How to Simplify Your Meal Planning Routine

Dreading dinnertime again? Meal planning is easy and will help you get ahead. Don’t miss these ten helpful tips for simple meal planning!

Ugh, meal planning.

Can any two words strike up so much dread?

It’s one of those things that we know we need to do, that we know will ultimately make our life easier and make everything run smoother. And yet, sitting down to actually do it, to actually take the time to plan out a menu and make a grocery list? It feels like such a pain!

Or maybe that’s just me.

But while I don’t always relish the thought of planning my meals, I also know what happens when I don’t. Inevitably we start eating out. A lot. Or we order takeout. A lot. And that means we spend WAY more money than we should on restaurants and GrubHub, but it also means that I overeat and inevitably gain weight.

So while in the short term, I get to save myself the pain of planning my meals, the long-term consequences of NOT planning my meals are even more painful.

So what’s the solution? Is there a way to make meal planning just a little bit easier, and in the process make LIFE just a little bit easier? Is there really a way to actually eat healthy(ish) dinners at home every night and not feel like you are chained to your kitchen?

I say YES!

How to Simplify Your Meal Planning Routine

Here are a few practical ideas for simplifying your meal planning routine that might just change everything:

1. Make a Standing Date with Yourself

The best way to make sure meal planning ACTUALLY happens for you every single week? Make a date with yourself! (And then stick to it, of course!) The reality is that often we don’t plan because we don’t make TIME to plan. We don’t see it as priority, and then, before you know it, the weekend is over, the week has begun, and you’re picking up McDonald’s from the drive-through for the third night in a row.

But when you can get it on your regular schedule and make it a habit, planning your meals just becomes part of your normal routine. My own favorite time to meal plan is on Sunday afternoon, usually right after lunch. I pull out my recipe books, map out a plan for the week, and then make my shopping list.

2. Create a Go-To List of Family Favorites

Believe it or not, your meal plan doesn’t have to be full of new and original recipes every single week! There’s no shame in sticking with a few tried and true favorites that you know everyone loves, every single time. Of course, in that moment that you actually sit down to plan, it’s easy to feel like you are all out of ideas. That’s where your favorites list comes in! Keep an ongoing list of meals and recipes that are always a hit, whether they be classics like spaghetti, tacos, or good-old steak & potatoes or newer recipes that you’ve tried and liked (especially the really easy ones!)

This list then becomes your starting point when you sit down to meal plan. Pick 4-5 favorites that you haven’t made in the last week or two, then round out your menu with a couple of new recipes you haven’t tried before. Then, if those new recipes turn out to be great–add them to your list!

3. Simplify Your Ingredient List

The easiest way to simplify your meals? Cook simple meals. Really! Believe me when I tell you that not every meal has to be a gourmet feast. Think meat & potatoes, or an easy soup with hearty bread on the side.

4. Take Help Where You Can Get It

When it comes to your grocery bill, preparing your own produce can save you quite a bit of money. However, chopping, grating and preparing can also take quite a bit of time. While there is something to be said for making your own bread, almond milk, or tomato sauce, sometimes the convenience of jarred or canned foods trumps the cost savings.

Frozen vegetables often contain higher nutrient levels because they’re flash frozen at the time of harvest, unlike many “fresh” vegetables that deteriorate while in transport for weeks. If you opt for additive-free and organic items, you might find yourself very pleased with the flavor and nutritional values. Many well-known stores (including Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Costco ) offer quite the cost savings on organics, and you can even find pre-chopped, prepped items to simplify your meal planning routine.

5. Embrace Taco Tuesdays

It’s perfectly okay to have a few favorites every single week. Whether it’s Taco Tuesdays or Spaghetti Thursdays or Pizza Fridays, having a regular rhythm definitely helps keep things simple—and believe me, your family won’t mind a bit!

Regular meals in your repertoire also means you can easily shop for ingredients and keep them on hand. You’ll save time at the store searching for new ingredients for new recipes. Plus, keeping it consistent means you can reuse spices or ingredients each week. For example, making a stir-fry once a week means you can plan on always keeping the basics in stock (rice, soy sauce, spices and brown sugar), but you can change up the veggies or meat you incorporate each week. If there’s a deal on chicken one week, enjoy a chicken teriyaki dish; if tofu is on sale the next week, give it a shot.

6. Learn to Love Leftovers

Cooking once and eating for several meals is a huge time saver, and also a great solution for lunches. I always like to make a big pot of soup for dinner on Monday night so that I’ll have easy lunches to bring to work the rest of the week.

Of course if you’re not a big leftovers fan, you can also find ways to cook once and use ingredients twice.

