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How to Make a Meal Plan…and Stick to It!

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Make a Meal Plan for a Week at a Time

Do you frequently find yourself throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or picking up fast food on your way home from work?

Without having a plan in place, it can be difficult to think of healthy meal ideas each night. That’s why you really need to make a meal plan (and come up with a plan to stick to it!).

Until I started meal planning, I would find myself standing in front of the fridge or pantry each night, wondering what I could quickly make for dinner. As you might guess, it got to be stressful.

So I started trying to think of ways I could go about creating a meal plan. Then my sister showed me her meal rotation calendar. It was just the inspiration I needed to start one of my own!

I have created some printable worksheets that you can use to help make a meal plan of your own.

Click here to grab your FREE meal planning worksheets — no email address necessary!

In this post, I will show you how to use these worksheets, and I will provide you with some of my favorite tips for sticking to your meal rotation.


pinterest graphic that says create a meal plan...and stick with it!


How to Create a Meal Plan

Please note that this article isn’t going to necessarily focus on healthy meal ideas. We’ll save that for another time. For now, I just want to help you get started making homemade meals more often, and eating less fast food or convenience meals.


1. Brainstorm a list of meal ideas – the more the better!

The first step to making a meal plan is to write up a list of all your favorite main dishes. You don’t even need my worksheets for this step — you can use any blank sheet of paper.

The more dishes you can think of, the better. That way, you will end up with a nice variety of meals in your rotation, and you won’t have to repeat main dishes over the course of the five weeks.

Of course, if there’s a dish your family absolutely loves, by all means — make it as often as you like!


2. Print out your meal planning worksheets.

First of all, print out your meal planning worksheets.

In the packet, you will find a Five-Week Rotation Calendar and five Weekly Meal Planning worksheets.

I had originally started with a four-week rotation calendar. But over time, my husband and I started to get tired of eating some of the same meals every four weeks.

Of course, if it’s just not working, you can always print extra copies of the blank Five-Week Rotation Calendar and make changes as you go along. However, having that fifth week can help add a little more variety to your meals.


3. Transfer your meal ideas to the Five-Week Rotation Calendar.


image of meal planning calendar


I have chosen to create a meal plan ONLY for my last meal of the day. Breakfast is pretty simple in our house, and lunch is usually either leftovers or sandwiches. Dinner is where I get hung up, though.

However, if you feel the need, you can plan out all your meals via the Five-Week Rotation Calendar.

Now refer to your list of main dish ideas and transfer them to the calendar. At this point, you don’t need to worry about side dishes. I just like to make sure I am scheduling in a nice variety of meals each week, trying not to repeat the same main ingredient two days in a row….

For example, I do my best to avoid putting two beef dishes next to each other. The same goes for pasta dishes, and so on.

I’m not unrealistic; we are still going to have ‘lazy days’ or days we want to eat out with the family. Simply schedule those days into your dinner rotation! Then make sure to follow your meal plan on all the other days.


4. Keep your meal planning worksheets where they will be easily accessible.

Place your Five-Week Rotation Calendar in a clear plastic sheet (or laminate it) and hang it on the fridge…or place it in a pretty floral 3-ring binder.

I prefer the binder idea, because you can also keep your Weekly Meal Plan sheets in there. I love to stay organized!

However, choose a place where your calendar will be easily accessible, to ensure that you will continue to utilize it.


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How to Stick to Your Meal Plan

Creating a meal plan does you no good if you aren’t going to stick with it! Here are a few things I do to increase the odds of making my efforts a success.


1. Every week, take a moment to look over the coming week’s meals.

I typically do my grocery shopping on the weekends. So before I go to the store, I will take a few minutes to run through the week’s meals and make any adjustments at that time.

Since the hardest part (coming up with a meal plan!) has already been done, it really only takes me a few minutes to do this.


2. Transfer your main dishes to the Weekly Meal Plan worksheet.


image of weekly meal plan


This is where you can transfer your main dishes to the Weekly Meal Planning worksheet. You can also think up any sides dishes to go along with each meal.

