Meal Planning 101 – FREE Meal Planning Template!

meal planning 101 plus a free meal planning template

meal planning 101 plus a free meal planning templateMeal planning is my jam.

I’m one of those organized, list-making weirdos who loves meal planning and doesn’t mind grocery shopping. Now, putting the groceries away when I get home? That is the part I could do without.

But – planning? Bring it on. Can’t get enough of it.

I know that a lot of people don’t like meal planning, though, for a myriad of different reasons: it can be time consuming, overwhelming, complicated, etc.

But meal planning helps in so many ways. It saves you money, because you have a prepared list when you go to the store and are less likely to make impulse purchases. It helps you eat healthier, because you’re not scrambling last minute for a dinner idea, or grabbing fast food. And, even though it takes some prep and some getting used to, in the end, it saves you time as well.



Click here to get my free meal planning template!



Tips Before You Get Started: 


  1. Meal plan on the same day every week.

For me, this is typical on Sunday. That way, my husband is home so I’m able to ask if there are any meals he’d really like to have. We’re also usually home for a good portion of our Sunday, so I can search through the fridge/freezer/pantry to see what we have that needs to be used up.


2. Plan one day, shop the next day, and prep the next day.

For example: I meal plan on Friday, grocery shop on Saturday, and prep everything for the week on Sunday.
You could also meal plan and grocery shop on the same day if you’ve got the time.


3. Stick to only 1 new meal each week.

It takes time to look through Pinterest or a cookbook to find new recipes and list out the ingredients you’ll need. Plus, it will often take you more time to make than other similarly-timed meals that you’ve made before, because you’re not used to the process. Also, it might make grocery shopping longer if you need too many new ingredients that you have to search the store for. And lastly, adding one new meal a week lets your family try out new meals while also having old favorites that you know go over well and won’t be rejected.

4. Plan for at least 1 night of leftovers each week.

Planning for a night of leftovers is helpful, because it lets you use up any open jars or any parts of dinners that are left in the fridge. Sometimes I make a meat with a side veggie, and my husband takes the meat to work for lunch, but the veggie gets left behind. I plan for a night of leftovers so that I know those things can get used up. If I don’t have a main dish to go with leftover sides/open jars, I always have the items for things like grilled cheese or frozen soup or even a frozen pizza to go with the leftovers. Usually, though, there’s been a build-up of leftovers throughout the week and there’s enough main dish to go around!


5. Build your list around what you already have.

I like to choose at least 2 or 3 big ingredients that I already have to get started planning. That way, I know I’m using meat before it gets freezer-burnt, and eggs before they go bad, etc.


6. Keep an inventory list.

I keep track of what is in our freezer, deep freezer and pantry, so that I have a list right in front of me to use for meal planning. Here’s one I like to get you started!



meal planning 101 plus a free meal planning template


Now, you’re ready to plan! Let’s get started:




Click here to get my free meal planning template!



Step 1: Plan Dinner:

Note: I plan dinner first, because then I can see what kinds of meat I’m planning on using, and if I’m going to have leftovers of meat or other items, I might be able to work them into lunch and/or breakfast.

Write down the dinners you’re going to have each day, and mark any days that you are planning on eating leftovers or eating out.


Step 2: (Optional) Choose One Dinner to Double:

I choose one dinner each week to double and freeze the second half. That way, every week,  I can pull out one freezer meal and not have to do any prep work.

So my dinners might look like this:


Step 3: Add Dinner to the Grocery List:

Add the dinner ingredients to your grocery list. Put a star next to the ingredients that you’ll have leftovers of, so you can try to use them in other meals. (For example: if I buy a pound of ground turkey, but the soup I’m making only takes a 1/2 pound, then I put a star by turkey on the grocery list so I know I need to use it in something else.)


Step 4: Plan Lunch and Breakfast:

Plan these the same way you planned dinner.

I list out lunches with initials if we’re not all eating the same thing. For example:
A – leftover bbq chicken
L/C – fruit and cheese cubes


Step 5: Add Lunch and Breakfast to the Grocery List:

Add any new ingredients you’re going to need. Refer back to your pantry/freezer inventory to make sure you don’t buy something you already have.


Step 6: Decide what to do with any food that won’t get used completely:

I do one of two things:

  1. Freeze it.
  2. Make a note on next week’s meal planner that I have these ingredients. That way, I’ll pick meals that will use them up.


Step 7: Go grocery shopping!

Get your groceries and start cooking!

The planning may seem big at first, but it will make your week go so much more smoothly. It will also save you money, because you’ll find less food going to waste and you’ll probably make fewer impulse purchases.


Step 8: Prep your week’s food:

I usually grocery shop on Saturday and then use Sunday to prep food.
– I cut up any food I’ll need (chopping veggies, slicing/cubing meat or cheese, etc).
– I cook any meat I can do ahead of time (crockpot chicken, instant pot beef, etc)
– I sort food and place it together in the fridge so it’s easy to grab when I’m ready to cook.
– I make breakfast for the week.
– I put lunches together and stack them in the fridge.



Want an example to get you started? Here you go:



  • Monday: Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches
  • Tuesday: Avocado Chicken Salad
  • Wednesday: Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches
  • Thursday: Avocado Chicken Salad
  • Friday: Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches
  • Saturday: Leftover Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
  • Sunday: Leftover Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese



Use the free meal planning template, and even if it seems overwhelming at first, meal planning will become easy and second nature to you!

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  1. cnady

    I meal plan somewhat different. We like to cook once and eat several times. So If I make chicken I cook it how I want and we can have several meals off of the chicken. Saves me time.

    1. Lisa

      That’s a great way to do it too!

  2. Colleen Mitchell

    I like your method. I make it a lot simpler, though, and eat the same thing every day for a week. We shop on Saturdays and prep on Sundays to save time, money, and dishes.

    1. Lisa

      Thanks! I would happily eat the same 1 or 2 things all week – but my husband gets cranky about that, haha. I love prepping ahead for the week too!

  3. Lauren Becker

    Thanks for sharing. I really need to get back into meal planning more. It’s more dinners than give me trouble. I like the idea of one day of leftovers a week.


    1. Lisa

      Leftovers are a requirement in our house! It means a night that I don’t have to cook but I know there’s still dinner on the table!

  4. Ingrid

    You are a very organized person. Strategies like planning around what you already have, and having a plan for leftovers as well as making an inventory list are not just very but money saving.

    1. Lisa

      Haha, thanks! I am kind of a crazy-organized person when I can be! It just helps keep me sane when life is so busy!

    2. Lisa

      Haha, thanks! I try to be as organized as I can. It just helps keep me sane when life is so busy!

  5. Michelle Huddleston

    The only thing I don’t do is keep an inventory list. It’s probably laziness on my part (LOL) but everything else you mentioned is definitely a must for successful meal planning.

    1. Lisa

      I think a lot of people are doing awesome meal planning without keeping inventory. We just buy a lot of things in bulk from Costco/Sam’s or when it’s on sale, so I need an inventory list to make sure we’re actually using what we buy!

  6. larakerrigannblog

    My husband and I have been trying to get better at meal planning and saving one night for leftovers! I hate having to throw anything away!

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