning days, we were a prepared-food-market, grab-and-go family, or we’d simply order out from one of our favorite local neighborhood eateries. All of which gets pricey quickly. 

Once I began to do some basic meal planning — taking inventory of what we have, then creating a meal plan and shopping list — we weren’t turning to the grab-and-go as frequently or eating out on the regular. Believe me, we still LOVE to go out! But, we do our best to lean into our meal planning habit and reserve going out for special occasions or the rare craving for our fave restaurants. 

I’ll tell you one thing — when we are all capable of getting out safely when this quarantine is over, one of the first things I’ll be doing is eating out at all my favorite local spots, in person! 

I’d love for you to see all these amazing benefits for yourself. So, without further ado, here are my best tips on meal planning, even during Covid-19.

1. Review your schedule

When I sit down to meal plan, I like to take my family’s weekly schedule into consideration, including any kid and adult activities or special occasions. This simple cross reference helps me avoid overbuying and overextending myself with long shopping trips or hours upon hours of meal prep and cooking. 

Once I have the weekly calendar down, I like to take a quick inventory on what I already have stocked in my pantry and refrigerator. That way I know what I have on hand and can easily see what needs to be used up. As I map out the week’s meals I add any missing items to my shopping list. 

Voila! In less than 30 minutes I have the week’s meal plan and a thorough shopping list. Winner winner chicken dinner. 

Truthfully, it wouldn’t be so easy if I didn’t have my meal planning printables to use each week. To make it just as easy for you, I’ve created this simple, free meal planning template for you to print and put to the test. 


2. Pick a day to plan your meals

I typically like to meal plan for the upcoming week on Thursday or Friday mornings. That’s what works for me, but it may be different for you. Take a look at that weekly schedule you put together in Step 1 and identify which day will work best for you.

Just like I tell my clients, any lifestyle shift (no matter how big or small) takes some trial and error. So, be patient with yourself and celebrate the small wins, because those small wins drive positive momentum!

3. Save complicated recipes for the weekend

I’m not a gourmet-meal-on-the-table-every-night kind of girl. If that’s your jam, amazing! But in this house, I have an arsenal of go-to meals that I already know my family likes. My biggest tip on meal planning is to go back to those tried-and-tested recipes over and over again, and focus on rotating them through your weekly plans.

Here are some of my fave family go-to’s:

  • Ground turkey tacos
  • Baked salmon with creamed spinach and potato
  • Any kind of burger with salad and tater tots
  • Pizza
  • White chicken chili

If you’re not sure what recipes your family would love — or if you’re just in the mood to try something new — here are some resources I love for finding new meal planning recipes:

Bonus Tip: Create your own meal planning Pinterest board for all the recipes you love and the ones you’d like to try. If you don’t use Pinterest, another easy way to keep track of a recipe you like is to save the link to your Notes app on your phone. 

4. Meal prep over weekends

Now I’m no Martha Stewart, but I have noticed that when I take some time over the weekend to prep my ingredients ahead of time, weekday meals go a lot faster and smoother. It also helps us stay on track to eating healthier.

Since I’m not commuting right now, this has become my time to catch up on my fave podcasts — but feel free to crank up some tunes or Netflix and chop instead! Whatever you’ve got to do to convince yourself to carve out a few minutes to meal prep over the weekend. Even just 20 minutes will help make your weekly cooking so much easier.

Here are some things I do as part of my weekend meal prep:

  • Prep veggies for snacking
  • Wash fruit and put it front + center for my son to grab easily
  • Boil some eggs
  • Prep some sweet potato slices for sweet potato toast
  • Make mason jar dressing (since we’re trying to start lunches + dinners with veggies or a salad)
  • Prep morning yogurt parfaits. So easy for self-serve breakfasts! 
  • Prep rice 
  • Roast some veggies
  • Use any leftover bananas for my morning smoothies

5. It gets easier over time!

Remember — like any new lifestyle shift, try it, test it and refine it so that it becomes a natural sustainable practice. I can’t promise that you’ll end up loving meal prep, but hopefully these tips on meal planning will at least make it a little bit more pleasant.

Have a question about my meal planning process, or a hot meal planning tip that I missed? Be sure to drop it in the comments below!