I’ve heard about meal planning for a long time before I tried it. Because in our family of five everyone likes to eat different stuff, just an idea of creating a meal plan was immense stress for me. But when I tried to make it, it turned out to be more simple than I thought and now I can’t imagine my life without it!
Why do you need a meal plan?
The benefits are endless! Especially if you have little children who eat different food yet or like in my case – family members have different tastes or food allergies. The major benefits can be the following:
- It will save you time and sanity: no more thinking about what to cook before each meal. Do it once a week and forget about it!
- Having a plan for your meals will result in fewer trips to the grocery store, which means more time for you and doing something you love.
- It will save you money: when you have the grocery shopping list and stick to it, you buy way fewer things. You will see that your weekly spendings will reduce approximately 20-30%.
- Zero food waste: as you buy only items needed for cooking, you will refresh your pantry weekly. You don’t need to worry about the expiration dates. After introducing meal planning into my housekeeping routine, I do not remember when was the last time I threw the food from the fridge.
- Using more fresh food than canned or processed frozen food, which means a healthier diet
Making a meal plan is easier than you think!
It is easy, trust me! I want to share my approach that will help you to do a meal plan in no time. The first time you will make one, it will take longer, but after you spend some time once, you will be good to go. The more you do meal planning, the easier it gets. It will save you so much time and sanity, that you will not remember how you could live without it!
- In the Excel sheet create a map with the meals categories: breakfast, snacks, first courses, second courses, side dishes, all in one meal, etc. Under each column list food categories, like rice, pasta, soup, eggs, chicken, beef and so on. You can see an example in the free meal planner help sheet you can download together with the meal planner at the end of this post.
- List your family favorites under each of these categories. For example, rice = risotto alla Milanese, white rise, risotto with mushrooms. See the meal planner helper Excel file (free download at the end of this post) to see how it works. Every time I try a new dish and it is approved by my family members, I add it to this file.
- Map the five daily meals and assign a meal category to lunches and dinners. For example, for lunch, I would list first courses and side dishes that will translate as salads, sandwiches, wraps, pasta, rice, eggs, fried and hot appetizers, and so on. For dinner, I would list all in one plate, side dishes, and all the second courses. In our family, we usually eat eggs and fish once a week, then twice a week white meat or poultry, twice a week red meat. We are a big fan of cream soups, pasta, and pizza (falls into all in one dish) as well as risotto and other famous traditional Italian meals. Every family has a different diet and eating habits, so, as they say, “you do you”.
- Print 2 copies of blank weekly planner and fill the first copy of it with food categories like in the sample. This way, you will create a sort of your family’s “eating routine.” You can change it every month and swipe the meals between the days if you wish to.
- Create a weekly menu filling in the second copy of the blank meal planner: replace the meal category with your favorite dishes that fall into it from the “favorites” list you made before in the Excel file. And tada! Your meal plan is ready.
Here is how my weekly meal plan would look like.
TIP: Make the grocery shopping list for half of the week menu only. Why? Because sometimes, you have a not planned dinner out, or can recycle leftovers of the previous meals, so the menu you already planned can extend for a longer period. For example, you can make for lunch a plate of pasta with leftovers of sauteed veggies of the dinner before. Or add cheese bread, salad, or cheese plate to the soup leftovers for your lunch or dinner and tada – another meal is ready. Then you can shop for the rest of the week when is needed, but you do not have to think about what to cook! This way my fridge is empty by the end of the week – I do not have to worry about expiration dates and always have fresh stuff in there plus zero food waste.