Truly Simple Meal Planning

Meal planning saves you time, money, and anxiety. Here are 5 meal planning guidelines to keep your meal planning simple and budget friendly. Free weekly grocery shopping and meal planning templates.

If there is one thing that has to be done around the house, it is dinner. You have to provide something for dinner every single day. First, accept that miserable fact and move on.

Meal Planning for your mental health


You know how when the afternoon rolls around and you aren’t sure what to make for dinner, a light sense of dread settles on you? (Is that just me?) You imagine some scenario that will rescue you from dinner making. Then at around 3 you realize your options have dwindled to whatever you have in the house, because it’s too late to grocery shop. At 4, it has to be something quick. You just do pasta again, and no one complains, but that panicky afternoon feeling is not enjoyable.

That is why meal planning is so helpful. It keeps you calm and prepared and lets you take your mind off the endless what’s for dinner nightmare. A few minutes of planning once a week will save you from all of that. People may think meal planning is a lot of effort, but not doing it is much, much harder.

How does meal planning save money?

Well the act of writing down dinners does not do anything to help the bank account, obviously. But not having dinner planned tends to lead to carryout, fast food, etc.

A lot of the most frugal things you can make, like simple sourdough bread, dried beans, and slow cooker meals take time and planning ahead. At three in the afternoon, it is too late for those. You can still put together a respectable meal, of course! But you’ve lost the opportunity to cook something extra frugal that would have helped out your food budget. Planning meals ahead of time lets you do all those little extra things.

Does planning meals ahead save time?

Doesn’t it seem weird that doing an EXTRA thing will give you even more time?

Well that would be weird… except that meal planning is not doing an extra thing, its just doing what you already do, in a more organized way. Every time you serve anything for dinner, you have had to think about and exert mental time and energy. Just do it all ahead of time, in a relaxed fashion, and let it go.

(Plus you will save all that time spent rummaging through the freezer for something acceptable to serve!)

How to make your meal planning session simple and budget friendly:

1. Start with what you have

Don’t begin right away dreaming up what you need at the store and what you want to serve for the week. Think about what you have that needs to be used up. Is there something in your garden that needs to be harvested? Is there something deeply reduced at your grocery store that you would like to work around?

2. Keep your schedule in mind

Make sure what you are making for the week matches up with things that are already set in your schedule. Cold days need warmer meals, and vice versa. Busy afternoons need something quick or made ahead of time.

If there are quieter days in your upcoming week could you use some of that time to prepare something ahead of time?

3. Use master lists

This tip is what has helped me the most. Instead of coming up with a meal plan from scratch every week, keep master lists that you refer to each time. We have a few lists for different scenarios: family favorites, make ahead, summer meals, and quick meals. These can be organized as Pinterest boards or simply sheets of paper.

As you try new recipes, add them to the appropriate master list if they are something that your family liked. That way, every time you need to plan your meals for the week, you have pre-selected all the possibilities. It is much easier to choose from a list of things than to invent ideas from scratch.

To get you started with budget friendly meal ideas, check out this list from Taste of Home of inexpensive meals that actually look appetizing.

4. Keep it realistic and simple

This is part of what will help make your meal plan budget friendly. When you are relaxed and just writing things down on paper, it is easy to get overambitious. Sure, you think, I can do homemade bread, a pie for dessert, a baked potato casserole, and beef Burgundy. And maybe you can! But if you don’t have help at dinnertime, try to keep it simple.

One complicated thing per day. Or NO complicated things. Pair a harder side dish with a frozen chili or something like that. Dessert only once a week. Don’t be afraid to write down sandwiches, carrots, and pretzels. Not every meal has to be a big production! Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning things you can’t actually do.

5. Do your grocery list at the same time

On a separate piece of paper! Don’t be like me and spend years losing your meal plan at the grocery store.

What good is a meal plan that you can’t execute because you are missing a crucial ingredient?

It may take you an hour or so to make up your master lists of meal ideas, but once they are done, the weekly meal plan will be as simple as can be. Fifteen to twenty minutes a week will relieve the afternoon anxiety and help your days feel calm.

To download the free meal planning printables:

Simple meal plan video:

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  1. Meal planning for us helps my son with Autism feel in control. And I like that he can refer to the list and not ask me 500 times what’s for dinner!