7. Try Sunday Meal Prep

I’m a big fan of Sunday meal prep. It sets up my week for success, and there’s something very comforting about looking into a freezer or fridge full of ready-to-go meals. I’ve really streamlined the process, so I can prep a whole week (or two) in just an hour. It’s a wonderful time saver and Big time stress-saver. If you want to give Sunday prep a try, you can easily go beyond dinner and plan out your family’s breakfasts and lunches as well. Once you try it, you’ll be hooked.

Preparing oatmeal ahead of time, individually bagging lunch components (like chips and carrot sticks), or making bread on a Sunday afternoon makes for a fun and relaxing process. I really feel Sunday meal prep helps me enjoy cooking much more in general. I can do it at my own pace and it feels productive and planned, rather than stressful and thrown together. It’s a great way to start Monday off on the right foot.

Imagine cooking ten delicious freezer meals in just an hour!

8. Embrace Make-Ahead & Freezer Meals

Similar to Sunday meal prep, made-ahead meals and freezer meals are an amazing way to streamline your meal-planning process. A freezer full of go-to meals saves so much time. It makes dinner planning simple and easy, and you have plenty of variety available to suit your family. Not only that, but you also save money by shopping once, prepping once, then making the meals right then and there. No more heading to the store on a whim for a last-minute ingredient only to come home with a bag full of items you didn’t plan on purchasing.

When you get home from work or at the end of your busy day, the last thing most of us want to do is haul out pots, pans, and cutting boards. Preparing meals beforehand allows you to simply pop what you need in the oven at the end of the day, or come home to a delicious creation that’s been cooking away in the crockpot all day. With make-ahead meals and freezer meals, I can focus on my family, hear about their day, help with homework, and enjoy our time together, rather than stress out in a hot kitchen with hungry kids underfoot.

9. Use Flavorful Ingredients

A secret to simple meals? Use only the best, most flavorful ingredients! Fresh herbs, strong Parmesan cheese, or a squeeze of lime can make basic meals sing and feel so much fancier! Grow herbs in a container or vegetable garden, then use them to add a little polish to your dishes. Plain old pork chops and rice can get really special when you have fresh rosemary or thyme.

Fresh ingredients rarely need much preparation—steaming and adding a little salt and butter can generally be enough. Celebrate and highlight the best qualities of your ingredients by allowing them to shine through. Don’t bury them in sauces and heavy (time-consuming) preparations!

10. Make the Most of Pantry Staples

One final trick to simplifying your meal planning routine is to make sure you keep your pantry stocked with the ingredients you use frequently.  If spaghetti is frequently on your menu, keep lots of sauce and noodles on hand. Always have taco seasoning and shells, along with a couple of pounds of ground beef in the freezer. Keep frequently called for ingredients–things like diced tomatoes, tomato paste, green chiles, beans, etc.–on hand so that you’ve got them in a pinch. And be sure to have a variety of frozen veggies, chicken, and even pizza on hand as well.

This not only makes grocery shopping easier–especially on those busy weeks–but gives you a backup plan (that doesn’t involve takeout) if your meal planning happens to get off track.

To recap, here are the 10 ways to simplify dinnertime!

  1. Make a Standing Date with Yourself
  2. Create a Go-To List of Family Favorites
  3. Simplify Your Ingredient List
  4. Take Help Where You Can Get It
  5. Embrace Taco Tuesdays
  6. Learn to Love Leftovers
  7. Try Sunday Meal Prep
  8. Embrace Make-Ahead & Freezer Meals
  9. Use Flavorful Ingredients
  10. Make the Most of Pantry Staples

And, when all else fails, you can always have grilled cheese or pancakes for dinner! I’ve found that even though we put pressure on ourselves to cook delicious and healthy meals for our families, no one ever seems to mind the occasional “cheater” convenience meal. So things simple and give yourself a break!


Dreading dinnertime again? Meal planning is easy and will help you get ahead. Don't miss these ten helpful tips for simple meal planning! #mealplanning #mealprep #freezermeals #cookingtips #cooking

Dreading dinnertime again? Meal planning is easy and will help you get ahead. Don't miss these ten helpful tips for simple meal planning! #mealplanning #mealprep #freezermeals #cookingtips #cooking

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  1. We do a lot of these things but I haven’t dared try make ahead freezer cooking yet, it seems like such a lot of work, perhaps that could be my next challenge ! Thanks for your great blog !

  2. These are great tips for meal planning because it can be discouraging thinking about all the time you need to spend in order to get your meals ready.

    I tend to buy the frozen vegetables as well, what a great tip, they definitely keep longer and most stores have the organic option if you wanted to go that route.

    P.S. – I am never opposed to a good grilled cheese dinner 🙂

  3. I love Sunday meal prep time – I use it as an excuse to binge watch Netflix. It makes me feel like quite the domestic goddess (which is a rare feeling for me, someone who doesn’t even own an iron), but one that’s having a whale of a time. I also find that if I prep the veg, I’m waaaay more likely to actually eat it, rather than letting it chill in the fridge until it dies, and then chuck it out.

