Meal planning can feel like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to! Instead of looking at meal planning like just one more thing you need to do that stresses you out, let’s look at how to simplify meal planning so you save time and money!
Maybe you can relate. It’s almost dinner time and everybody’s hungry. Your child has practice coming up in 45 minutes and you need to get out the door because it’s a 20 minute drive. You want to feed your family a healthy dinner but there never seems to be time to get it all done. And you still haven’t caught up on the dishes from last night’s late meal….
You look at the clock. Think about how much time it’ll take you to boil water. Not to mention cook the rest of a meal. Five minutes in the drive through sounds pretty appealing right now.
It’s time to simplify meal planning.
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How to Simplify Meal Planning
Usually we avoid doing things that feel like extra work. I mean, who wants extra work, right?
It’s kind of like when we put off cleaning the kitchen until later. It feels like work. Unfortunately, putting off chores usually creates more work and more stress for us later.
When you simplify meal planning you’ll realize that having a meal plan each week really does save you time and money!
10 Ways to Simplify Meal Planning
So let’s talk about how you simplify your meal planning process and get dinner on the table most nights of the week.
1. Eat the same thing every day or on a regular schedule.
If you really want to simplify your meal planning, don’t make it fancy. Choose a handful of recipes that your family loves. Rotate them each week or two. Jessica Fisher from Good Cheap Eats suggests:
“Make a list of 15 meals and repeat it twice a month. Yes, really. Chances are you won’t be bored having each of your meals twice a month. If you’re worried that you might be, then make two lists and swap them back and forth.” –Good Cheap Eats
2. Choose recipes that only take a few minutes to prepare.
Seriously. If dinner time is a struggle, don’t put difficult recipes on your menu. Skip the dishes that have lots of ingredients. If you want to simplify meal planning, then keep it simple!
Google or Pinterest will offer you up a whole lot of 15 or 30 minute recipes if you just do a search. Recipes like:
3. Choose meals that you can cook without much thought.
You know, those recipes you could make in your sleep. Every homemaker should have a few simple recipes that she can make without looking at a recipe. Keep ingredients for those recipes on hand. Consider them staples in your pantry.
Whenever we prepare a recipe that we’ve made many times, it requires less brain power. Which takes less energy. That’s a good thing for every busy mom!
4. Keep breakfast and lunch very basic.
You can get more creative at supper time. Pick two or three go to meals for breakfast and lunch. Your family will be okay.
- oatmeal or other hot cereal
- cold cereal or granola
- make ahead pancakes in the freezer
- eggs and toast
related: Breakfast Oatmeal Station
- sandwiches and chips
- veggies with hummus
- tomato soup and grilled cheese
5. Keep your pantry well stocked.
When you keep your pantry well stocked with basics staples you use on a weekly basis, grocery shopping is streamlined and easy.
This goes hand in hand with having a list of go to meals that you eat each week. Grab my meal planning cheat sheet below. It’s a simple but effective way to simplify your meal planning.
Print it out and write down recipe or meal ideas that are easy to prepare. You know, those recipes that you know your family will eat but take no time to cook!
6. Utilize your crock pot or slow cooker.
Using your slow cooker is a sure fire way to get dinner on the table in record time. Simply dump all the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning and several hours later you can walk into the kitchen and serve dinner. Make a pot or rice or steam some frozen veggies and you’ve got a complete meal with very little work. I love using my slow cooker on days when I’m especially busy!
Your slow cooker may be one of the most convenient tools in your kitchen – but only if you use it.
“A slow cooker can usually be left unattended all day for many recipes. You can put recipe ingredients in it before going to work and come home to a meal. A slow cooker meal is an excellent choice for a busy day, whether you work in or out of your home.” – The Spruce Eats
7. Make One Pot Meals
Simple meals that can be made in one pot or on one baking sheet are not only quick to prepare but they also require less clean up at the end of the day! That’s a win win!
- One Pot Meals at Budget Bytes
- On Pot Meal Recipes at All Recipes
- 30 Vegetarian One Pot Dinners at She Likes Food
- Plant Based Sheet Pan Meals at The Inspired Home
8. Have themed dinner nights.
Assign each day of the week a theme. For instance:
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Friday Night Pizza
Having theme nights can take the guess work out of your menu and simplify your meal planning process! You can find my list of 25 Themed Dinner Ideas here.
9. Get help from Eat at Home Meal Planning Service.
You can have dinner on the table in just 15 MINUTES! Eat At Home Meal Plans have taken all the struggle, guesswork and misery out of meal planning even if:
- You have picky eaters.
- You are trying to feed your family a more wholesome, nourishing diet.
- You aren’t the world’s best cook (or you hate doing it!)
- You need to get dinner on the table in 15 minutes.
10. You don’t have to cook everything from scratch.
It’s okay. If you are pressed for time, there are plenty of wonderful, healthy products you can purchase that will help you save time in the kitchen. You might even want to utilize a meal kit service and if so, you can check out this Hello Fresh review.
I’ll be the first to tell you. I used to have the mindset that everything I made for my family had to be made from scratch. Everything from bread to salad dressing to taco seasoning.
Here’s the thing. If you have the time and desire, go for it! Serving your family in that way is a wonderful thing. But taking help where you can get it is okay too! As a homemaker, your goal should be serving your family well – whatever that looks like.
And if that looks like grabbing a healthy box of microwavable organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s so that you can feed your family around the table on a weeknight – I say go for it.
We all have different schedules. And perhaps you’ll have more time to cook in some seasons of your life and less time to cook in others. What really matters is the love and care you show your family each day!
related: My Go-To Meals for Busy Days
Simplify Your Meal Planning Process
Okay so we’ve talk about a few ways you can simplify meal planning. Now let’s talk about the actual process of getting your meal plan down on paper so that you can actually implement these ideas.
One of the easiest way to meal plan is to have someone else do it for you. That’s one of the reasons I love Eat at Home Meal Plans. If you struggle with making dinner time happen, you will LOVE these easy meal plans that do all the hard work for you! Color-coded shopping lists and printable tried and true family recipes make dinnertime a breeze!
Of course, having someone else plan your meals isn’t for everyone. Our family is vegetarian and that can make it a little harder. But I’m pretty adept at adapting recipes to fit our dietary needs!
If you still want to plan your own menu each week, let’s talk about how to simplify your meal planning process step by step.
Quickly look in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to take note of any food that you need to eat this coming week so it doesn’t spoil. This will help you save money and plan your meals around food you already have.
Gather your supplies. You don’t need a lot! But having a few tools or resources to use will make the process of meal planning easier.
- paper or menu planner
- pen or pencil
- a favorite cookbook
- Google or Pinterest
- a Meal Planning Cheat Sheet (download below)
You can use a printable menu planner if you want but it’s certainly not necessary. Here are a few printable menu planners in case you want one:
- The Disciplined Homemaker Menu Plan and Shopping List
- Weekly Menu Planner
- Free Printable Coloring Menu Planner
- Floral Menu Planner
- Free Printable Meal Planner Set
Write out your basic breakfast and lunch ideas (remember to keep it simple and repeat meals). Then fill in 5 – 7 supper ideas. In our household, I can almost guarantee we’ll eat out at least once a week these days. We’re on the road all the time. Just be realistic.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard! When you simplify your meal planning process and break it down into manageable steps, you realize it only takes a little planning time!
But the savings of time and money will be so worth the effort!