Meal planning for families can be one of the most stressful tasks, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ll explain the meal planning process and template I use, and at the end of this post, you can download two free versions — one blank and one already completed with three weeks of meals.
Meal planning then vs. now — so very different!
I used to love cooking dinner. Meal planning for my family, when it was just me and my husband, was more of a hobby than a chore. I didn’t really need a meal plan template because I had all the time in the world and I found meal planning enjoyable.
Then we had three kids (and there’s one more on the way).
Suddenly, meal planning for families wasn’t something I wanted to do. Planning the family dinners (and breakfasts and lunches) felt like a ton of work — like all this pressure weighing down on me Every. Single. Day.
I didn’t have time to leisurely browse the grocery store because someone was always pushing/fighting/crying. I couldn’t easily browse cookbooks and Pinterest for family meal planning inspiration because I was constantly interrupted.
I also couldn’t cook half the meals I used to without listening to multiple kids whine about the selection. I’m a big fan of “the kids eat what we eat” philosophy, within reason, but I also don’t make too many dishes I know they all hate.
Listening to incessant whining after you’ve worked hard to prepare a meal isn’t high on my list of fun things to do.
Enter: The Easiest Meal Planning Template Ever!
Finally, I developed this weekly meal plan template that changed everything for me.
It made planning dinner *soooooo* much easier, because the basic framework was always done. To me, the hardest thing about meal planning for families is starting from scratch. Now, I never have to do that.
This meal planning template also made it easy to plan a meal that everyone in my family would eat (or at the very least, I could make a meal plan with only one family member hating dinner each night. With three kids ages 2, 5, and 7, that’s good enough for me.)
How to Structure Your Meal Planning Template
To make this meal planning template work for my family, I designate a different day for different types of dishes. All of the days are interchangeable. For simplicity, I assign each dish/theme in this meal plan to a particular day (plus, it’s hard to create a meal planning template if you can’t actually make a template).
You can mix this up according to what your family likes (and/or what you like to cook), but for us it looks like this:
Friday: Snack Dinner/Easy Dinner
Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner
In any given week, I will swap out one of the days on this meal plan for leftovers, and possibly change another day to eating out/delivery (or more than one day, if the budget is there and things are crazy).
During soccer season, Tuesdays and Thursdays often become easy, fast dinner nights (mac and cheese, hot dogs, whatever), and MWF are the weeknights with “real” dishes. The point is, having this meal planning template in place makes it pretty easy for me to plan a week’s worth of dinners at a glance, even if I don’t stick to it rigidly.
This meal plan also makes it feel like we’re not doing the same thing every single week. In fact, I’ve been using this general format for months and no one has really caught on (I’m not calling my family unobservant, but…)
Here’s a few examples of how this meal plan works in our family:
One Sunday I might grill burgers, another Sunday I might grill some bbq chicken, yet another Sunday I might do soup or a stew. That’s three weeks of Sundays on this meal plan template without any of the Sundays being the same.
For Mexican/Tuesday (we do this because of the Lego Movie and Taco Tuesday– the kids are sold on the combination): one week might be shrimp tacos, another tacos/nachos with ground beef, the third Tuesday might be chicken quesadillas. Again, all three days are different, but they all fit the general framework of the template which makes things so much easier.
Anyone who knows me in real life knows that having a meal planning template or schedule really appeals to my Type-A side.
Of course, anyone who knows me also knows that our household typically looks like a chaotic dumpster fire by 5:00 pm, so all our planning has to be flexible.
This meal planning process hits both of those needs for our family 🙂
Sometimes I print out the actual meal planning template and hand-write what I plan to make. More often, because I’m too lazy to go down to the printer in the basement, I will save a copy on my Google Drive and periodically update it digitally.
Even more often, I’ll just write in each day of the meal plan in the “Notes” section of my phone. Then I can just continue recycling the weeks of meals with ease (courtesy of copy and paste).
If you want to see what this family meal planning template looks like in our household for a month, you can download the meal planning templates from the resource library. You will get a blank, printable version and a filled-in version that has three weeks-worth of meals already filled in (both free, of course).
If you haven’t already signed up for access to our free resource library (with meal plans, holiday printables, kids activities, etc.), you can get the password by clicking here.
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