Meal Planning 101 - How to Plan Meals - How To Plan A Menu

Meal Planning 101 – Getting Started with FREE Printables

Incase you missed it yesterday, I started a new series “Meal Planning 101”.  Throughout the course of the week, I will be sharing some tips and advice on how to plan meals and save money!  Yesterday we talked about Getting Inspired to meal plan with some fun ways to switch up your menu, and get out of the take out rut.  Today, we’ll start focusing on how to get started meal planning, with some free printables to make meal planning easy! 

menu planning 101

Getting Started!

I’ve been planning menus for a while now, and even I sometimes get stuck in a rut, and look at the fridge and ask myself, “What’s For Dinner?”, and then give-in and order takeout.  But, that is pretty rare because of a few basic guidelines I follow:

1)  Build a menu plan that your family will love.  Don’t just choose things just because, tailor your menu plan to your family.

2)  If you don’t like committing to a set schedule, meal a on Monday, and meal b on Tuesday, create a list of meals you’d like to have during the week, and buy the ingredients for all the meals.  As you go throughout the week, cross a meal off of your list, and you’ll always have something planned for dinner!

3)  Don’t forget about leftovers.  Leftovers are wonderful.  They can be used as the basis of another meal or make for really easy lunches.

Take Inventory

The next step in your menu planning process is to take inventory of what you already have on hand.  I think that some of the best menus are planned without a trip to the grocery store. 

Shop at home.  Check out your fridge, freezer and pantry and see what you have on hand.  Write it down, and keep a list beside your flyers, or other recipe inspirations and see what you can make with ingredients already in your kitchen.  Shopping at home is a great way to stretch your grocery budget.  With only having to go to the store for simple things like bread, milk and eggs, you can save a lot of money each week in groceries.

Of course, the more you menu plan, and the more you prepare things ahead of time, the more ingredients you’ll have ‘on-hand’ in the pantry for grab and go meals.

Start Planning

When getting organized, having a worksheet like these two, really helps visually see things in your menu.  Whether you’re planning for a month or for a week, these worksheets are a great way to help visualize what is for dinner.

monthly meal planner template-page-001
Download Monthly Meal Planner Template Printable
weekly meal plan template-page-001
Download Weekly Meal Planner Template Printable

Next up is to figure out just how the heck you’re going to put all of these delicious recipes together and plan a menu.  I like to check the sales flyers each week and see whats on sale.  I will write down the main proteins that are on sale, and then choose recipes around it.  If there isn’t a lot of meat on sale one week, I’ll go mostly vegetarian.  It really all just depends on what your family likes and how much money you want to spend each week.  For example, this is what my planning sheet might look like each week:

sales at my local stores
sales at my local stores

Like I mentioned above, plan items on your menu that you can use more than once.  Not only does this help you save money on your grocery bill each week, it eliminates food waste.  If you’re anything like me, there has been those weeks when there is just so much food in your fridge, and something gets lost and moldy at the back of the fridge – and it’s disappointing because it’s like money in the trash.  Planning a menu with ingredients that you use more than once, basically makes sure that you have an empty fridge at the end of the week, all ready for the next week.

Choose your meals.  I like to plan for 5 days, and then have a day for leftovers, and the last day for ordering in, like a pizza night, or for a date night, should I be lucky enough.  But if you know for sure your schedule, go ahead and plan seven different meals, especially if you know there won’t be any leftovers. 

Next Up:  How To Build A Great Shopping List

Previous:  Get Inspired


  1. Stine Kirkeby

    Thank you so much for doing this series. I would love to meal plan but I always eighter get bored and then get inspired to something new before I get trough the week or do the planning and realize it will be to expensive.
    I hope this can help me to get started for real.
    And love your website btw, I’m new here but found you looking for a month of meals

    • Thank you so much for the kid words. Meal planning definitely takes ambition and some dedication, but generally a big cup of coffee helps me with this! haha.

      If you get stuck, or need some help, please feel free to e-mail me at, and I will do whatever I can to help out!

      Lindsie 🙂

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