Meal planning page


Meal Planner’s Guide

Making your life simpler through meal planning

Putting dinner on the table night after night can get to be an exhausting challenge. Being the chief meal planner in your family is an ongoing job that requires attention and effort every night. It can sometimes feel relentless. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to make it easier? Keep reading about meal planning can make all the difference and we’ll give you some ideas and guidance about how to make your life easier.

Here’s a story about my friend Amy. Amy is the main meal planner in her family… Does this sound like you?

Amy comes home from work and is already tired after a long day and long commute.  Time to figure out what to put on the table. The pressure is on! Her mind is blank. She thinks she has some chicken in the fridge, so she hops on the computer to look for a recipe.

Amy’s search results come back and she starts reading. The first recipe looks interesting but too complicated. The second recipe will take too long. The third one looks really
promising – but it calls for cilantro and she doesn’t have any. The next one looks good but calls for cheese and her husband recently went dairy-free. This is taking too long! The
clock is ticking and she has to start cooking soon. The next recipe looks good! Bingo, she’ll make that. But she needs some veggies, too. She knows she has some broccoli in the
fridge – but she already made that last night and the kids are going to say “broccoli again??” She didn’t plan well at the supermarket earlier this week.

She sighs. This is exhausting!  Let’s just order pizza…again.

Here’s the good news for meal planners:

Getting dinner on the table every night does not have to be an overwhelming challenge. Planning is the key. For every minute you spend planning you’ll save way more time down the
road – trust us! (And there are even ways to make planning take almost no time!)

The benefits of meal planning

There are a host of benefits to planning your weeknight dinners:

  • Reduce stress

    When you have a plan, you don’t have to grapple with the “what’s for dinner tonight?” question each night as dinner approaches. A plan removes an enormous mental load so you can focus on getting dinner on the table without the thinking.

  • Bring back the family dinner

    Meal planning makes it easier to put a home cooked meal on the table on a regular basis and that means you are far more likely to have a sit down family dinner. Read more about the benefits of family dinners.

  • Save time at dinnertime

    With a plan, you don’t spend time figuring out what to do each night, you can get right to work, so dinner is on the table more quickly and you can be on to the next activity, whether it be taking kids to their activities, getting some work done around the house or – wait for it – relaxing and enjoying some downtime.

  • Save time shopping

    When you have a plan, you can create a comprehensive shopping list that will cover your needs for the whole week. Think of the time you can save if you can go shopping only once a week! You can save even more time if you have access to a market with home delivery or curb side pick up. Then you can order your shopping list online and have it delivered or swoop through the parking lot and just pick it up.

  • Healthy meals

    When you plan ahead, you can create a weekly menu that covers a wide variety of food groups, includes lots of vegetables and is home cooked. A plan can help you avoid the last minute “let’s get take-out or fast food because I just can’t deal with it!”, which is good news for your health because home cooked food is almost always healthier than food prepared outside the home.

  • Save money by being organized

    When you have a meal plan in advance, you can buy exactly what you need – no more and no less. That means you don’t end up with mushrooms that you bought in the supermarket thinking you might make beef stroganoff, but realized at home that you don’t have sour cream so can’t make it anyway. It also helps avoid impulse buys – you have a plan and a list and know exactly what you need and what you don’t need!

  • Save money by taking advantage of supermarket sales specials

    This is the icing on the cake! When you are making a plan, you can build it around items that are on sale at your supermarket, and then in addition to the savings we already covered, you can save money by making sure that a large part of your grocery list is on sale.

Great! So how do I start?

With a couple of hours once a week, you can make a menu plan on your own, or there are meal planning apps like The Dinner Daily that can do the planning and thinking for you. Let’s start with making your own menu plan.

DIY Menu Planning 101

Planning is often most important for weeknight meals when time is scarce. For our purposes, we’ll talk about a weeknight meal plan.

  • Step 1: Choose your recipes

    You will want to come up with 5 main course recipes and ideas for sides. Here are some characteristics of recipes that will be helpful for weeknight meals.

    • They should be fairly easy to make – no one wants to get stressed out by complicated recipes that require a lot of skill.
    • You should be able to complete them in a reasonable amount of time.
    • They should use ingredients which you can easily find at your grocery store.
    • Ingredients should be consistent with your family’s dietary restrictions and preferences.
    • Meals should represent enough variety over the course of the week that your dinners stay interesting.

