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Why You Need to Start Meal Planning (Plus a Video)

on January 20, 2015 by Jami Balmet 15 comments

As a homemaker, who is concerned about my family’s health and staying within our grocery budget, learning how to meal plan has been the single most important and helpful skill I’ve developed.

Why you need to start meal planning

I’ve heard from many women who don’t meal plan and think that menu or meal planning just won’t work for their family for one reason or another. If you are this woman, I challenge you to read through this article and keep an open mind. In 99% of family’s, I think meal planning would be very beneficial!

Why I Meal Plan

Before we dive into how I meal plan, I want to share into a little bit about why I meal plan. Yes – meal planning does take time, commitment, and a bit of work – but in the end, the benefits are so worth it!

Meal Planning…Saves Money!

Here is my #1 reason for meal planning, it saves my family money and helps us to stick to our grocery budget. It helps our budget in a couple of ways:

1. It Keeps Me Out of the Stores

When I meal plan, I can do about 2 big grocery shops a month and keeps me out of the stores. When I enter Costco with a strict budget and specific grocery list with items all attached to meals, it helps me to cut out impulse purchases.

I’m focused on my goal the entire time while in the store.

2. It Allows Me to Plan Around Our Grocery Budget

In true Dave Ramsey’s fashion, my husband and I try have strict grocery budget’s each week and plan our meals and eating out to fit within that budget. When I meal plan with our budget in mind, it allows me to space out our grocery money throughout the month. I know what I’m spending at which stores and eliminates that question of “I went to the grocery store, spent all our grocery budget, and still don’t have enough meals for the month. How did this happen?

Meal Planning…Saves Time!

Initially, meal planning takes a little bit of time to get into the habit of and actually do each time you head out to the grocery store. But in the long run, it saves so much time! It virtually eliminates the “What’s for dinner?” question that pops up around 5 o’clock every day.

Meal planning mentally frees me from having to think about my meals each day and helps to cut down on time searching for meals to make, running to the grocery store for one or two items I forgot, and helps me to be more organized.

Meal Planning….Helps Us to Eat Healthier

Even if meal planning didn’t save me money or time, I would jump into meal planning because it really helps me to feed my family healthier meals. It takes a lot of time and energy to cook 3 meals a day mostly from scratch. We’ve virtually eliminated processed foods from our house and so that means I’m cooking all.the.time!

Meal planning gives me freedom, direction, and a vision for my kitchen so that I can focus on cooking the most nutritious (and yummy) meals for my family. I think my kitchen would be in chaos if I didn’t regularly meal plan.

How to Meal Plan the Easy Way

So are you convinced now that you need to start meal planning? Awesome – let’s jump in and I’ll share how I’ve been meal planning for the last several years.

By the way – you can try out Build a Menu for just $4 for your first month! Use coupon code: SaveMeMoney to try out my very favorite meal planning solution!  (I’ve been using Build a Member now for over a year and a half and I am totally in love with it!) Find out more about Build a Menu here


1)  Print Out Meal Planning Sheets

Of course, you can use a regular old notebook to do your meal planning, but I’ve created these free printable meal planning sheets for you to use.

I laminated mine (with my amazing laminator that I got off of Amazon for about $30) so that I could re-use them again and again without having to print it off each time.

Free Meal Planning Sheets

Download the Meal Planner and the Shopping List

2) Gather Your Favorite Cookbooks & Recipes

I love cookbooks – seriously, I’m a little bit addicted. So my first step in meal planning is to pull out a few of my favorite cookbooks and find some recipes. Note: When you start filling out your meal plan for the week, make sure you write down which cookbook the recipe came from and the page number. You think you will remember later…but you won’t!

Meal Planning Made Easy

Pinterest is of course my other favorite place to find recipes. So many of our family’s favorite recipes over the last several years have been discovered in Pinterest. You can follow me HERE on Pinterest to see how I use it for my homemaking.

3) Assemble Your Meals & Write Out the Ingredients

Here’s the crucial step – as you start to fill in your meal plan and pick out each meal, pause and write down the ingredients from each meal onto your shopping list.

If you are not sure if you have an ingredient or not, add a little “C” next to the ingredient so you can remember to check on it before you head to the store.

Then before you know it, you’ve created your entire meal plan! Check out my video below to learn even more about how I menu plan!

In the video, I mentioned that I no longer use a pen and paper to do my meal planning. I’ve actually converted to an online system for my meal planning and now I can do my complete meal planning and print off my shipping list within just a couple of minutes. This new website I’ve been using is called Build a Menu.

Find out all about Build a Menu here and get signed up to try out a month now

Build a Menu
*This article was originally posted on November 3, 2014.

Get instant free access to my Finding Joy in Your Home video course.

  • Do you want to discover more joy, peace, & tranquility within your home?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and like your house is out of control?
  • Join my free course and learn the essential habits for Christian homemakers
  1. How do you go about meal planning when you aren’t all home every night, you have an adult who is very picky and then a toddler and another adult who eat as healthy as possible? Most nights I am coming up with meals on the fly because I go by what I have on hand in my pantry or freezer. I have been trying to figure out how because I hardly ever fix the same exact meal twice and I rarely go by a recipe except when baking. I tend to throw out more than what I would like to at the moment also because I am 5 months pregnant and don’t always have the energy at the end of the day to put food up in the freezer so when I buy something with lots of leftovers I try to incorporate it into other meals and then some ends up getting wasted if I don’t just chuck it into the freezer. Any ideas to help would be awesome! Even if I can at least plan 1 or 2 meals a week I think that would be a giant step in the right direction. I look forward to your emails every week. Thank you for being so open with your readers!

