Meal Planning In Only 15 Minutes Each Week

By Aug 22, 2011November 3rd, 201457 Comments

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I’m a planner. I’ve never been a spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl. I would say I try to control plan every aspect of my life.  Call me crazy, but it keeps me sane!

This applies to meal planning too. Each week, I make a “menu” for the week. Basically, I write down on a piece of paper, the meals we will be eating each night.

It looks like this:

menu plan
Every evening, I look at the list to see what we’ll be eating the next day. From there, I can make the appropriate preparations, such as taking the meat out of the freezer and sticking it in the fridge, or making a marinade to throw the meat in the next morning.

Okay, so you’re thinking, this seems like it would take forever!

But I’m here to tell you, that you only need 15 minutes for meal planning.

Meal planning is a great way to stay organized, and it doesn't have to take up a lot of your time. Learn how to meal plan for the whole week in 15 minutes. Your life is about to get a whole lot easier!

How To Meal Plan In 15 Minutes

15 minutes? It’s true.

1. Plan Family Favorites

There is no need to haul out all of your recipe books and flip through them each time. We all have favorite meals we like to eat, and my kids are no exception.  For Caleb, it’s Taco Salad. For the other kids, it’s Tuna Casserole. And for the big boy, it’s anything with meat! Of course, I’m a pizza kinda girl. So I always make sure to include a couple of family favorites each week when meal planning.

2. Keep It Simple

You don’t need to plan a gourmet meal each night. After I’ve decided on the protein portion, I think of a few simple sides to go along with the meal. Some examples are our favorite oven fries, simple summertime salad, or a fresh plate of veggies with some hummus!

3. Think About Portions

For one of your meals, try to make a large casserole or something that always has a few leftovers. That way, you can save the leftovers for another meal, or you’ll have lunch for the next day. One of my family’s favorites is Macaroni Lasagna. It’s so simple and there are always leftovers for the next day.

4. Make Your Grocery List

Once you’ve decided on the meals, make your grocery list. For example, if I have Macaroni Lasagna on my menu, then I know I might need to buy some ground beef, pasta sauce, and cheese. I always have staples, like spices and pasta, on hand so I don’t have to buy them every week. I always add fresh fruits and veggies to my list each week because I know that we like to include them with our meals a lot.

5. Organize Your Grocery List

I like to organize my grocery list however the store is laid out. For example, where I shop, the dry/canned goods always come first, followed by the meat and dairy, followed by the fruit and veggies, followed by the bread. If organize my list in the correct order, it makes my grocery shopping much faster.

6. Plan A Time To Shop

The best part about meal planning is that you only have to go to the grocery store once a week! No more running there each night trying to figure out what to eat. Once you’ve made your menu and list, pick one day a week that you will grocery shop. Perhaps it’s the weekend when you can shop as a family, or maybe on a weeknight when hubby can stay home and watch the kids while you shop in peace!

7. Keep Your Menus

I’ve been planning my menus for so long that I have a large stack of menus that I can refer back to each week. That way, I don’t have to think of new meals each time. I can just flip back and pick out a few favorites and repeat them. Sure, sometimes I like to find new recipes from magazines or look through my cookbooks for some new ideas, but if I’m ever stuck for a meal idea, I can always look for inspiration from my previous menus.

menu plan

There you have it! Meal planning can be easy and only take up 15 minutes of your time.

More importantly, you’ll no longer be asking yourself everyday, “What shall we have for dinner tonight?”

About the Author

My name is Jen and I’m a stay-at-home mom to 3 little boys ages 5 and under. I also have a wonderful husband of 9 years who is my 5 p.m. saviour. My passions in life include my family, preparing great food, fitness, and having fun along the way. You can read more about my adventures at www.familyfoodfitnessandfun.com.

More Recipes For Your Meal Planning:

About Francesca

Francesca has an extensive background in content marketing, public relations, and social outreach. She oversees all Operations at Sway Group, including our robust metrics capabilities. Prior to joining the online world, Francesca oversaw viticulture and oenology at various wineries in both California and Italy, and managed regulatory affairs and facility approvals at the biotech company, Genentech. Francesca has been featured on CBS Sacramento and Food Blogger Pro’s podcast. She has also hosted an AMA webinar and spoken at Social Media World.


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  • I have been parenting for 20 years and SHOULD have this meal planning thing down—my file should be overflowing, but embarrassingly, it is not! After reading this, I am recommitting to 15 minutes a day! Thanks for the great list

  • I’ve been menu planning similar to this since I had my daughter and never thought to “KEEP” the old menu lists. Going to start doing that this week!


  • Marie Cole says:

    I plan all our meals just like you do, it keeps us from saying, “let’s just go out to eat” all the time. 🙂

  • Jerica says:

    Great ideas =) I used to do this sometimes but every time I try to get back into it, it is just a huge planning pain. I really like the idea of keeping menus for that reason.

