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Meal planning makes life easier, but it can still take quite a bit of time each week. Read on to find out how I simplified my meal planning process to take less than five minutes each week!

3 cookbooks

Meal planning is a life saver. It saves time and money and you always know what’s for dinner. But it can also be a real pain in the butt. You can get sucked down the Pinterest recipe hole for hours, accidentally choose noodle based recipes one week, not utilize leftovers well, or plan poorly. It’s exhausting!

For me, dinner time is the worst time of day. The kids are whiny, I’m drained and desperate for my husband to get home from work, and everybody starts to get the munchies long before the food is ready. Plus, it happens every day. It’s inescapable.

I was having a hard time dealing and we were getting takeout much more than I wanted to. And I felt like a failure for it. I learned that I need simplicity. I need tried and true recipes (most of the time), things that take very little prep or cook time, and food that my kids will most likely eat–or else it feels like a waste of time and effort.

In came my idea: what if I took our favorite recipes and created an 8-12 week plan to rotate? We’d never get sick of the recipes, and I’d never have to meal plan again.

If this sounds like a dream, follow the steps below to create your own plan:

1. Jot down favorite meals.

Grab a notebook, your favorite pen, and a snuggly blanket and start jotting down family favorite meals. What do your kids ask for? What does your husband beg you to make on birthdays and anniversaries? What do you enjoy making because you’re so excited to eat it?

Get your family involved in this. Jot down as many or as few meals as you want. These are my favorite meals to pull from because they typically don’t require a recipe (I already know them by heart), I know they’ll get eaten (they’ve won the stamp of approval), and I don’t have to think twice about what to buy for them. It’s all stored away in my mind!

2. Sort recipes by like items.

Next, I sorted my recipes by meat–chicken recipes, pork, ground beef, etc. That way, when it was time to put them into the schedule, it was easy to put them back-to-back, using leftover meat for the next day’s meal (i.e. cook up two pounds of ground beef on Monday for spaghetti that night and Taco Tuesday the next). You can sort meals however you want–meat, food base (rice, noodles, soup.), type of food (Italian, Mexican, breakfast for dinner), cooking method (crock-pot, one-pot, oven). This also helps in visualizing where there might be gaps in your food types.

3. Create a basic weekly plan.

What days do you typically eat out, if any? Possibly date night? What nights do you have to do crock-pot meals due to after school activities? Does your husband get home late one night, so you feed the kids something quick and easy and eat with him later? Do you like to try new recipes sometimes, but prefer it to be on a day when your husband is home during cooking time so he can entertain the kids while you cook? Do you like to have a leftovers day? Jot down any notes and come up with a basic plan.

Our basic plan looks like this:

  • Monday: Quick or crock-pot meal
  • Tuesday: Quick or crock-pot meal
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Eat out
  • Friday: Date
  • Saturday: New or longer recipe
  • Sunday: Jess cooks

4. Create your rotating schedule.

Start placing recipes into slots, remembering to account for batch cooking as you go. Some weeks you’ll need to move things around a little (due to appointments or events or life), but this gives you a base to work from and saves TONS of time in the long run. The whole process can also be applied to breakfasts, lunches, and snacks if you want, too–though I recommend only doing 2-4 weeks for those meals.

I created this blank calendar for you to use as your master schedule. There is a 4-week, 8-week, and 12-week version.

printable 4-week menu plan

Download the FREE 4-week printable here.

Printable 8-week menu plan

Download the FREE 8-week printable here.

Printable 12-week menu plan

Download the FREE 12-week printable here.

Sample Schedule

Here are four sample weeks of our 12-week menu:

Week One:

  • Monday: Teriyaki chicken
  • Tuesday: Salsa chicken tacos
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Out
  • Friday: Date
  • Saturday: New recipe
  • Sunday: Steak

Week Two:

  • Monday: Spaghetti
  • Tuesday: Taco salad
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Out
  • Friday: Date
  • Saturday: New recipe
  • Sunday: Ribs

Week Three:

  • Monday: Chicken and rice
  • Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Out
  • Friday: Date
  • Saturday: New recipe
  • Sunday: Pancakes and eggs

Week Four:

  • Monday: Pulled pork sandwiches
  • Tuesday: Pork quesadillas
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Out
  • Friday: Date
  • Saturday: New recipe
  • Sunday: BLTAs

Planning Saves Time

After creating this plan, I saved SO much time. I no longer have to think about our meal plan for the week. I just pull out our master schedule, possibly rearrange a couple slots due to events or appointments, and order my groceries. Planning ahead saves time and money, but planning once to use over and over again also saves sanity!

How do you plan your meals?

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