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How to Meal Plan for the Week

Planning meals doesn’t need to be complicated. Discover how to meal plan for the week using these five easy, proven steps that are helpful for anyone.

When learning how to meal plan for the week, keep a planner in sight like this boho one laying on a wooden table next to eucalyptus.
Last year’s planner sits under my new planner for this year. These are very essential tools to learn how to meal plan for the week.

Learning how to meal plan for the week is essential for anyone who lives alone or is responsible for buying and preparing meals for a family in a household. 

Once you get the hang of how to meal plan for the week, it will all go more smoothly. It will just become second nature. I even used to do this for myself when I was still living at home. It was still my responsibility to buy, prep, and clean up after myself. Today, I continue to do this for me and my husband… 

We each have designated chores and upkeep for the house, some of which we tackle together and some that we divide up. Since I enjoy cooking and organization, it is only natural for me to take over this responsibility. I do, however, always try to incorporate new ideas from Pinterest, and I try to make things I know my husband will enjoy. If he has any suggestions to add into the dinner rotation, I’ll add this meal to the menu to try out one week. 

Without further ado, let’s get into more of the nitty gritty details that accompany meal planning…

Why is meal planning important?

Vegetarian stuffed peppers sit on a dinner table on a large local plate.

Whether you’ve recently moved out on your own or are the main grocery shopper for your household, learning the art of how to meal plan for the week is important. 

Meal planning can help you organize grocery shopping and stick to a budget for the week. In addition, it also allows the person organizing everything to ensure everyone has access to proper nutrition in the household. 

This all makes grocery shopping easier for me because I have a list to go by. I know I won’t forget anything last minute because I’ve already taken the time to sit down earlier in the week.

A pecan pie is sliced and ready to be served on a marble countertop.

How to Meal Plan for the Week

Pick out meals

Plan your dinner meals in advance. This is a rule I always follow. I am flexible about which nights I serve the planned meals. But I always make a list at the beginning of the week of what dinners we’ll be eating during that week. 

I sit down with my planner at the end of each month and start planning dinner meals for the next month. I ask AJ if there’s anything new or different he’s been dying to have and add anything I’ve been craving. Next, I skim my Pinterest boards for meal ideas to add in. 

A planner is being written on a pen, putting meal ideas to paper. When learning how to meal plan for the week, this is an essential skill.

Then, lastly, I throw in some classic meals we never get tired of (burgers, nachos, salads). These are the ones I throw into any blank spaces in my planner that are empty. 

The key is to provide variety day to day and week to week. Not only for enjoyment, but also for nutritional variety.

If you find it helpful to have designated nights for certain meals when learning how to meal plan for the week, that’s fine if it works for you. Honestly, that doesn’t appeal to me because I just like to mix things up and try new recipes so frequently. 

I stick to a few tried-and-true recipes, but I also love incorporating new additions into the mix. 

I like the fluidity of not having to make a certain type of food on certain nights of the week, personally. 

Next, think about any holiday family gatherings coming up. Be sure to factor in these recipes you’ll be making. I’m always one of the main cooks for family get-togethers, so I’m almost always bringing 2-3 dishes. 

During birthdays, I usually make the dessert for the birthday person. I like spoiling people with all the good, homemade food. I know I need to factor in these ingredients when meal planning. Account for any times where you might be eating out, so you remember to not buy food for those meals.

As mentioned, take nutrition into account when you’re learning how to meal plan for the week. 

Serve a protein, along with 1-3 sides per meal (depending on the meal). Plan for 1-2 of the sides to be fruits or vegetables. Then add in a grain. (I like to focus on whole grains, but sometimes you just have to give into those mac and cheese cravings). This should at least provide somewhat balanced dinners for the week.

Take inventory

Taking inventory is a vital step when meal planning. You won’t want to overspend on items you don’t truly need right now.

Flavored local milks line the inside of a refrigerator.
Flavored milks from a local farm line the door of a refrigerator.

Taking inventory will also give you meal ideas for using up staples you already have on hand. Have you ever heard of “eating down the house?” It’s a concept where you don’t buy any new groceries until you’ve eaten everything you already have on hand. I’m not rigid with this, but it’s a great strategy to implement. This helps use up most foods before buying even more groceries.

I mentally document what we already have on hand (and what we’re running low on) as I’m cooking throughout the week. This is such a resourceful way to keep track of things. 

However, if I think I’ll forget that we need more cinnamon, for example, I’ll open my notes app in my phone and jot it down before it escapes me. 

While taking inventory, take notice of what’s getting old. Think about what is either ready to be used up soon or be thrown out. This is efficient because now you won’t have to dedicate extra time to cleaning out the fridge once a month since you already do it on a consistent basis. 

