How to Create a Weekly Meal Plan

Put an end to the end-of-day panic about what's for dinner. This easy planning system's got it all taken care of

Credit: Ann Danilevich

Display your weekly menu on a colourful cue cards so it’s easy to find and follow

A bit of time spent up-front to plan your meals can save you save you a lot of time, stress, and money when you’re hungry at the end of the day

All too often I’ve come home after a long workday with no idea what to make and only a few random ingredients at the back of the fridge. I know I’m not alone. The question of “what’s for dinner?” has plagued busy professionals, homemakers and students alike.

In the spirit of the New Year, many of us resolve to be more organized and eat healthier, but after a couple of weeks we tend slip back to our old habits. Creating a personalized meal planning system takes some time, but it saves stress, shopping and cooking time once you create one that works. And adding specific healthy eating resolutions into the meal planning process can help you eat healthier and be more organized all year.

I’m choosing to integrate more raw fruits and vegetables into my meals, make healthy snacks for the week, and cook meals on weekends to freeze to have healthy meals available even when I’m too tired to cook.

Planning Your Meals

In my search for the perfect meal planning system, I’ve come across two methods:

  1. Setting aside time every week for meal planning; and
  2. Creating a roster of meals I can rotate, which does not have to be updated weekly.

The advantage of the first method is that you can search the fridge at the end of the week and build on ingredients you already have. However, it takes a weekly time commitment. The second meal planning method takes more time to create up-front, but ultimately saves time by taking the guesswork out of thinking up weekly meals.

Since I didn’t want to be planning meals every week, I chose to go with the latter: creating a roster of meals that can be rotated for weekly menus.

Choosing Meal Plan Recipes

To create a meal plan roster I wrote down all of my favourite recipe ideas in a notebook. Then, I went through my cookbooks and chose recipes to add to my list. I repeated this process with some food magazines I’ve saved over the years and favourite food blogs, making sure to note where each recipe idea came from.

I then divided the recipes into categories. To make meal planning truly helpful, it’s important not to get too ambitious and have most of the meals be quick and easy (15 to 50 minutes prep to table). Make sure that the majority of your meals fit in with your healthy eating resolutions and remember to include breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Lunch for my family is usually leftovers, so I didn’t include that as a category. Every family is unique, so the categories for your weekly meal plan will be different. Mine were:

  • Weekday casual
  • Fish and seafood
  • Make-ahead
  • Snacks
  • Breakfast

Once I had my list of recipes and categories, I got coloured cue cards (one colour for each category), and wrote each meal idea on a separate card. I made sure to note the cookbook, magazine, or website that the meal came from, and listed the meal ingredients on the back of the card; this way I wouldn’t need to refer to the original recipe source until cooking time.

The great thing about this system is that you can easily add new meals into the roster and always have a variety of meals to choose from, which takes you out of meal monotony.

Create Your Weekly Menu Display

The final next step in the meal planning process is creating a display for your new weekly menu. Some suggestions are:

  • Writing your weekly menu on a chalkboard;
  • Pinning your meal idea cue cards onto a cork or magnetic board; or
  • Writing your menu on a piece of paper or magnetic whiteboard and sticking it on the fridge.

The basic idea is to make the menu visible to the whole family and easy to change from week to week. I decided to put a corkboard in the kitchen where I can pin up my meal cue cards and keep a box with the cue cards near the board.

Putting it All Together

Once the meal planning system is in place, it works like clockwork. I choose four to five meals for the week (depending on the week I’ll leave one to two blank cards for a frozen make-ahead meal or takeout), one to two breakfast and snack items, and one make-ahead meal for the weekend.

The ingredients for my meals are written on the back of the cue cards making it easy to create a shopping list. And, since I integrated my healthy eating resolutions into my meal planning, I know I’ll always be getting a healthy meal.