    1. Agreed! Having things ready ahead of time makes me less tempted to grab the kids’ Easter candy off the counter… 😉 Haha!

      I also love prepping big batches of meat for the freezer: cook all the ground beef & bag it in 1-pound servings, cut up chicken for nuggets and bag that, precook some chicken and bag it in strips for salad or fajitas, etc. Then when I do come home right at 6, and nobody’s started dinner, it’s easy to grab meat from the freezer and make a quick taco night!

      Our boys are tweens now, so we also do “YOYO” nights – You’re On Your Own. 😉 They love it, it gets the leftovers out of the fridge, and I feel like I’m helping them develop the skills to feed themselves.

  4. Where I’m not much of a meal planner I agree with many of the tips you’ve mentioned. We’re now an empty nest home so meals have been a matter of learning how to cook in smaller portions. It’s fun, almost like cooking in a restaurant.

    I do like to have homemade spaghetti sauce in the freezer for those days when everything falls apart. A good dinner on the table in 20 minutes is a wonderful thing.

  5. I always try to keep my recipes five ingredients or less.

    I see that your picture includes chicken to be frozen and reheated later. I cooked a bank of BBQ chicken drumsticks and when I reheat them in the microwave, they do not have as much flavor as they had when I first cooked them. Did I miss something?

    1. Reheat your bbq chicken in the oven and if needed spritz with a little water or add a bit more bbq sauce for moisture and they will be as good as coming off the grill. My husbands a big griller and we do this all the time.

  6. Thanks for the ideas. I like to try new things but my husband would be fine with the same things every week. I love freezer meals.

    By the way, as a helping proofing note, planning on your picture is spelled wrong and so is cheap in #10.

    I love your blog and your 31 day decluttering emails have change my life.

    Thank you!

  7. These are great tips! I too like Sunday for Meal Prep day. I usually pick my groceries up on Friday after work (huge fan of ordering groceries online from my local grocery store!). Then, I look at some of my favorite recipe sites for inspiration and save their recipes into my meal plan list on Google Docs. I only order the ingredients I don’t already have for the week, and if my grocery budget is exhausted, I use sites like MyFridgeFood to come up with something yummy using the ingredients we already have in the kitchen. So far it has made weeknights WAY less stressful! It’s so easy to just throw that casserole dish in the oven and bake or dump everything into a pan to heat.

    HOWEVER, meal prep usually takes me about 4-5 hours each week. So I am definitely interested in checking out your 10 meals in 1 hour posts! Thank you so much for posting this.

  8. Thanks for the help, my family and I just created a monthly meal plan for spring/summer and winter/fall. They are very similar with a few changes. We always have two left over meal days, once on Thursdays and then again for lunch on Saturdays. I have a home daycare, so we always have lots left over at the end of the week. We also make sammi and salad, or soup and salad days on Mondays since that’s our girl scout meeting day. Chicken Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, “Take Out At Home” Fridays (making take out meals at home, not just ordering out), Hot Dog Saturdays and Comfort Food Sundays. This makes planning easier. We know what the “entree” will be, and just keep staples of grains (rice, bread, etc.) and canned/frozen veggies (broccoli, corn, green beans) on hand for the sides.

  9. While I applaud and appreciate what you are trying to accomplish with the freezer meals, I looked at all of your recipes and many of your ingredients are packaged, ie. canned soups, and therefore processed foods. While these may add a lot of flavour and are convenient, they are NOT good for you. This sadly transforms your otherwise great family dinners into unhealthy meals. I would challenge you to redo your meals without the packaged ingredients. Whole, natural foods are delicious, healthy and easy to cook and take mostly under 30 minutes, from start to finish! As Mums, we all want to give our kids the best of everything and that starts with their health. Processed food is just too readily available and we need to teach them about the good stuff. That way they know that the “junk”, while tasty, should be used in moderation and should not be the norm.

  10. I’ve just started meal planning this year and it’s taken the stress out of 5pm! The one step that helped my husband and I was to write all the meals that we KNOW our family enjoys. We use that as a basis for our weekly menu and frequently repeat meals weekly! As llong as everyone is full on healthy food we count it a success!

  11. I actually started the meal planning Sunday before I read this post. Hopefully I will be able to continue this practice and include some of the others.

  12. I’m going to look for recipes that contain five ingredients. I’m going to search for recipes with simple ingredients.

  13. These are all great ideas and I already use most of them. My go to meal in a crunch is usually chicken and rice casserole loaded with veggies. But I think I will do taco Tuesday next week. Sounds yummy.

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