Creating a weekly meal plan for your family is one of the best ways to simplify your week and make evenings go more smoothly. Here are some practical tips to get it done, plus a free printable weekly meal planner.
They don’t call it the witching hour for nothing. That hour when you’re trying to get dinner on the table is hard enough without struggling to figure out what to make.
I’ve got two active kids and am running from field to field most nights, and if I don’t want to be hitting the drive through on the regular, I’d better have a meal plan.Meal planning for a family can seem like a dreaded chore. It goes something like this:
Mom: What does everyone want for dinner this week?
Kids: I don’t know.
Dad: I don’t care.
Mom: How about spaghetti on Monday?
Kids: I hate spaghetti?
Mom: Then what do YOU want?
Kids: I don’t care.
Repeat ad nauseam. Been there, still doing that occasionally.
But as I’ve been working hard to improve my own personal witching hour experience, it’s clear that the benefits of meal planning far outweigh the pain.
I have a few tips to make it easier for you, plus a free printable meal planner below.
What Are the Benefits of Meal Planning?
There are many benefits of meal planning. One of the biggest perks for me is avoiding that 5pm freak out, “What am I going to feed these kids for dinner?”
There is no greater calm in the dinner hour than knowing that you know exactly what you’re serving that night, and that you have all of the necessary ingredients on hand.
It literally changes the entire course of the evening for me.
Other perks are that meal planning saves money. It’s WAY cheaper to make pot of spaghetti with garlic bread and a veggie than it is to take the whole family through the drive through.
Even ordering a pizza these days has got my wallet like WHOA.
Finally, many people jump start their healthy eating goals by meal planning.
If you have a game plan and ingredients on hand, you are less likely to jam in 6 Oreos when you get home from work and instead get started on making that dinner you knew you’d be cooking all day long.
How to Meal Plan
Meal planning does not need to be a big overwhelming task hanging over your head each week. Keep it simple to be successful.
Meal planning should make life easier, not more stressful.
Go heavy on the basics that everyone in your family likes, and throw one or two meals that might require a little more prep, or a new recipe you’ve been wanting to try.
Make the more labor intensive meals the exception, not the rule.
How to Meal Plan for a Family
Here is a sample formula I use for our family:
Monday and Wednesday are easy meals like spaghetti and grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Fridays are pizza night (make your own or get frozen – much more affordable!).
Saturdays for my family usually mean running to one of the kids’ games, and we’ll often grab something while we’re on the road. Because it’s a more flexible weekend day, it’s typically open to whatever strikes our fancy.
For us, having that one ‘free day’ in the mix works well. And this doesn’t always mean eating out. Sometimes we pick up a quick meal at Costco or hit the store for some fresh seafood to grill. It’s simply a free day on our menu calendar.
Maybe you want to make Saturdays a clear-out-the-leftovers day for your family.
That leaves me to come up with more creative meals only two days per week, Tuesday and Thursday in this example. I get my inspiration from magazines, cookbooks, and Pinterest.
We also have a bunch of tried and true favorites that we love, but that require a little more effort so when I work them into the rotation the family is thrilled (and I didn’t spend hours trying to find something to make – win/win).
Whatever routine or formula you use for your family, include some easy meals, a regular go-to (like pizza on Fridays), and only a couple of meals that require significant time, energy, or attention to a recipe.
If you want to, and have time to be more creative with your meal planning, go for it (and invite me over!)!
Many of us are juggling as fast as we can and just want to get dinner on the table without it involving a drive through. So EASY does it, and there is no shame in the simple family dinner game.
If I make an intricate meal plan and meals are expensive to buy, take too much time to prep, and generally stress me out, I won’t stick with it. Keep it realistic and doable for your schedule.
What To Do If Your Kids are Picky Eaters
Since so much of my own personal meal planning revolves around my family’s tastes and I have two kids, I understand the struggle is real and have a few words of wisdom (or tough love) to share.
First, check out my tips on raising adventurous eaters. My kids, thankfully, eat a wide variety of food.
And if they roll their eyes at something I’m making, they can eat leftovers, cereal, yogurt, whatever they can find.
I’m not a short order cook and my obligation is to provide them with sustenance, not let them rule the roost.
They won’t starve, and just like I am not wildly in love with pizza every Friday night, I like it well enough to eat it and be happy that I don’t have a lot of dishes to clean up.
Again, meal planning is a tool to make life easier, not more stressful.
Stay in the driver’s seat, parents. The kids will be okay, even the picky eaters. This is not the hill I’m dying on. (I’ll die on the teenager-with-a-phone hill.)
Free Printable Meal Planner
To get you started and simplify the process, I have a free printable meal planner for you.
You can plan your entire week’s worth of meals here, because there is space for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.
For me, breakfast and lunch are easy. It’s dinner that hangs over my head!
Fill in the spaces on the left with your intended meals, and then check your pantry for the staples you might need: olive oil, pasta, onions, garlic, spices, breadcrumbs, etc.
If you need to stock up on pantry items, add those to the grocery shopping list, along with everything else you need to create the meals you have planned.
Bonus: Add any snacks you need for the week to your grocery shopping list so you have everything – all food for the week – in one place.
Then grab your coupons, hit the grocery store, and get ‘er done. A week goes SO much more smoothly when you have a game plan for dinnertime.
Easy Weeknight Meals
Need some inspiration for a few easy weeknight meals? Check the dinner recipes section of my site. Here are 5 of my go-tos:
Books on Meal Planning for a Family
Find some easy weeknight dinner inspiration, and more meal planning tips in these highly-rated books:
- The School Year Survival Cookbook
- The Busy Mom’s Meal Planning Journal
- Meal Planning for Beginners
- Mix-and-Match Mama Meal Planner
- The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook
- Dinner: The Playbook
- The Family Dinner Solution
- Seriously Good Freezer Meals