  • Charlotte says:

    This is awesome. I only cook for one but I’ve realized the importance of meal planning. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to start a recipe… only to realize I’m missing half the ingredients!

  • Kimberly says:

    I really need to get better at planning meals so I’m not dragging the kids to the grocery store multiple times per week. And I want to eat at her house! mmmm

  • So true. That’s basically what I used to do and it really didn’t take me long (unless I was totally uninspired about eating). I love the suggestion of keeping menus, though. That’s a good one!

  • Jen says:

    I so struggle with meal planning so I totally LOVE posts like this.

  • Sili says:

    I love it! I used to do this pre-baby. And now, my problem is that I can’t think far enough ahead to think of what I want to eat. I am trying to get better though. Thanks for sharing! This might have been the motivation I need (and I might steal whatever’s on your menu and put it on my own! ;-).

  • BKWilliams says:

    My favorite part of meal planning is the money you can save. I like to sit down with the weekly sales insert for the store and plan the meals around what is on sale. I try to buy some type of meat that is on sale that allows me to make more than one meal. I also cook enough for our evening meal that we have enough left over to pack for our lunches the next day. That saves time and money. I loved your tips. Thank you for sharing.

  • Liz says:

    Great ideas and thanks for sharing. I have been needing tips like these!

  • Anne Galivan says:

    I’m in a different life stage than you but still have a full house (me, my husband and our three boys ages 23, 17 and 9 – the only child who has moved out is our daughter who is 27 and if I could I’d still have her home!)

    In any case, maybe I can offer some ideas for those like me who, after being married almost 30 years, can NOT keep making the same things I made for the first 20+ years of marriage. It started with my getting on “The Diet Doc’s Guide to Permanent Weight Loss” plan back in early 2010. I lost the 15 lbs. on that plan that I’d been trying to lose ever since I had my 9-year old! I learned from the program that I was focusing my diet way too much on carbs and not enough on protein. So I had to start learning to prepare meals differently. And it turned out to be a wonderful change!

    I was SO bored with cooking. I had actually been cooking since I was 13 (so for about 35 years) and I was just tired of it. Getting on the Diet Doc’s plan forced me to start pulling out recipe books I hadn’t looked at in years and actually planning meals and menus. I am no longer bored with cooking and I’m making new recipes every week. My family feels like they’re getting to eat out at a restaurant every night and they are loving it too.

    I plan my menus about once a week or so but I don’t schedule them for certain days because I never know what’s going to come up. I start by pulling out 3 or 4 recipe books and looking through for entrees and veggie dishes. Using a legal pad, I write down five or six recipes with their ingredients. The names of the recipes go at the top of the paper and I keep that paper all week long so I can see what I planned. I list the ingredients I don’t have on hand and I organize them by groups (much like you do) such as: produce, dairy, meat, canned goods, etc. to make it easy to shop.

    So every week I have a half-dozen meals or so available with all the ingredients on hand and I simply pick whatever will work for that evening. Once a week or so we’ll have left overs and usually one other night a week someone will pick up dinner (maybe pizza or maybe take-out restaurant).

    I enjoy playing with recipes too. To give an example of what a meal at our house might look like: last night I made a “cream of potato soup” recipe I probably hadn’t made in 20 years. I made some adjustments to the recipe and it came out incredible. Better than ANY restaurant soup. I also made a zucchini casserole that had cheese, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, eggs and milk and my husband and 17-year old loved it. It was a really healthy dinner that didn’t focus on starches, had a lot of healthy oils, and had a good amount of protein as well without any meat. Not that we don’t eat meat but it’s nice to have a change.

    Hope this helps someone who needs to get out of a cooking rut!

  • Wow! That’s impressive. I wish I could do that. Fortunatley the hubs does all the cooking these days as well as the grocery shopping so I don’t have to but I love this should I ever pick up another pan.

  • Katherine says:

    We really need to start doing this. I’ve had this on my list of goals to actually do for the longest time. However, I was looking over your menus, and you have much more creative meal ideas than I ever could come up with. I really need more meal ideas!

  • Laura says:

    Oooh some great tips = just stopped by your blog and I am going to try the protein pancakes this weekend – look so yummy and healthy 🙂

    Have a great SITS day ladies

    Laura x

  • Tara says:

    I love the idea!! I wish I would be better at follow through! But I think this would save money,time, headache. Great post

  • Great planning! And you have found a system that works for YOU. That is key, that everyone find something that works for them where they are at. Are the numbers and letters beside some of the items cookbook pages?

  • Jenna says:

    so simply put! love the ideas and love that your list looks just like mine on a white piece of paper with days marked out, etc. Thanks for the tips!

