The Best Way to Make a Meal Plan (Plus a FREE Meal Plan Template)

Putting meals on the table has never been easier.

Always have an answer to the question “what’s for dinner” with this beginner’s guide to meal planning. Our process is simple, and it can help you save both time and money. Here’s how to start meal planning like a pro.

Download our free meal plan template here.

Step 1: Determine a Timeframe

Before you start planning, figure out how many meals you need to account for. If your family eats cereal for breakfast every day, or if everyone is on their own for lunch, then there’s no need to include those meals in your plan. (Just make sure to add cereal to the grocery list!) While you’re at it, get a dinner recipe for every weeknight of the year.

Step 2: Check Your Fridge

Do you have a carton of eggs that’s about to expire? Or is your pantry overflowing with canned black beans? Look for recipes that include those ingredients. Psst! Here’s why expiration dates don’t matter as much as you think.

Step 3: Watch the Sales

Once you know which ingredients you already have, start planning for the ones you need. Check local grocery store flyers for any mega sales that can trim down your grocery bill. If you know you want tacos, for example, pick a protein based off what’s on sale. These grocery store tips will help you go shopping like a pro.

Step 4: Be Realistic

For a meal plan to work, you need to manage your own expectations. If you know Tuesdays are hectic, don’t plan a complicated from-scratch meal for that night. There’s no shame in picking up pre-made staples, or better yet, reaching for one of our 15-minute dinner recipes. The most important part is sticking to your plan.

Step 5: Plan Your Menu

Here comes the fun part—actually plan your meals! Now that you know what ingredients you have to work with, search for recipes that complement those items.

Write the name of each dish in the designated spot of our meal plan template, then stick the finalized plan on the fridge. This easy-to-see spot will let the whole family know what to expect for dinner. Plus, it’s a gentle reminder to cook Pad Thai tonight instead of ordering a pizza. When your meal plan is complete, it’s time to shop! Finalize a grocery list, then hit the store.

Short on planning time this week? Check out some of our ready-made meal plans. Here are our favorites:

If you need more inspiration, check out our meal planning hub to learn more about the process and get great recipe ideas.

Cook Once, Eat All Week with These Recipes
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Katie Bandurski
As Senior Shopping Editor, Katie connects Taste of Home readers with the best gifts, deals and home products on the market. An avid foodie and a holiday enthusiast, Katie is an expert at cultivating meaningful moments. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and watching Christmas movies.