This brilliant meal planning trick takes just minutes and will help you save both time and money by streamlining your weeknight dinners.
I have a confession to make. I hate meal planning.
You'd think a food blogger would enjoy picking out recipes to cook for her family, but it is possibly one of my least favorite chores of the week.
I enjoy the cooking, I hate the choosing.
Can you relate? Between managing your family's dietary restrictions and picky eating habits, sometimes setting a meal plan can make you lose the will to cook.
Does this sound like you?
- You feel resentful about the time wasted meal planning during the weekend when you'd rather be relaxing.
- Hunting recipes feels like a chore.
- The recipes you do find never fit your family's preferences.
- You feel like you rely on take out or drive-thru too much.
- You put off deciding what to make until right before you're in the kitchen to cook.
- You know your family would eat better if you cooked more at home but it all just feels too much.
Friend, I've been there. Especially when my girls were small and especially picky eaters.
The 5-Minute Meal Plan Fix
The solution to all your meal planning struggles is so ridiculously easy you're not going to believe me when I share it with you.
And all it takes is this simple trick:
Assign a theme to each day of the week.
Why This Works
I warned you. It sounds too easy. But this is why this meal plan strategy works:
- 15 minutes: Once you have your weekly themes set, meal planning is just a matter of plugging in this week's picks on the appropriate day and writing your grocery list. You could do it once a week as part of your morning basket time.
- Less decision fatigue: Want something different than what you ate last week? You've narrowed down your choices for each night which makes your decision go faster. Instead of beef tacos for Taco Night, maybe make chicken fajitas this week.
- One trip to the grocery store: You've planned the week out, then do your shopping. You'll have everything you should need for a whole week!
- No more mental agony: I keep my menu printed on the fridge. Keep yours visible and you'll never have to guess what's for dinner again. Better yet -- your family won't have to ask, either!
- Easy prep ahead: If you're at home like me, seeing that printed reminder of what's for dinner on the fridge, you'll know exactly what prep work to do during small pockets of time throughout the day. Prep a veggie here, mix a marinade there, pull the pizza dough from the freezer for tomorrow.
The Best Nightly Meal Plan Themes:
I'm going to share with you the meal plan categories that work best for our family.
You can copy this completely or tweak it with your own clever themes. Be sure to check out some alternative suggestions at the bottom of the post!
Soup & Sandwich Night
Pair any soup with any sandwich. Add some fruit or chips if you feel the need to round it out.
You can choose a store-bought soup, plan to make a homemade soup, or thaw a premade soup from your freezer.
Want more easy suggestions? Check out my Soup & Sandwich categories:
Shhh: It doesn't *have* to be on Tuesday and it doesn't have to be tacos. Pick one night for a Mexican food fiesta.
Want even more ideas? Check out my Taco Tuesday Pinterest board for delicious Mexican food.
Appliance Night: Crockpot, Instant Pot, Air Fryer
Choose your busiest night and plan to dig out those time-saving appliances hiding in your kitchen. Not only will this ensure that they earn their keep, but you've likely forgotten how much they help to get dinner on the table quickly!
I don't know about you, but my family could eat pasta every night of the week and be happy. Having a dedicated pasta night ensures that my kids will have at least one night of the week with something "easy" and 100% acceptable on their plates.
America's favorite protein for a reason: it is light and healthy, budget-friendly, and totally versatile.
Plan one meal around this protein a week. Add a bag of frozen veggies and/or frozen potatoes, your favorite rice dish, or top a salad.
Trying to eat less meat as a family? You don't need to go fully vegetarian to make an impact on your health and budget.
Choose one night a week to skip the meat.
Want more vegetarian recipes for your family? Don't miss my Meatless Monday Pinterest board with tons of ideas.
Many people turn to pizza out of desperation or exhaustion. This week, give yourself to CHOOSE pizza on purpose and add this easy dinner to your rotation.
You can plan for a frozen pizza, plan to order delivery pizza, or plan to play with a homemade pizza.
We rotate through all three of those solutions. When we make homemade, here are some of our very favorite options:
Date Night OR Family Snack Night
Plan a night completely off. Go out or order in but do it on purpose.
If you're feeling up to it, I absolutely love to plan a night for homemade appetizers and hearty snacks. Especially during the holiday season, we enjoy making special treats to eat while we watch a family movie.
Other Meal Plan Theme Ideas:
Casserole Or Hearty Roast: With extra time on Sundays, I love to do a traditional roasted meat & potatoes meal or if we're busy having fun, a casserole fresh or from the freezer.
International Night: We love to eat a wide variety of foods: Greek, Chinese, Mexican, Thai. I didn't want to be forced to rotate through each of those themes every week, so instead we pick one night to try a fun make-your-own takeout or new recipe.
Salad for Dinner: Plan for a big bowl of salad greens and just choose a new combination of toppings. Perfect for the warmer months.
Grill Night: Plan to fire up the grill with your favorite summer recipes.
Breakfast for Dinner: Make pancakes, waffles, an egg casserole, or breakfast sandwiches. Sample all the weekend brunch recipes you don't want to bother with on a lazy morning.
Cookbook Night: Choose your favorite cookbook and work your way through as many recipes in the year as you can on one dedicated night.
Picnic Night: Pack a meal to eat from a cooler in your car when driving the kids on extra-busy nights.
Ask Yourself These Questions First:
1. What are my family's very favorite meals? If I had all the time in the world and the ingredients were handed to me on a platter, what would we enjoy eating? Make a list! Ask your husband and kids to chime in.
2. Now look at that list, do you see any patterns? Are they all chicken? Then it isn't exactly helpful to have a "Chicken Night" because it doesn't narrow your options. You want to consider themes that help you make your weekly decision more easily. It should be broad enough to give you options but narrow enough to shorten that list.
3. What do you need help remembering? I needed help remembering particular recipe sources and gear. Maybe you need help to remember to eat a new protein? Or to try a new recipe? Use one night of your themes to help be your Post-It note reminder to work towards your goals.
5. Look at your schedule, which night is your busiest? Do you have more than one? Consider time-saving meal themes. For me that was the crockpot but sandwiches, simple pastas, even breakfast for dinner are all themes that would work with a constricted time schedule. Or heck, give yourself a "Drive Thru" night but be intentional about it. It's amazing the guilt it relieves.
6. Which day of the week is best for you to grocery shop? Plan your weekly rotation starting either that day or the next. I meal plan on Sunday, shop on Monday morning, the week starts Monday evening.
Want Some Help?
Feeling overwhelmed? Sometimes even easy fixes can feel like too much.
That's where I come in.
Join my FREE email newsletter and I'll send you a printable meal plan sheet and walk you through the tips and tricks for making this system work quickly for you and your family.