  • This seems like a great idea, and I’m sure it would save me so much time and stress. BUT, I am a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal and having my week planned out like that would feel claustrophobic for me. Outside of my marriage and kids, I’m a total commitment-phobe. This makes my life harder, makes vacation planning much harder, and makes dinner every night a surprise for everyone including myself. I wish I was a list kind of person, but it just doesn’t work for me.

  • I used to be a huge list girl, but have gotten away from it in the last decade. And I’ve never menu planned, but you make it sound uber easy! :>

  • Rita says:

    This is a great article. I am so jealous of people that are born organized! Could you send a little of it my way ? . . . 🙂

    I like the idea of keeping menu’s to refer to at a later time. Why did it never occur to me to do that? Jen thanks for the great advice. You are an inspiration to those of us that get sidetracked very easily.

  • I agree with the 5PM saviour (aka the husband). Some days it can’t seem to get here soon enough – but at least I have my plans for dinner!

    Menu Plan Mondays from Org Junkie is also really helpful for planning and ideas. My personal favourite is to take my paper to the freezer, pantry and crisper (fridge) to see what is there and make my menu from what I want to use up! (otherwise I forget what we have and that isn’t good!).

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s okay to hand write a plan – it’s not always easy to do it up nicely on the computer.

  • Ruth says:

    I’m trying harder to be better at meal planning. We recently “converted” to being more organic so that changes our meals slightly. I do love the idea of saving the meal plans and switching them out; brilliant!

  • Tres Chere says:

    I agree! I always take the time to plan my meals and it makes life so much easier. We post our weekly menu on the fridge so I don’t get asked 100 times “What’s for Dinner”

  • Nicole says:

    Jen is so awesome! I followed this advice and have 3 weeks of “menus” already!

  • Jen says:

    Love this idea. I too struggle with the follow through!

  • This is a great idea! I’ve always wanted to plan weekly meals, and you make it look very easy. Thank you!

  • amber says:

    thanks for a great post – I know that I SHOULD do meal planning, life would be so much easier and mealtime would be so much less stressful. Thanks for making it seem like something I really can do!!
    amber 🙂

  • Trish says:

    I have been trying to get myself to do this for years! YEARS! I think I’m too lazy to plan. I’m definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda girl. Even though I’m a control freak. ha! I’m going to try to incorporate your tips. Thanks!

  • Lynne says:

    I do the same thing – except I get with my family and let them make requests so they can pick their favorites 1 day a week. They love it and I put it on the fridge so everyone knows what is going on.

  • I would love to be that organized with our dinners. Usually I will plan 2 days out of the week which means two days of leftovers and Friday is always pizza night so that leaves only 2 days a week where I normally wing it.

  • denice says:

    I think about doing this ALL THE TIME and I never do, so this week I am!! Thanks for the push =)

  • Eva Gallant says:

    I checked out some of the recipes..I want to try that BBQ chicken pasta! Enjoy your day in the spotlight on SITS!

  • Grams says:

    Great tips. I use almost exactly the same method. But I do enjoy getting out my cookbooks and searching for new ideas and recipes. Now that there are only two of us to cook for, almost everything I make for dinner is our lunch for the next day too.

  • Candi Elm says:

    Thanks for sharing. I would say this is my biggest problem. I am so busy preparing for my dessert business, I am exhausted when its time to come home and cook. I need more preparation and planning. I will use your tips.

  • My hubby is so awesome…he created a spreadsheet that has meals by type of protein and I can look at past meals & plug them in. Super easy and it looks fab when printed and put on the fridge.

  • Life As Wife says:

    My problem is follow through! I never seem to want to cook or eat what is scheduled for that day!

  • Great tips! I’m big into menu planning. I was doing just a week at a time though but recently did it for 2 weeks and like it that way better! One thing I CAN do better with though is organizing my grocery list!

  • I need to do this. Right now I just stock all the things I need for our favorite recipes and decide at about four o’clock what we will have.

  • Great tips, Jen. I do more or less the same thing, except I don’t cook every night 🙂 I actually really enjoy meal planning now, after a long hiatus from the kitchen.

  • I never thought of keeping my menus. Great idea!

  • Jemima says:

    Ugh! If only I took the time to follow this advice! I’m a former chef, so I’ve done this for years in the professional kitchen, but I’ve never transferred it home. Why? Sheer, unadulterated laziness. And takeout. I love takeout.

  • Hey: thanks for sharing your plan. It’s well thought out, and you have good reasons for what you do. I bet this will prove very helpful to a lot of people.

    One thing you haven’t mentioned that is important to me is to take into account the season of the year as I plan my menu. I like to plan meals that take advantage of produce items that are at their peak of deliciousness because they are in season, and due to there being an abundant supply of them, likely on sale as well.

  • I so agree; planning our menus makes the end of the day so much easier. And I love Jen’s suggestion to keep your menus!! That way we can recycle them every few weeks!