The ULTIMATE guide to meal planning! We’ll show you how to meal plan in an easy way that suits you and your family. From creating a 7 day meal plan or even monthly plans to different ways to plan and how to come up with delicious dinner ideas.
Consider This Your Meal Planning 101
We’ll run through all the different ways to meal plan. We’re super confident that you’ll find the best way for you right here and it’ll make your life easier!
And everyone wants their life to be easier, right? Especially if you’re a busy mum with a whole lot of stuff to get through!
In short as a super busy parent, I find meal planning is a great way to keep organised and SAVE TIME AND MONEY.
Generally there’s a few different ways you can organise meal planning. Also there’s a variety of places to get INSPIRATION for meal ideas.
Above all you just need to work out the best one for you and your family.
Some people like to plan out every single meal and snack as this helps them to stay on track when making shopping lists and budgeting their food shop.
Some people take a more laid back approach, it’s about finding what works for you and your family and budget! The laid back approach is more convenient when it comes to using up leftovers as you tend to be able to be more flexible.
For me, I firstIy I stock up on a selection of breakfast and packed lunch food. Then I properly plan the family dinners and write a list of groceries for either shopping in the grocery store or order food shopping on line. This way works best for me.
Different Meal Planning Methods
So, we’ll start with a little run through of the different ways to organise your meals and come up with dinners to cook, which can often be the hardest part!
We’ll look at how each of them work and more importantly how to do them and fit them into your lifestyle and budget. And you’ll be able to see which one suits you most.
Dinner Theme Days
Generally this is a great way to meal plan. In fact it’s one of my favourites.
With the theme days already written out for you all that’s left to do is then sitting down to meal plan just choose a dinner theme for each day of the week and then pick a dinner that suits the theme.
Above all this way seems to make it so much easier and quicker to plan meals.
If you like you can even ask each member of the family to pick a themed night or meal too just to get a little added input from the family.
We’ve popped some examples of dinner theme days below to get you started!
- Pasta – spaghetti bolognese, pasta bake, spicy chicken pasta, pasta pesto, pasta salad, sausage pasta.
- Slow Cooker – minced beef hotpot, slow cooker beef curry, slow cooker sausage casserole, slow cooker chilli con carne, slow cooker chicken curry, slow cooker Cajun chicken stew.
- Soup & Sandwich – sweet potato soup, potato and leek soup, roasted tomato soup, carrot and coriander soup, ham and cheese sandwich, chicken tikka sandwich
- Casserole – spicy chicken casserole, chicken and sausage casserole, pork and cider casserole, Greek lamb stew, chicken and chorizo casserole
- Roast Dinner – brisket and gravy, slow cooker roast lamb, air fryer whole chicken, slow cooker whole chicken, slow cooker beef joint
- Meat Free for Meatless Monday – vegan chilli, butternut squash chilli, tomato pasta bake, mixed vegetable curry, vegetarian fajitas
- One pot – chicken pilaf, one pan cheesy chorizo pasta, Lancashire potato hash, sausage hotpot, peri peri chicken pasta.
- Air Fryer – air fryer chicken fajitas, air fryer Nando’s chicken, air fryer salmon, air fryer jacket potatoes
- Breakfast for dinner – waffles, sausages and beans, eggs and sausages on toast, full English fry up, sausage and cheese omelette
- Homemade Takewaway – cook up your favourite pizza, burgers, Chinese or Indian at home.
- Freezer Dinner – grab your favourite from the freezer – chips, pizza, burgers and chicken nuggets, or even cook up a British Tapas selection!
Weekly Meal Plan
How to put together a simple weekly meal planner for your family
Ordinarily, this is the meal planning method I tend to stick with and it works best for my busy schedule.
However, I make super sure to look through the pantry cupboards, fridge and freezer to check what needs using up and incorporate it into my dinner ideas for the week ahead. This just makes writing a grocery list easier as you can see what store-cupboard essentials you’re running low on to.
With this in mind, if you’re struggling for dinner inspiration or just need a little kick-start with your meal planning, and meal prep, you can check out our online meal plans right here.
Monthly Meal Plans
Above all I totally get that sometimes you’re just too busy, or just don’t enjoy meal planning. So, with this in mind a 4 week rolling meal plan might be just the thing for you!
