How to make a meal plan: the smart way

Meal planning: whether you love it or hate it, it has the ability to make our weeknight’s profoundly easier. So I’m going through my super easy and logical meal planning process so you can stop making your meal plan harder, and start planning smarter!

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Why I make a meal plan around our life

I thought hated meal planning- I felt like I had to adhere to the same strict schedule, no matter what was going on. But then I realized, it’s not that I hated meal planning. I hated the way I was going about meal planning. Once I figured this out, it became clear that if I stopped trying to adapt to the plan and started adapting the plan to our life, it not only got easier to create- I actually stuck to it! So today, I’ll show you how I put together a smart meal plan.

Now I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder and that is the driving force behind my meal planning. In most families, every week looks a little different. So it’s important to build your meal plan around what you have going on that week so that you’re setting yourself up to be successful in a realistic way that works with your family’s unique situation.

So often, we find ourselves in way over our heads with weeknight cooking because we get overly ambitious and try to be the hero. And while this comes from a good place, it’s just not realistic or sustainable. I mean, I know that if I had a really busy day at work or it’s a soccer night, that I’m not going to be able to cook a recipe that involves a ton of time or effort. And if I try to plan things without taking the schedule into account, most of the time I end up not achieving all the cooking I had hoped to for that week.

Tools for creating a smarter meal plan

I use 3 tools that most of us have on hand to create my meal plan:

  1. My phone: Whenever I get an appointment or commit to scheduling something, I always put it into my phone first.
  2. A day planner: Being able to write it all out helps me get my mind into the game for the coming week.
  3. A pencil: Fun fact, I’m a person who hates using pens, specifically in my planner. Call me a commitment-phobe but I like being able to erase things as they change.

With change in mind, I only fill out my written planner on a week-to-week basis. This allows me to adapt to ever-changing and busy schedules without feeling like my whole planner exploded.

Step 1: Look at your schedule for the upcoming week

My first step is to look through my phone calendar and write in any commitments for the week. This includes appointments, important work projects and meetings, activities during the day and evening, events etc. So note both work and personal commitments and write them into the planner on their corresponding days of the week.

By first looking at what we having going on for the coming, I’m able to use common sense in planning which nights to cook so that I’m not setting myself up to fail by planning a super labor intensive recipe for a night after a busy day or when we have activities scheduled. remember: you’re more likely to cook on night’s that come after easier, less busy days. Save the take out for crazy nights.

Step 2: Decide which days you plan to cook

Once I’ve written in the week’s schedule, I start filling in which nights I plan to dine out or eat leftovers and which night’s I’ll be cooking. This allows me to see exactly how many nights I plan to cook so that I can choose the recipes for those spots. It also allows me to choose recipes that make sense for that night based on our week.

I encourage you to write in days to eat leftovers and days to dine out in your meal plan based on what you have going on that week so that not overwhelming yourself after a crazy day or on a busy night, because you’ll be less likely to actually follow through with cooking on those days (ask me how I know that…). Remember: keep it simple, you don’t always have to be a hero.

Step 3: Choose the right recipes for the day’s you’ll be cooking

Now it’s time to choose the recipes that make them most sense with your overall schedule. This is why it’s important to be specific in your commitments for the week. It allows you to choose recipes in a logical way and one that makes the most sense for the big picture of the overall week.

For example, if we have a dinner at a steak house scheduled for a Wednesday night, then I probably won’t be scheduling a beef recipe for the very next day. Another example is if we plan to do leftovers for dinner on Tuesday night, then I won’t be planning to make a smaller recipe that doesn’t usually have leftovers on Monday night, or a recipe that won’t reheat well. Remember: common sense cooking: cook smarter, not harder.

From there, I choose my recipes accordingly and plug them into my planner on the days I plan to cook. And with that, my meal plan is made  and I can create my grocery list and my prep list for when I prepare my ingredients (which for me is usually on Sundays).

Here’s a video I created where I show you exactly how I follow these steps, and the thought process behind it:


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I hope this was helpful! Comment below with any questions, so I can try and help you as best I can 🙂

When you make your meal plan, please tag me on Instagram with @thelifejolie so I can share it <3

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