Cary Farrell

Meal Planning in 5 Easy Steps

by Cary Farrell
July 22, 2019

So you are ready to give cooking at home a try but you are still feeling a little lost and overwhelmed at where to start.  Deciding what to cook is really half the battle.  Once you know what you are cooking you can create a plan that the whole family can follow and help with.  

  1. Schedule meals on your calendar

Sit the family down and look at the calendar to determine how many nights a week everyone is home for dinner and who is available to prepare the meal.  If you decide that you are home 5 out of 7 nights then choose 5 nights to start with.

  1. Choose your meals by theme

Choose a theme night and then write down the family’s four favorite meals in each theme.  Voila!  You have a month’s worth of meals.  Don’t panic if something comes up and you have to eat out.  You can always use that meal for next week or freeze it for an emergency meal.  Click here to see my sample menu planner.

  1. Clean out your fridge and freezer

Once your meals are planned, it is time to clean out the fridge and freezer so that you know what you have on hand and what you still need to buy.  Take everything out of the fridge and freezer and throw away any old food or questionable items.  Give the fridge and freezer a good wipe down, and then put items you are keeping back in groups with like items. This is key!  Put the frozen veggies together, the meats together, desserts together, etc.  Keeping like items together the way you find them in the grocery store will help you to quickly see what items you have and what you still need to buy.  It also makes putting groceries away a lot easier.

  1. Clean out your pantry

Take everything out, checking for dates and ensuring someone in the house will eat what’s in there.  I make separate piles on the table or counter for baking, breakfast, snacks, dinner, beverages, etc.  Once you purge the old food, wipe out the pantry.  Put the items in the pantry grouped by meals.  One area for breakfast foods, one for lunch and/or snacks, one for dinner, and one for baking.  Again, this makes finding what you have so much easier and helps you to see what you need to get from the store.  If necessary, label the shelves to help everyone put things back where they go.  Once you have done an initial, big clean out, you should be able to quickly clean out the pantry and fridge a couple of times a month to keep it orderly and clean.

  1. Make a grocery list.  

I choose to make my list using an excel spreadsheet.  I type in the items I buy most often in the order that I find them in the store.  For example, most grocery stores start out with their fresh fruit and veggie department so I type in my most often purchased fruits and veggies with a few blank lines for me to write in other items I might need.  You should be able to go online to your grocery store and see the general contents of each aisle to help you.  I print this list out and then circle the items I need at the store for the week based on the meals I plan to make.  Making a list will take a little time but it is so worth it.  In the long run, a list will save you time and money!


Making a list saves you TIME

  • You don’t have to write out the list each week.

  • You can leave a list on the fridge so the family can circle items as they finish them.  

  • A list saves you time in the store because you will just follow your list and not wander around the store trying to remember what you need.


Making a list saves you MONEY

  • You won’t buy items that you don’t need.

  • You won't buy items you don’t plan to use soon which will keep you from having to throw a lot of food away.

  • A list will keep you from eating out every night which always costs families more money.   


Get the whole family involved

There are even more advantages to having your meals planned and posted.  The kids don’t beg to eat out and older kids can help with meal prep because they know what the meals are going to be.  I have a three ring binder with the recipes that we cook the most often so the kids know where to find them to help with the cooking. I use page protectors so that I can easily slip in new recipes or take old ones out. Or if you like being high tech, check out the Menu Planner App where you can plan your meal, make a grocery list that you can text to your spouse or teenager, keep a list of what is in the pantry, and include copies of your recipes -- all in one App!


All of us plan to eat at least three meals a day.  If you take the time to automate this task, it will take a huge chunk of stress out of your day when everyone is coming home tired, hungry, and asking, “What’s for dinner?!”