The 4 week meal plan method involves planning a whole month of meals in advance.
So meal planning is just one monthly session, you can set aside an hour (usually a Sunday works best) and plan the full month of meals and write the weekly shopping lists in one go, which saves time over the month ahead.
One way of using the monthly planning method is to use the dinner theme days so you don’t get stuck for inspiration.
Another good thing about monthly meal planning is that you can look at cooking big batches and freezing some to eat during the following couple of week.
We also kinda like the smugness of being THIS ORGANISED and knowing that meal planning is all taken care of and doesn’t need thinking about again for another four weeks! Awesome!
However, if the thought of writing a month of dinners is overwhelming, you might like to download our monthly meal plans here to get you started! We’ve split them seasonally so that dinnertime doesn’t get dull.
Get more family life organisation tips here
(just click on the image to get the free printable)
How To Meal Plan On A Budget
If you need to save money and spend less on meals then meal planning can really help you to focus and do that, whilst still cooking up healthy meals.
When meal planning on a budget look at meal and food swaps which will cost less money.
It’s also worth shopping around – try out different supermarkets and bargain stores and try to get a mix that works for you, without being too hard work!
I’d also recommend looking at online grocery shopping, that way you’re completely in control of the budget and what you’re spending before you press checkout! And you’re less likely to get side-tracked or pestered into buying things you really don’t need.
Budget Cooking Tips
Top tips for helping to keep to a budget when planning meals!
- Add in 2-3 pasta based dishes a week – you can make up simple pasta sauces with vegetables and tinned pulses or fish to serve with them. Pasta and whole grains is a cheap way of filling up!
- Cook meals that can be easily bulked out with extra vegetables or pulses rather than needing to add more meat.
- So for example – cooking up a chilli con carne and adding in extra veggies like beans, onions and peppers to stretch the meal further.
- Cook meals that will do two nights – or even freeze half for another day.
- Look at where you shop! Smaller supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl are often much cheaper and it’s quicker and easier to pick up those bargains.
- Look out for the weekly offers on fruit and vegetables or meat and plan your meals around what you know is going to be cheaper that week.
- Fill up on mashed potatoes, add a side of bread or serve meals with rice mixed with tinned lentils – this is filling and adds in more protein and vegetables.
- Frozen and tinned vegetables are a low cost way to bulk up meals and to still eat your 5 a day.
- Use a slow cooker – you can use slow cookers to cook cheaper, tougher cuts of meat and they’ll come out beautifully tender – stews, casseroles, curries and soups are all cheap and delicious when done in the slow cooker.
How Do You Make A Meal Plan And Stick To It?
Well… be strict with yourself.
Think about why it is you want a meal plan, is it to be more organised? Is it to save money? Maybe you want to eat healthier dinners?
By not sticking to your plans – think about what you’re losing out on!
It could be a few pounds extra in your purse a week or shifting that final 1lb weight loss on your diet.
If you know you struggle to stick to a full meal plan then when you create your plan be sure to add in a day off.
This means you get the benefit of a plan but the flexibility of a day off, best of both worlds.
Need Some Dinner Inspiration?
Sometimes you just get stuck in a rut, cooking and eating the same old thing week in, week out.
If you fancy MIXING UP YOUR MEALTIMES then here’s our favourite places to get some food inspiration.
Check out hundreds of pre-filled templates and dinner recipes here on Daisies & Pie.
Browse all our weekly meal ideas here
How To Make Meal Planning Even Easier!
Another way to make meal planning easier is to keep a good stock of basics at home.
Having a good stock of store cupboard ingredients and freezer essentials just mean that meal planning and cooking ad-hoc meals is a whole lot easier and less stress.
We’ve created handy checklists of all our favourite kitchen cupboard and freezer essentials below.
Come And Chat About Family Meals With Us!
Head over to Facebook and join our ever growing Proper Easy Meals Facebook group for ideas, support, tips and lot’s more.
We’d love you to share your menus, recipes and meal ideas over there and help others with food inspiration too!
Free Printable Meal Planner Templates
Grab our free printable meal planner templates here and get busy organizing your meal ideas!