creating a meal plan

There are many, many valuable reasons out there to create a meal plan every week. It saves you from making multiple trips to the grocery store, ensures that you don’t buy groceries you don’t need (which saves money and translates to less food waste), and also means that the “what are we having for dinner” thoughts at 5:00pm are eliminated. Which is one of the worst thoughts ever, don’t you think? It is definitely the thought that makes me lean towards going out or grabbing take-out on the way home.

I’m going to show you how I create my weekly meal plan and subsequent grocery list – I hope that you will share your tips if you are a meal planner, or if you aren’twhat is holding you back from being one!

Step One: create an outline of dinners:

  • 1 new recipe (from a cookbook, pinterest, etc.)
  • 1-2 simple: rotisserie chicken or some other similarly easy meal
  • 1 fish
  • 1-2 pasta night (or stir-fry, taco, pizza, crock pot, etc.)
  • 1-2 open nights (for going out, take out, dinner with friends, etc.

*if you don’t plan specific veggies with the meals, be sure to pick up a few fresh and frozen vegetables for dinners

Step Two: create a list of the standard breakfast & lunches:

  • eggs, cereal, oats, frozen waffles, toast, yogurt
  • sandwich supplies, salads, frozen meals

I go really simple on the outline – no fancy paper or spreadsheet – just a sheet of paper so that it can be easily changed.

Step Three: create the shopping list. Be sure to include staples in your list (not having garlic for a recipe is horrifying)!

Step Four: go shopping, and do as much meal prep as you can ahead of time! Sometimes paying a little extra for vegetables that are already cleaned and ready to go can make a huge difference in how much time it will take to you prepare the meal. Or if you have time on the weekends, you can prep vegetables and make grains before the week gets busy.

Step Five: eat and enjoy your home cooked meals!

Or, I’ll do it all for you. :)

Do you plan out your meals every week? What does your process look like? 


  1. Ashley Martucci says

    I am pretty good about planning ahead for dinner but lunch is where I fall short. I have never really planned that but it would make sense rather than me scrounging around for lunch items. Thanks for the tips!

    • Emily says

      Yes, I go both ways with lunch. Sometimes I’ll plan out 2-3 days, although when I worked in an office I planned 4-5 days of lunches.

  2. tina says

    I just started and been thinking about the good thing of it too! and yes once I thought I had a perfect meal plan…then on the night of execution, I found out that I didn’t have the most staple ingredient – garlic!!

  3. says

    so awesome to meet you through rachel, emily! =) i do create a meal plan every week – usually on sundays, i sit down with my husband, we discuss the week’s activities (i.e. – if he’s going to be working late, if we have a night out planned with friends, etc.), then i get planning. i choose one new dinner a week (as part of my One New Dinner A Week challenge i set for myself for 2012), usually 3 tried-and-true favorites (pasta dishes, grilled chicken or fish, homemade soups/stews, etc), + usually allot for 1 takeout or dine out dinner per week. you’re so right – it saves time, money, + most importantly, sanity! =D

  4. says

    I remember doing this as a family when I was younger, and it was so much fun! There were six of us, so we each picked what we wanted for dinner (aka taco night or chicken breast with au gratin potatoes and broccoli), then would help prepare our meal for the week. It was a great way to include us as kids in the cooking process.

    I don’t make a meal plan now; I just make sure I have all the basics at all times including plenty of fresh and frozen veggies, fruits, whole grains like couscous, brown rice, and fish or tofu for a protein. Then I go from there!

    I like the idea of making a meal plan again, though.

    • Emily says

      I love this tip! What a genius idea to include kids in both the meal planning and meal prep!
      My husband used to always have lots of basics ready to go, but no set meals – but I’m a planner and I took over. :)

      • says

        I think when we have a family, I will definitely pull out the meal plan idea. But since my husband and I work opposite shifts, I’m usually just cooking for myself, and I like to fly by the seat of my pants!

  5. says

    I generally have a loose plan, I pick out 3 or 4 things to make during the week but not what night I will make them. And since I rarely make the same things twice it is always something different each week.

  6. Kristin says

    Thank you for this. I always talk about doing this but have never done it. Hopefully this will help me to be a planner b/c these are some great tips.

  7. says

    I think, because I’m single and mostly cook for myself, it’s pretty easy for me to establish an inventory of “staples” (like onion, brussels sprouts, carrots, beans, etc) and then when I do a weekly shopping trip, I just replenish whatever I’m out of and allow myself to buy 2-3 new/different/pricier items (like a new kind of meat or TJ’s frozen meal) on top of that. It works pretty well and I rarely toss out food! :) I realize it’s much easier since it’s just me, though.

  8. says

    Great tips! My plan looks fairly similar if I get around to it :) Some weeks are planned out well and others I always have a few easy staples in my back pocket for super quick meals.

  9. says

    This is so helpful Emily! I love seeing the real example of your meal plan! I am horrible at meal planning (meaning I just don’t do it!) and say each week that “this is the week I am only going to go to the grocery store once”. As of yet, that hasn’t happened and I make my way to the grocery store almost every night which leads to resentment, laziness and boring meals! I hope that your post and example can be my motivation to start planning better!

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