Grocery list staples

I make time every Sunday to sit down for about 15-20 minutes to make a grocery list for the week. Add in any toiletries needed, as well, when deciding on the meal plan for the week.

Focus on dinner planning since this is one guaranteed homemade, hot meal a day. After jotting down these ingredients, start adding in everything else to the grocery list. Think about packaged snacks; fruits and vegetables for snacks; and quick meals for breakfasts and lunches. Then consider anything extra to add on.

For snacks we do like to buy some individually-packaged bags of nuts, chips, and cookies. We love fruit so also love to buy fresh and dried fruit for snacks. These individually-bagged snacks are nice because they are portioned out already, so you can just grab them on the go.

Baskets filled with packaged snacks are on a countertop.

Be sure to account for breakfasts, whether they’re homemade (more about these in the section below) or grab and go (think: cereals, milk, yogurt, fruit, protein bars, pop tarts, etc.). Eggs are another quick and delicious breakfast that’s filling and nutritious. Sometimes, I’ll even hard boil some to have on hand for breakfast and snack additions.

The same goes for lunches. Think of easy-to-make, convenient lunches that you enjoy. Then list out any sandwich, wrap, or salad ingredients you’ll need to make lunches for the week. 

Luckily, we usually have leftovers from dinners. These serve as lunches for at least a couple of lunches during the week. 

Since I’ve been meal planning for so long, I already know about how many leftovers we’ll have from dinners. I realize this when listing out my grocery list and can buy a little less with this in mind. Every little bit counts.

Prep some extras ahead of time

Once you’ve purchased food items, you may want to prepare some food ahead of time. I like to prep some extra stuff over the weekend. This is really only if you make a lot of foods from scratch. Then you won’t have to mess with this during the week when you’re swamped with other more important tasks. 

For example, I like to prepare my homemade marinara in advance if I know I’m going to make a pasta dish during the week. Anything like that is convenient to have already made up.

A large cheese pizza was made from scratch and waits to be devoured.

Additionally, if there are any breakfasts I can prep beforehand (like baked oatmeal, homemade bread for toast, or homemade Pumpkin Apple Muffins, etc.) then I do that over the weekend. If you like to make granola/granola bars for snacks or breakfasts, then this may be something to make ahead of time. (I have a Healthy Granola recipe here to try out.)

I also love to bake and make desserts for after dinner or afternoon snacks. The weekend is the perfect time to whip up something sweet and decadent to have available during the week. Desserts are good things to have on hand during the week (especially if you have a sweet tooth like me).

I especially love these desserts:

Snickers Pie  

Valentine’s Day Brownies

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I’m a baker, so it just wouldn’t be right to not make some of these things for my family.

Even if you don’t plan on eating all your baked goods in one week, freeze half for another week. Send some off to other family members in other households to enjoy, too. That way there is no pressure to eat all the sweets at once before they go bad. 

Cozy Meals:

A big batch of soup or chili is great to have on hand for quick lunches. Though we usually just eat dinner leftovers or a quick sandwich/wrap for weekday lunches. I love these two recipes a lot, especially during the colder seasons:

Miso Soup for the Soul  

Vegetarian Chili  

Vegetarian chili with avocado slices wait for someone to eat it on a table.

Pizzas, whether homemade or frozen, are also popular in our household. I will prep the dough and marinara over the weekend beforehand. Then I put them in the fridge to use later in the week (using this Authentic Italian Pizza recipe here).

I even love to make The Best Deviled Eggs on occasion for snacks or for a side. We also especially love using this recipe for family get-togethers–it never disappoints.

Make your meals

Now, everything is ready to go when it’s dinner time in the evenings. No stressing over what to cook that night or worrying that you don’t have the ingredients. No stress over trying to figure out what veggies and protein to serve for a well-rounded meal. Just cook the food, and dinner time can be enjoyed with family. 

A woman brings a chocolate bundt cake into view on a cake stand.
An outside deck has an array of tableware set up with snow-capped mountains showing in the background.

You can even assign age-appropriate chores to children and have your partner do the dishes. This helps take some of the workload away from one person. Even if you just have a roommate, one person can cook and the other can help by cleaning up. 

Dinner time isn’t meant to be stressful and overwhelming, it’s supposed to be about togetherness. 

Final thoughts…

I have found so much success in learning how to meal plan for the week. There are just too many benefits to not do it. I’m a planner by nature, so it just works for me. I know you can be successful, too, after implementing these steps to learn how to meal plan for the week.

If it ever becomes too stressful, just take what works for you and leave the rest. Even if you implement only one of these ideas, it’s sure to make your home life a little more organized and successful. I am all about efficiency, which is why I love using these. But if it doesn’t work for you and something else works better, do what works for you and your family. 

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