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5 Simple Steps to Easy Meal Planning

easy meal planning

It’s that time of year again. School supplies have been on sale for weeks, the pool is closing, and the little yellow school bus will be stopping for all of the children up and down our street. And for us homeschoolers, it’s time to move from summer routine to the busyness of the school year. Does that mean the end of easy meal planning?

The beginning of our homeschool year brings with it not just academic work but co-op and other group activities, piano lessons, sports conditioning, AWANA, and more. It can be a struggle to put good meals on the table while juggling all of the various activities in our day.

Something I’ve learned along the way, though, is that a lot of times easy meal planning comes down to good organization.

A few years ago, I put together a grocery and meal planning system that saves me oodles of time while still making sure my family gets nutritious meals at a reasonable hour. Taking the time to organize in this way has made all the difference in keeping up with good meals even in the busy weeks.

Here is a step-by-step guide to how I accomplished easy meal planning…and how you can as well!

My Easy Meal Planning System

Anytime you dive into a new planning system, organization is an essential component. So, the first step to building an easy meal planning system is to gather the right supplies.

Here are the supplies you will need for this meal planning system:

  • your family’s cookbooks and recipe box or links to favorite online recipes that you can print out
  • blank business cards
  • plastic business card holders (that will fit into three-ring binders)
  • permanent markers
  • pens and a highlighter
  • access to a spreadsheet or word processor and printer

1. Start by collecting your family’s favorite recipes from their current location. Write the name of each recipe, where it is located, and any side dishes on the front of the business cards. Then flip the card over and write all of the necessary ingredients for each recipe and side dish on the back of the card.

While you’re creating these cards, don’t forget favorite meals that don’t necessarily have recipes. For instance, you might have a favorite take-out meal or there might be a frozen dinner that you keep on hand for when you’re really tight on time. Go ahead and write those down to have available for your easy meal planning system.

I even have a few cards that say “leftovers” and “out to eat,” making these options easy to work into the meal plan as needed or desired.

2. Next, to create accessible storage for your easy meal planning system, use a permanent marker to label seven of the spaces on the business card holder with a day of the week. Leave the extra spaces blank. These extra spaces can hold the cards you’re not using for the current week.

I plan for five weeks of meals at a time, so I made five sets of these holders. My meal planning only covers evening meals, but you could follow the same procedure for lunches and breakfasts as well.

3. Now it’s time to set up your easy meal planning system for quick and easy grocery shopping. Using a spreadsheet or word processor, make a list of all of the ingredients on all of the recipe cards.

You’ll also want to add any non-food items that you regularly purchase on grocery trips, such as trash bags or laundry detergent. Doing this makes your easy meal planning system even more functional, since you can just reference this one list for all regular shopping needs.

I divided my list up according to category and put them in the order they are found at my favorite grocery store.

4. Now that your easy meal planning system is all set up, you’re ready for weekly meal planning!

With calendar handy, complete your meal planning by selecting the meals you want for the coming week and placing those cards in each day’s space of the business card holder. This system allows an easy exchange of cards until a workable meal plan is in place. The Well Planned Day Homeschool and On the Go planners and the Well Planned Gal’s Online Planner would all work well with this system.

5. After all of the spaces contain a card, flip the holders so the ingredients side is up. Print off your grocery list and, using a highlighter, mark each ingredient on your list.

If I need multiples of certain ingredients, I make tally marks next to it. Then I just take the list to the store for an easy shopping trip!

Obviously, this system takes a little bit of time to set up. But, once it’s done, it makes life so much easier! Using this easy meal planning system, I can plan our menus for the month and make a grocery list in about ten minutes. If our plans change for a meal, I can just switch out the cards and make that meal another night.

How do you menu plan? Is it a joy or a challenge? Take our Planner Personality Quiz to discover your planner personality type and discover tips to help you plan effectively, no matter what your personality may be.

At age eight, Stephenie McBride developed a life-long interest in teaching others. She taught English as a Second Language and Kindergarten in a public school for six years. Stephenie and her husband, Ben, adopted their two children from Kolkata, India, in 2000 and 2004. She has been an at-home parent and home educator since 2001. They use an eclectic mix of materials and approaches, with a strong emphasis on Charlotte Mason. Stephenie is the Assistant Editor of Publications for Home Educating Family Magazine. She also created and writes for Crestview Heights Academy Homeschool Curriculum. You can read more about Stephenie and her eclectic homeschooling adventures at

  • Renee

    That’s a great system. I will definitely try it! I also use tally marks when I make my grocery list. One time my husband went grocery shopping for me and came back with several boxes of chicken broth. He apologized for not buying 11 because they ran out. He thought my two tally marks was the number 11. Lol

    October 13, 2013 at 1:18 am Reply
  • Sandi Cullers

    I really enjoyed the article. I live in a senior bldg and this has given me some ides for Potlucks!

    Sandi Cullers

    August 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm Reply

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