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Tired of hearing "What's for dinner?" Try meal planning.

It’s the question every home chef hates: “What’s for dinner tonight?” After a long day, the last thing you want to do is figure out what to make – and if you have to go to the grocery store for ingredients. Sometimes it’s just easier to go through a drive-thru. But if you plan your meals for the week ahead of time, you can do one grocery trip and have your answer to the dreaded question ready. As it turns out, meal planning not only eases stress around cooking – it also saves you time and money. Here are five reasons to try meal planning this year. 

Make it easier to cook at home.
Serving a home-cooked meal every night is not easy. Some days it might even feel impossible. When you plan your meals for the week, you can feel confident knowing exactly what you’ll make, and you can choose recipes that will be easy, healthy and affordable. The key with meal planning is to sit down, look at the week ahead and identify how many meals and which recipes you’ll make. There are plenty of websites that make it easy to find recipes, like Tablespoon, All Recipes and My Recipes

Bonus tip: Set aside a specific time each weekend for meal planning. Make a ritual out of it. Play some music you love, finish your Saturday morning coffee and go to town on some recipe websites.

Use everything in your pantry.
Is there a can of beans or bag of rice in your pantry that seems to sit there week after week? It’s time to put it to use! Before you plan which meals you’ll make, take a look at your pantry and fridge and write down everything you have on hand. Try to choose recipes that use those ingredients when you’re planning your meals. 

Bonus tip: Organize your pantry and get rid of expired items so you can easily see what you have available. You could also keep a running list on a whiteboard in your kitchen and erase things as you use them.

Get your shopping done in one trip.
When you don’t have your meals planned – and just decide what to make the day of – you can end up making several trips to the store during the week. That costs you time, and you might be buying many different ingredients that can’t be reused in other recipes. Instead, once you’ve planned out your meals for the week, make a list of the items you need and then go grocery shopping for everything you need in one trip.

Bonus tip: Choose recipes that use similar ingredients and buy in bulk when possible.

Choose meals you’ll all love.
Ask family members to help with meal planning. Maybe each person (of speaking age) can choose one of the meals for the week. There are several benefits to this, including decreasing the chances of a child saying, “I don’t want to eat that” and forcing you to make something else. You’re also sharing the work of meal planning as a family, and this can help teach your kids good financial habits. Plus, it could be fun to see what everyone will come up with. 

Bonus tip: Help kids feel ownership of the days they get to choose the meal. The night of their dinner, make a big deal of it being their choice. 

Double your results – not your efforts – with leftovers.
Plan leftovers into your meal planning, and you won’t have to make as many unique meals. By simply doubling the recipe, you can produce more food and eat that meal again a few days later. You can also eat leftovers for lunch the next day (instead of going out). By stretching your recipes, you can also cut down on the number of individual ingredients to buy.

Bonus tip: Store some leftovers in the freezer to have on hand in case of a dinner emergency. Research recipes that freeze well so you can be sure it will be enjoyable to eat when you need it in the future.

So are you ready to start meal planning? It’s as simple as sitting down, planning your meals for the week, making a grocery list and doing one shopping trip. To help you with your meal planning, we’ve created a downloadable template based on the tips in this article. To download, click here. If you’d like more information, there are plenty of guides to getting started available online, including this one from The Kitchn.

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