How to Start Meal Planning

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I can always count on you guys! I recently asked for some help on Instagram stories because we’ve been floundering in the dinner department, big time. We make the same few dishes over and over, and usually that’s because we haven’t planned well or we run out of time or ingredients. And I’m kind of over it. So I asked you all if you had any great meal planner ideas or recommendations, and boy did you deliver! So now I’m figuring out how to start meal planning.

How to start meal planning

First, let me just tell ya what we ended up with. Our goals were to find something that would fit on our fridge, that we could easily change, and that wasn’t ugly. 😉 Somebody gave me a friendly reminder that Rifle Paper Co., one of my favorite companies of all time, has a pretty paper meal planner, and it ended up being perfect! There are 52 pages and each page is one week. Each page also has a perforated grocery list section, so you can jot down what you need over the course of the week and then rip it off to take it shopping with you. There are spaces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on each day, with a little area for miscellaneous notes. It’s actually been totally perfect for our purposes. I glued a couple of magnets on the back and it lives on our fridge. It also comes in two colors — we got the citrus floral pattern, but the Rosa design in pink is really pretty as well.


That being said, there were lots of other great suggestions!

  • A few people suggested the DIY chalkboard meal planner route, which is super effective but just not what we were looking for.
  • One reader just uses a standard calendar or planner and writes in her menu a couple of weeks at a time. Smart!
  • Another smarty pants made her own meal planner using Excel. My sister does something similar to this — she just has a document on her computer that she changes weekly and prints it out to hang on her fridge.
  • This pretty marble dry erase board was another suggestion. Just magnet it to your fridge and write your daily dinners every week.
  • There are lots of great free printables online, too; this one was suggested to us and it’s very sweet!

How to Start Meal Planning

Hope one of these ideas inspires you! We were totally down the dinner rabbit hole but this is definitely helping us climb back out. As for how to start meal planning and actually use the thing, here’s my method so far. I usually hit up Pinterest and type in a search term. My favorites are “healthy family dinners,” “easy family dinners,” “weeknight family dinners,” and things like that. My goals are uncomplicated, healthy, well-balanced meals that take less than 20 minutes to prep. So type in your own parameters. Then I scroll through and pin anything that looks good to a secret board. Once my board is populated, I go through it and weed out anything that might take too long or that for some reason wouldn’t work. And after that, I fill in a couple of weeks’ worth of dinners onto our meal planner! We usually block out one night a week for a dinner out, and I make sure to add in any days that have specific meals at events or parties. Fill in the rest and BOOM you’re a meal planner already.

As for lunches and breakfasts, those don’t seem as difficult for us, but I fill in anything specific that we know is in our schedule that week (like the kids getting lunch at school), and then fill in the rest around that. On the back of the meal planner I wrote a list of about 20 of the kids’ favorite snacks, so that if we’re stuck for an idea we can just pull something off of there and whip it up. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post on some of our favorite meal ideas and recipes?! Would that be interesting? xoxo

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  1. It is no where near as pretty as yours, but I made a Google Calendar specifically for meal planning and it has worked wonderfully! I did a one-month template to start with, with each recipe repeating every four weeks with the goal of eventually having a month’s schedule of different recipes that we love without actually having to do full planning each week. We don’t have a whole month of ideas yet so some days I just have the main protein written in with the intention of adding recipes as we go but still ensure we are getting a variety. We also schedule take-out/date nights which helps keep our budget on track. I shared the calendar with my husband which he loves because he always knows what we are having for dinner, haha! Another perk is that I’m able to write the full recipe or include a link to the Pinterest recipe in the daily description, so it’s easy to pull up the recipe on my phone or ipad. I wish I’d done it sooner!

  2. We use Plan to Eat which stores recipes (easy tools for importing from the web, too!), does calendar view meal planning, and automatically creates your shopping list. They have a mobile app that makes it super easy to see your shopping list, check things off and see which recipe each item is tagged too. It also has the ability to keep your “staples” (like paper towels) on a list so you can add them in easily whenever you need more. It has been life changing and we meal plan once per month for the whole month and the grocery list is automatically created weekly – it’s AMAZING!