5 Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families (Free Printable!)

Save Time and Money, and Eat Healthier!

There are many benefits of family meal planning from saving time and money to eating healthier. But my favorite thing about meal planning is that it cuts down on the mid-week stress of trying to figure out what everyone’s going to eat and then scrambling to get something on the table. If you’re ready to get serious about meal planning, try implementing these 5 meal planning tips for busy families.

Meal planning sounds great in theory, but finding time to sit down and plan out a week's worth of meals can feel overwhelming. These 4 tips will show you how to easily and quickly plan meals for your busy family every week.

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There are many different ways to meal plan, and you’ll need to play around with different methods to find one that works best for your family. Many factors come into play, like what your family likes to eat, your cooking style, whether you prefer paper or digital planners, and how much time you have to plan.

But no matter what your current situation, there are some things you can do to save time when meal planning for the week.

The Secret To Meal Planning Is To Have a System

The secret to meal planning is to have a system that you follow each week that takes into account your family’s food preferences, what food items you already have on hand, your family’s weekly schedule, a time to go grocery shopping, and a place to write down your meals.

These five tips will help you cut the time it takes to meal plan significantly. You should be able to plan your family’s meals in less than a half hour, and maybe even less than that.

Tip One: Create Your Weekly Family Meal Favorites

The first tip to help you save time when meal planning is to come up with a list of your family’s favorite meals.

As the mom to two picky eaters, I know how stressful it can be when trying to figure out what to feed your family for dinner. I use to waste a ton of time trying to figure out what to feed my little guys every night. And many nights, they adamantly refused to eat what I put on the table. (Yes, this does still happen on occasion, but thankfully it’s no longer every night!)

We completed this exercise together one night. The whole family sat down and talked about what everybody loved to eat. Then we filled in the family meal favorites form I created.

I was surprised by how many meals my kids came up with on their own. I was confident our list would include just 2 things – plain pasta and chicken nuggets – but we ended up with about 10-12 meals!

My husband and I use this form to help plan our family’s meals each week. Now, we don’t eat solely off of this list, but we do include 3-4 meals from it every week. And we include 1-2 nights, where my husband and I eat something that we like and let the kids eat something that they like.

Let’s be clear, I’m not a short-order cook, but preparing two separate meals just 1-2 times a week makes us all happier eaters!

You can request a free copy of my Family Meal Favorites template by subscribing below to help get you started.

Tip Two: Come Up With A Weekly Meal Planning Template

Tip Two is to decide where you want to keep your meal list for the week. 

The location can be as simple as taking a piece of paper and writing down what you family will eat each day of the week.

I know some moms that keep an Excel or Word template on their computer to work from each week. If you do use a paper system, I recommend storing your meal plans, recipes, and ideas in a meal planning binder.

Personally, I’m a fan of using a digital meal planner.

One of my favorite digital meal planners is Plan to Eat. What I love about Plan to Eat is that it keeps all of your meal planning tools in one place.

There’s a place to store recipes, a calendar to plan your meals, and a shopping list to keep track of what you need to buy for the week. You can easily access your shopping list from your phone and check off items as you shop.

No matter where you decide to keep your meals for the week, you will save time just by the fact that you’ve provided a home for them. When you sit down to meal plan, you’ll simply take out your binder or open your digital meal planner, and you’re ready to start planning.

Tip Three: Review Your Calendar For the Week

Tip Three is to do a quick review your calendar for the week before planning your meals.

It’s a good idea to see what everyone’s schedule is like for the week before you start adding recipes to your meal planner.

This way you can decide ahead of time if you should be planning simple meals, like leftovers, pizza, or a freezer meal, or if you have a light schedule and can spend more time in the kitchen preparing something more elaborate.

My husband and I do this during our weekly meeting. We both like to cook, so it’s nice to have this time to plan our meals together.

But I know many moms are fully in charge of meal planning. If that’s you, pick a time each week when you’ll review your calendar and pick your meals. By having dedicated time to meal plan, you’ll begin making it a priority.

Tip Four: Store Your Recipes In One Place

Tip Four is to determine where you’ll keep all of your recipes.

If you use a digital planner, like Plan to Eat, then you’ll want to keep all of your recipes in the digital planner.

I love this method of meal planning because it allows me to search for recipes for the week quickly. It also allows me to drag and drop them into my calendar. With Plan to Eat, if you find a recipe on the web, you can use their recipe clipper to import it into your meal planner.

When I find a recipe in a magazine that I want to try, I search for it on the magazine’s website and then save it from there. This way I don’t have to type it all up!

But if you’re a paper gal, you’ll want to keep all of your paper recipes in one place. Again, I recommend you keep a meal planning binder. You can cut recipes out of magazines, or print them from the web to keep them all in your binder.

Paper planners can cut recipes out of magazines, or print them from the web to keep them all in the meal planning binder.

Tip Five: Track Your Grocery Needs

Tips Five is to track your grocery needs, so you’re not buying more than you need.

We keep a weekly grocery list on our refrigerator door. This list is divided by category (e.g., produce, meat, baking, canned, paper, etc.). We mark items off the list as needed.

You can also keep this list of your staples in Plan to Eat. Then you simply take your paper copy each week from the refrigerator and check them off one your digital staple list to add to your grocery list.

For paper lovers, you can take the paper grocery list with you to the grocery store each week.

How’s that for saving time on meal planning?

These tips save my family a ton of time meal planning each week. I now look forward to meal planning time. Shocking, I know!

Don’t forget to grab a free copy of my Family Meal Favorites template by subscribing below if you’d like some help getting started.

Do you have any meal planning tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

With Love and Joy,

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “5 Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families (Free Printable!)

  1. I LOVE Plan to Eat. I forgot to renew my subscription once and thought I’d try to just live without it. I quickly realized what an important tool it is for me to be able to eat healthy meals and save money, time and sanity!