    • sometimes it helps to just have one or two staple meals everyone likes and use them every other week. My husband would love it if we had pizza and spaghetti all week long. So, that is one meal I try to keep all the ingredients to on hand. Also, even if its something you can prep when you are feeling up to it and then pull out and cook. I love cooking cheese ravioli and then I make a cheese topping to go with it. Once my raviolis done its only a matter of a few minutes to toss it in oil and add the topping. Small things you can make when you feel up to it.

    • First of all Mandy, thank you so much for your encouraging comment!! You just made my day 🙂

      Meal planning can be really tough when you work outside the home :/ Have you ever tried freezer cooking? When I worked full time, I would do once a month freezer cooking. Which means I would pick a Saturday and literally cook for 6-7 hours straight but then I would have 20 – 30 meals ready to go in the freezer. Then I could just pull them out when I needed them. I feel like it was a life saver for me when I was working. I also liked doing crockpot meals, but unfortunately, I was often gone from the house too many hours to make crockpot meals.

      If you are interested in freezer cooking meals, I did a series a couple of years ago on getting started:
      Here’s how I did freezer cooking when I was working full time: http://youngwifesguide.com/how-i-do-freezer-cooking-a-look-into-my-kitchen/
      And here’s some additional resources for different ways to freezer cook: http://youngwifesguide.com/freezer-cooking-resources/

      You might want to check out http://onceamonthmeals.com/ for more freezer cooking help, ideas, and menus!

      I hope this helps a little!! 🙂

  2. Oh, how we need this! I am so disorganized when it comes to anything with food! My husband and I are still in the process of moving, but maybe we can start steady meal planning in the next couple weeks. Thanks for this post!

  3. Jami,
    I love this article. I grew up actually making a generalized meal plan with my mom each month. My dad kept us on a really strict budget. With four of us kids, our budget may have grown by $20 when the youngest started eating, we fed the 6 of us for $100 every two weeks.
    Now that I am married it makes shopping on a budget even easier. Plus we both work at the grocery store we shop at and pay attention on notices of upcoming deals. I love to coupon, even though I don’t do a lot currently. And we try to shop only the necessities.
    We have been married 3 months now and have never gone over our budget. Including with our first shopping trip, which included all the essentials for making good meals. (Bachelors eat nothing, well at least mine especially since he didn’t know how to cook much more than a pizza or microwaving a hot dog.) But I love meal planning. For our second month I actually wrote out a list with variety in it for meals for the whole month. Now I just plan in my head. I make my list two days before our shopping day when I get the sales ad. And then look for coupons to download to my card, or that I have clipped! It’s wonderful to be able to shop with meals in mind and not just oh that looks good personality!

    • That is SO wonderful Danielle!! It sounds like you really learned these skills as you were growing up 😀 I entered into marriage without budgeting or cooking skills LOL so I’ve had to play catch up! It sounds like you are off to a GREAT start! 🙂

  4. Jami, what a great post that is really inspiring! I was doing biweekly meal plans and by the middle of the 2nd week I was going off the plan and just having a hard time thinking of quality meals we want to eat for that 2nd week. I printed off your menu list, had a friend who had a laminator do that for me, and actually enjoyed just doing one week at a time and focusing on that. And the menu plan on my fridge reminds me of your post and why I’m doing this- to take care of my little family! 🙂 Question- on BAM, do they have new recipes each week where you CANNOT access the old ones or do they just add new ones and you can still access other recipes. Are the recipes you add always available? I just don’t want to fall in love with one of theirs and then it disappears! Thanks!

  5. I work outside the home and the separate freezer is my lifeline. I cook meats in large quantities (multiple chickens, Boston butts, turkeys, London broils, 5 lbs of ground beef browned at a time) and freeze meal sized portions. Easy to grab a bag of precooked meat and make a casserole, pasta dish, burritos or stir fry. Between that and a meal plan that has 10 options for 7 days with a separate list of 4 or 5 quick pantry meals always on the fridge, my husband never feels locked into a plan and I can swap out something faster if I’m running behind.

    • I started freezer cooking when I worked full time outside the house and it SAVED ME!! It was the only way that I was still able to make home cooked meals for me and my hubby when I was getting home after 6 every day! 😀

  6. Oh and I keep an excel sheet of what we ate with links to recipies and “winners” highlighted in green so when I’m planning the next round of meals I can always find inspiration and new favorites.

  7. Meal planning never worked for me until I realized I didn’t have to adhere to a rigid schedule. I make a weekly plan and do some prep on Sunday evening but I dont plan specific nights for the menu. I never know if me or my hubby is working late or how bad I am going to feel with my fibromyalgia. . So I plan 2 very easy nights. Like warm up the pork roast and roasted vegetables i made on Sunday or chop up the grilled chicken from Sunday and make grilled chicken salad. I might also plan a crockpot night where I can put in something that can simmer all day like a soup. The other days might involve more actual cooking. Then i can adapt as the week goes along. If I don’t get home until after 6 or if I’m exhausted, I just pull out the roast. I usually have pantry staples like spaghetti and sauce and a bag of frozen shrimp that can be thawed in hot water in under 10 minutes. We have chickens so i always have eggs. A frozen pie crust plus 6 or 8 eggs and leftover vegetables makes a easy quiche. I found a few easy dishes i can make without thinking that everyone likes. But I now know I can go with the flow and am not stuck with more than i can handle on a bad day.