5 Tips to Make Meal Planning Easier

Meal planning can feel like a grind but it doesn’t have to! Try these five tips or hacks from a registered dietitian to make meal planning easier!

I used to DREAD meal planning. And I’m a dietitian and food blogger! I’m supposed to love it.

But every Sunday would roll around and it would feel like such a grind to have to meal plan, again. Didn’t I just meal plan like yesterday?

It felt like I was always meal planning. And recreating the wheel. Coming up with new ideas each week. Searching the internet for delicious recipes.

It took more time than I wanted it to.

Then we had a baby! And I couldn’t find the time to cook, let alone meal prep. So we relied on a lot of prepared meal delivery and takeout for that first year and a half post-baby.

Until I had the bandwidth AND the tools to make this easier on myself.

I was inspired by a life coach for working mamas, Katelyn Denning. I did a group coaching program with when I was 8 months postpartum and trying to get back into work. She shared her meal planning system with us and at the time I didn’t have the bandwidth to try it but about eight months later I did!

And I found it much easier and more helpful than what I was doing before!

Full disclosure, I don’t always use this system. For example, this summer we have a CSA box and I don’t know what produce we’re going to get each week so we’ve been improving more lately and not having a set meal plan.

But that’s the key with meal planning – let it be flexible. Use it when it serves you and don’t use it when it doesn’t. It would make sense that different systems and strategies are going to work better for us in different seasons of life.

Graphic with quote: "But that's the key with meal planning - let it be flexible. Use it when it serves you and don't use it when it doesn't. It would make sense that different systems and strategies are going to work better for us in different seasons of life."

Try some of these tips to make meal planning easy!

  1. Have themes for most nights of the week.

If you sit down to meal plan and have no structure or inspiration whatsoever, it’s going to feel like staring at a blank slate. And you’ll spend so much more time and energy starting from scratch.

But what if you had different culinary themes for different nights of the week? That would take a lot of guesswork out of the equation and simplify / narrow down your options. Here are some different ideas for nightly dinner themes:

  • Meatless Monday (vegetarian or vegan)
  • Taco Tuesday (or Mexican-inspired night)
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Pasta night
  • Italian night 
  • Pizza Friday
  • Indian-Inspired
  • Stir-fry night
  • Seafood night

2. Try planning monthly instead of weekly.

Imagine having to sit down every single weekend and spend time figuring out a meal plan for the week ahead.

Now imagine having to sit down once a month to spend time figuring out a meal plan for the month.

Would you rather meal plan 4x/month or 1x/month?

I tried on the monthly meal plan as an experiment and realized I much preferred this method over weekly planning. I enjoyed only having to think about it once a month vs. having to think about it every weekend.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. I print out a free monthly calendar for whichever month it is.
  2. I start by penciling in any date nights / travel / solo parenting nights, etc.
  3. Then I pencil in meals based on themes like Mexican-inspired / Taco Tuesday, Seafood night, Pizza Friday.
  4. Sunday’s are my day to try a new recipe that might take more time so I page through my cookbooks to find ones I want to try.
  5. I pencil in leftover nights – Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday or Saturday. Yes, we rely on leftovers ~3x/week!
  6. I reference my running recipe document to pencil in the rest of the month (see tip #3).
  7. I try to include at least one night a week that’s just protein + frozen starch + veg (ie very minimal prep / cooking involved)
  8. I think about variety – if there’s still some nights to pencil in, I’ll see what’s missing from that week – seafood? pasta? chicken?

3. Keep a running document of easy, 30 minute or less, tried-and-true recipes.

I keep a Google document where I can add recipes we tried that we enjoyed that are 30 minutes or less to make (or if they’re longer I’ll make a note of it). I can also access this document from the Google Docs app on my phone so it’s easy to add recipes in real time.

It’s so easy to forget what you tried that you (and hopefully the whole family!) liked so this document serves as a reference to keep out when you meal plan. Why recreate the wheel when you can repeat recipes that everyone loved?!

4. Be flexible.

I often get asked is there room for meal planning with intuitive eating?

The answer is YES!

When you’re an intuitive eater, food takes up some mental space but not a lot or all of it.

The key to meal planning while eating intuitively is FLEXIBILITY.

Graphic with quote: "The key to meal planning while eating intuitively is FLEXIBILITY."

There was a time in my life when I was not flexible with my meal planning (before I found intuitive eating). Something would come up – someone would invite us out to dinner last minute, for example, and I would get so stressed out about wasting food and changing up the plan.

Today, I am crossing off things on our monthly meal plan / moving things around all. the time. Yeah it’s messy. But it’s real life. And I don’t stress out about it anymore.

Especially now that we have a toddler at home, we have to be flexible. There have been many nights when one of us is solo parenting, Luca is requiring all our attention, and we don’t have the time or bandwidth to cook.

Giving ourselves that permission to pivot and change is everything. You deserve that same permission!

Look at your meal plan as a tool, not a hard and fast rule.

Notice if you’re projecting some perfectionism onto the meal plan, get curious about why that is, and see if you can give yourself permission to loosen the reigns a little.

Graphic with quote: "Look at your meal plan as a tool, not a hard and fast rule. Notice if you're projecting some perfectionism onto the meal plan, get curious about why that is, and see if you can give yourself permission to loosen the reigns a little."

5. Keep your meal plan visible for the whole family to see.

Ok ya’ll, big pet peeve comin’ at you. It really irks me when my husband asks me every day what’s for dinner. And if I had older kids, it would probably equally irk me if they also asked me everyday what’s for dinner.

I don’t want to be the keeper of dinners! I’m sure you don’t either.

So make your meal plan (whether it’s weekly or monthly) accessible and visible for the whole family to see!

I tape ours up on the fridge so we can always see it when we’re in the kitchen.

Now let’s be real, even with this taped on your fridge, you know your family is still going to ask you, right (old habits die hard)? So then you have to set a boundary.

Make sure your family knows that you will no longer be communicating what’s for dinner – they are responsible for checking the meal plan on the fridge (or wherever you keep it).

The thing about boundaries though is that we often have to continue to reinforce them. So if someone forgets to check the meal plan, well then dinner is a surprise for them that night!

Speaking of the whole family, if it would make meal planning easier to have their involvement, by all means, ask for some support and help! Sometimes I’ll ask my husband for ideas if I’m feeling stuck or I’ll ask for any requests ahead of time before I sit down to plan.

pink graphic with list 1-5 of tips to make meal planning easier.

Are these tips helpful? What would you add to this list? Please leave a comment below and let me know!

For more intuitive eating tips, check out my posts below!

6 Tips to Make Cooking Easier

6 Ways to Find More Enjoyment in Cooking

Am I Hungry? Signs of Hunger to Watch For

Am I Eating Enough? 8 Signs You’re Undereating

5 Tips to Cope with a Bad Body Image Day

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