List them all out on your worksheet, then go over each meal and determine which ingredients you already have and which you still need to buy.

Each week’s worksheet has an extra box where you can list any ingredients still needed.


3. Add any ingredients needed to your shopping list.

Now you can easily transfer your missing ingredients to your shopping list!

It all sounds like a long process, but I have found that when I create a meal plan ahead of time, it actually makes grocery shopping much simpler. It only takes a few moments to figure out which ingredients I’m missing.

I have also found that we usually have quite a few of the ingredients already (thanks to buying certain items in bulk when they’re on sale!), so my shopping list is typically shorter than when I don’t create a meal plan.


Why Meal Plan? Here are the top 5 benefits of planning your meals in advance.


4. Each night, look over your meals for the next few nights and prep ingredients.

The hardest part to remember? Making sure all the ingredients are ready for each night’s meals!

It helps immensely if you take a few minutes each night — say, while you’re cooking dinner — to look over your meal plan for the next few nights. That way, you can make sure to thaw any ingredients before you need them.

It also helps to prep food in bulk.

For example, I like to dice veggies like onions, peppers, and mushrooms and freeze them in freezer-safe meal prep containers so they are ready to go. That way, I don’t have to do that while I’m in the middle of cooking a meal.

Sometimes, I do that with meat as well; I’ll cook up a larger batch of ground beef or chicken and freeze the extras for a meal later in the week.


Click here to grab your FREE meal planning worksheets — no email address necessary!


Concluding Thoughts on Meal Planning

When I get out of my meal plan rotation, I find myself at a loss when it comes to dinner each night. I often scramble to put together something quickly, or occasionally end up having some unhealthy convenience food or fast food.

If you make a meal plan, you can schedule in special occasions, and still have meals ready for the rest of the week.


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  1. Meal planning has saved me so much headache in the kitchen! I’m like you–I don’t typically meal plan for breakfast or lunch, but it is such useful tool for dinner.

  2. First super cute family, congrats on the soon to be new addition! 🙂 I grew up in my family’s professional kitchens and think I’ve been creating meal plans since I was about 6. lol You have a lot of great tips here and absolutely knowing your inventory is really the key to maintain sanity in the kitchen. never shop without a list, we’ve all done it and know how it ends (not well 😉 I comb the fridge first and then the pantry. And always make a double batch of soups, stews, meatloaf pretty much anything. It’s nice to have meals that you can rotate in and out easily especially when life gets a little crazy! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, shopping without a list is a huge mistake… I really wish I would have been thinking about making double batches of meals the last few weeks, so we could have some in the freezer for after baby arrives. Now I’m really going to be scrambling! :/

  3. I actually use a weekly meal plan service and it has kept us from eating out a lot! It also saves money because we only buy what we will use.

  4. I agree, meal planning is a real lifesaver. No “whats for dinner?” “I don’t know.” It also helps keep us healthier.

  5. I love these tips. I so need meal planning in my life. I am just a hot mess when it comes to planning meals. I am always running out at the last minute to get ingredients.

  6. Meal planning has helped take away the stress of dinner. I’m not as advanced as a five week rotation, I usually do a week at a time. I’ll have to start using the sheet and filling in my weekly ones for the next five weeks so I don’t have to think about it any more!

    1. It’s really nice having a month’s worth of meals planned out, and you never really have to think about what to make the following week.

  7. We got a little busy and didn’t meal plan last month. It was AWFUL! There was never any food in the house, and we ended up eating total junk. I needed to read this today to get back on track.

  8. Love meal planning!! Such a time saver and a great way to lower the stress levels when going grocery shopping – lol!!! I cannot shop without a list and love having a routine. These printables look fabulous!

  9. This is such perfect timing. I’m attempting to meal prep again to save money and help my family eat healthier with less waste. Having a worksheet and looking it over are great ideas and key. Thank you thank you!

  10. Thanks for the meal planning sheets! I’m a teacher, and we call something like that a graphic organizer. They’re so helpful in arranging your thoughts and making it real! Thanks again!

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