    Bonus points if your recipes use items on sale at your supermarket! These recipes will help you save on your food budget. To take advantage of these sales, check out your weekly supermarket flyer while you are making your plan. Sometimes these come in the mail, in your newspaper, and often they are available online. The biggest source of savings can often be meats/poultry/seafood, some of the more expensive items in a food budget. So if you don’t want to go through the whole flyer, focus on the meats and you’ll still save.

    There are lots of resources on and off the internet for finding recipes. Of course, your favorite cookbooks are a great source of ideas. On the internet, there are numerous recipe websites. Check out some of our favorites:

    You can search on all of these sites for recipes that will work for your plan.

  • Step 2: Make your main course menu for the week

    Write down the main course recipes you want to use each day, making sure they have enough variety so that no two nights have meals too similar to each other. Don’t be afraid to change it up a bit. Looking to add more vegetables to your diet? Maybe add a vegetarian meal once a week or every two weeks. You might find you start liking those meals more than the others!

  • Step 3: Plan your side dishes

    Now that you know what main courses you will be making, think about what sides should go with them. If your main recipe is a one pot meal, great! You are all set, no sides needed. If you need to have a side vegetable or starch, plan which sides you will prepare for each meal. And be sure to be on the look out for conflicting oven temperatures for your main and sides. Having a main meal that needs to be cooked at 350 and a side at 400 will only add to your stress.

  • Step 4: Make your shopping list.

    Go through the recipes you plan to use and write down all the ingredients you will need. You can also use a shopping list app on your phone – there are many available for Android and iPhones. Group them by supermarket department so you can be very efficient in the store: Dairy, Produce, Frozen, Meats, Seafood, etc.Think about other things you will need for the week beyond dinner. Add them to your list.Add any other groceries that you’ll need to the list.

  • Step 5: Go on your organized shopping trip!

    You’ll find you will be much more focused and purposeful when you go with a plan because you won’t be wandering the aisle thinking up ideas and making impulse purchases. Or if it is available from your store, consider ordering your groceries on line. You’ll find that you can probably order your items in less time than it would take to drive to the store and then you can have it delivered or pick it up with curbside delivery. Note that when you order online at some stores, the sales in the flyer may not apply.

    Download our free meal planners template It’s an easy guide to help you follow these step, or if you like the idea of a plan, but don’t really think you’ll have the
    time to do it, read on!

Have a Meal Planning Service do the Work For You

Don’t have the time to do this planning? Prefer to have someone else do it for you? Check out The Dinner Daily, a menu planning service that will create a weekly plan customized just for you and comes with a printable or mobile friendly shopping list. The Dinner Daily can be your meal planner and save you the heavy lifting.

How does it work?

  • You enter your food and dietary preferences – what types of meals you and your family like and any dietary restrictions.
  • Then select your menu size (Meals for 2-3 or 4-6 people).
  • Choose which store you will shop at. The Dinner Daily creates customized menus based on the weekly sales at thousands of supermarkets across the United States. (and don’t worry, you can change any of these preferences at any time)
  • Done! Every week, The Dinner Daily will create a customized menu just for you, as well as an organized shopping list that matches your menu AND is based on the weekly sales at your store! Your weekly menu and shopping list is editable, so you can quickly swap out dishes for others and on your shopping list add other items you need. Done!
  • You are ready to go. And if you have online grocery ordering available to you, you can enter your list and you won’t even have to go to the store. Even better, if you live in a region where Peapod delivers, you can send your shopping list directly to Peapod with the click of a button.

The Dinner Daily: Every week, a plan developed just for you. All the thinking and planning done. Everything is organized for you. To learn more, check out How it Works. Or better yet, give it a try! Sign up and try it for two weeks for free Find out for yourself if it might be just the solution you need to make weeknight dinners easy!

We hope this guide for meal planners has been helpful! The benefits of a weekly meal plan are enormous. They make your life easier, reduce stress, save time, save money and help you eat healthier meals. Give meal planning a try!

Read more:

[link to some relevant blog posts and to the Dinner Daily Recipe Showcase]

What other ideas and suggestions do you have? Please share them!