10 Easy Meal Planning Methods and Free Meal Planning Printables

Meal planning is meant to simplify your life - but it doesn't always feel that way! Find your PERFECT meal planning method here (and get some great free meal plan printables!)

Meal planning is always one of my goals for the year.

And I usually epically fail.

However, this year I am really determined to find a method that works for us. While reviewing our expenses from last year, we spent too much on groceries (due to not planning before shopping and buy far too much) and on eating out…because sometimes, it was just easier to go out to eat than spend an hour deciding what to cook!

I’ve seen a lot of different meal planning methods out there, and I hope we can find one that works. I still haven’t decided 100% what I want to do, but here are a few different ways to meal plan that I’m going to be picking from! At the end of the post, you can subscribe to our mailing list and get three FREE meal planning printables!

Premade meal plan

Sometimes half the battle is coming up with the recipes you actually want to make. There are fortunately a lot of people that come up with meal plans for you. I know several bloggers who post a weekly meal plan for others to come and use.

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I have personally been using the Six Sister’s Meal Plan service for awhile now – for $10 a month, you get a meal plan each week, with a shopping list all ready to go. I LOVE it because the recipes are so simple and yummy. You can get 20% off using CLARKS20 at checkout! They have family plans, gluten free plans, and healthy plans!

I recently came across 5 Dollar Dinners – she has TONS of premade meal plans for every budget, and the recipes all look delicious.

Meal Inventory

This is something that I think is really smart, and it is at the top of my list. Basically, you sit down and write down all the meals that you enjoy making (or that your kids like.)

You can involve the whole family when doing this so you make sure everyone has some of their favorites listed. Then, once a month, fill in a blank calendar with the meals on your list.

You could try and plan things with similar ingredients (or that use leftovers from previous meals that week), or just keep it simple with just plugging recipes in with dates. I haven’t done this, but I plan to.

And when I do, I am going to have 4-5 days of recipes I know and love, 1-2 days of new recipes, and one free night for eating our or pizza!

Theme Night

Theme nights are a great way to have an idea of what kind of meals you want to be on the lookout. The Food Nanny is the queen of theme nights – you should check out her site for more information on what here themes are, as well as for some great recipes. I highly recommend her cookbooks.

I love the idea of theme nights because you can have some predictability because you know what type of food you are going to have on each night of the week. But it gives you flexibility to try new things. Here are a few theme night ideas:

Comfort Foods
Family Favorite
New Recipe Night

Meals by the Sales

I think one of the best ways to save money by meal planning is to shop and eat what is on sale that week. You can either look online or in the weekly circulars to see what’s on sale, combine that with what you already have in your pantry, and then make your meals up based off of that.

Personally, this seems like it is a lot of work. I’m not a big fan of combing through the circulars, cutting coupons, and then trying to come up with recipes based on those ingredients. It does save money – but at what cost?

If you do want to try this though, Deals2Meals is a GREAT option. I believe it’s something like $5.95 a month, and each week, you get a customized meal plan based on what’s on sale that week – you can even pick from a variety of stores. She claims you can save up to 70% on your weekly budget. You can even get a free trial to try it out!

White Board Method

When we lived with my parents for a little while, I implemented this idea for a few weeks. It’s kind of fun, and it ensures that everyone has at least one meal that week that they will enjoy.

You just put up a small whiteboard somewhere in the kitchen with the days of the week. You can fill it in with any number of meal ideas you want, but then you just leave the rest blank and others in the family can come fill in the name of a meal they would like on that day.

Once a month (or week) cooking

This takes a lot of upfront time, but it can pay off in the end. At the beginning of each month (or even just week), you prep as much of the food for your meals that week/month as you can.

The best way to do this is to plan meals that have similar ingredients, or that can use leftovers from a previous meal. For instance, you could have rotisserie chicken for dinner one night, and then you could use the leftovers to make rotisserie chicken salad sandwiches one night and chicken noodle soup the next! The point of one a month/week cooking is to get as much prep done ahead of time as you can!

Plan  to Eat

I signed up for a free trial of this recently, and I thought it was pretty cool. Basically, you create an online recipe book with them. You install an app on your browser, and every time you find a recipe you like or you want to try, you add it to your recipe book.

Then when you go back to Plan to Eat, you can drag and drop the recipes into your meal planner. After you do this, it helps compile a shopping list that you can either print off or access on your phone. If you are always pinning recipes and never actually making this, this might be a good option for you. You can even export your recipe book.

There is a free 30 day trial in case you are on the fence – after that, it’s $39 for a year, or $4.96 a month.

Monthly meal planning

Just sit down at the beginning of the month and plan out your entire month of meals. You can start the month out by planning meals that may include ingredients that will go bad at the end of the month. Be flexible and willing to change if you need to, but if you feel accomplished having at least a plan for the month, then this will work great for you!



I recently started using Walmart’s online grocery service, and I’m wondering why I hadn’t ever used it before. Not only have I saved a ton of money (you can pick your groceries up for free, or have them delivered for a minimal fee) because I don’t impulse buy things, it has helped me stick to my budget even more. You can get $10 of your first order here.

And now, for your free goodies – Forrest created this fun meal planner printable bundle for you all. There’s a monthly meal planner, a weekly meal planner with a shopping list, as well as a favorite meals printable. You can print these off and laminate them, and that way, you can reuse them over and over again! Am I the only one borderline obsessed with my laminator? Yeah? Okay. It’s awesome.





All you have to do to get these fun printables (without the watermark) is signup for our weekly newsletter – you can find that near the top of this page!


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  • Hello! I just found your site and it's so cute and well done! I am trying to sign up for the newsletter so I can get the meal prep sheets! I am a first year teacher and am trying to start doing meal prep!! :)
  • I LOVE meal planning! Ever since I started doing it almost three years ago, it has made a huge difference. We eat better, we eat a wider variety of foods, and I actually look forward to cooking! I plan all of our dinners every Sunday (and we go out one night a week) and then when I grocery shop, I buy everything I need for those dinners! It works great for us! Good luck in your meal planning adventure! I love reading about all these different methods!

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