3 Ways to Make Meal Planning Faster and Easier

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

Meal planning. You’ve heard its benefits have been touted by nearly every one, but something always holds you back. It’s much easier to stand in front of the full refrigerator trying to figure out what to make. Right?

I’m not going to lie–I don’t always plan my meals out before hand. I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking that I’ll just get ingredients I like and then I’ll decide when it’s time to make something. Buuuuut, I’ve also learned that’s when we waste the most food and I spend way too much time deciding when I don’t actually have the time to be deciding. I need a meal NOW!

So, why do we do this to ourselves? I think one reason is because figuring out what to feed your family day in and day out is daunting. Meal planning is hard. Well, I mean, it isn’t hard, as much as it can be time consuming. And you know the most time consuming part? Deciding what to make!

That’s the trick, right? The deciding part. Which is why having a system in place makes it sooooooooo much easier, and faster and less exhausting. Because when you do go to the store, you know what to buy, don’t waste ingredients and can actually make meals faster because you know what you’re doing.

Here are 3 things that I’ve done to make meal planning easier and faster:

Pick a weekly theme

This is helpful for lots of reasons. One, it helps you narrow down your choices, so it’s not as hard to decide. Also, you’re more likely to be using similar ingredients, so you’ll waste less food. My favorite though is to use it to learn about food from countries around the world.

Here are a few ways you can choose a theme to make meal planning easier.

  1. Cuisine type–you could do a week of salads. These could all be green salads, or you can broaden you definition to include pasta salad, chicken salad, etc. Or you could do breakfast foods, bowls, casseroles, backyard BBQ, appetizers only, soups etc.
  2. Country or region–This is one of our favorites. We pick a country, find recipes that originated there, or are part of that country’s culture and make them. With more than 175 countries in the world, this can keep you busy for a while! A friend of mine went through the alphabet in order and chose a country with that name to make food from to teach her kids their letters too.
  3. Designate each day with its own theme: Monday is meatless, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is leftovers, Thursday is casserole, Friday is fish and seafood, Saturday is take out, Sunday is Slow Cooker.

Make meals with the same ingredients

This isn’t the same as a theme. There are several meals that use the same ingredients but are very different from each other–in just about every way!

I had used this method before, but I didn’t really do it consistently until I found the Cook Once, Eat All Week Cookbook by Cassy Joy Garcia. Seriously, it’s one of my favorites ever!

Her method is simple–each week there is a protein, starch and vegetable and 3 meals that they make (plus bonus dinner options) that are diverse, healthy and made fresh. Honestly, when I first started using it I didn’t even prep cook. I just started each recipe from scratch and it worked fine.

You can easily incorporate this method, either with the cookbook, or on your own. Just pick your protein, starch and vegetable and look up recipes that use them.

Pick one source for recipes

Instead of scouring the internet, or all of your cookbooks, for meals just pick one source. This dramatically cuts down on the decision making necessary for planning. One friend told me she only makes meals from Rocco DiSpirito’s website. So, find a food blog or website you think looks good, or pull our your favorite cookbook and stick with it–at least for a week.

When it comes to meal planning, having that plan be simple and repeatable is key to making it as painless as possible. I hope these tips help make your meal planning faster and easier for your family.


  1. Crystal | 11th May 20

    Such great tips! Love meal planning. It just makes your life feel so in order.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 11th May 20

      Thanks! It really does! When I don’t do it I feel so lost =)

  2. Tricia Snow | 11th May 20

    Making meals with the same ingredients was always my MO. You save money and time by doing it that way. Our roast beef turned into beef stroganoff or fajitas the next day! My kids were never bored.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Yes! That’s such a great way to do it for sure!

  3. Beth Shields | 11th May 20

    So helpful to have a meal plan. I live alone and usually do it for health reasons. But as of late, I have not been very persistent and it has become evident. My budget is good because I can’t run to the store for this or that – but its not been the healthiest for me. Its on my to-do list and your post has encouragement to do this. My daughter-in-law is a meal planner and does great with it. Thanks!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Oh, I know how that can go Beth. A lot of things can be let go of when routines change. I’m glad this was helpful motivation for you!

  4. Douglas J. | 11th May 20

    These are great tips. I like choosing a geographical theme.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Thanks! It helps when you love traveling too! =)

  5. Danielle Ardizzone | 11th May 20

    Great tips! My recipes come from all over, and I find that distracting. I have to narrow down my sources.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Thanks! I hope this is helpful for you then! I know that when I have too many resources I get distracted too!

  6. Mariah French | 11th May 20

    I really like your tip to cook meals that use the same ingredients. It would be so much cheaper to buy a lot of one thing that day rather than a bunch of little things.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Thanks! I’ve found that it really does save money–and food from going to waste for sure!

  7. Holly | 11th May 20

    Sometimes I feel like meal planning takes more time, but your tips are really great and I’m need to try to focus more on meal planning because it really does save money…and frustration!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      I totally understand being resistant to doing it. I’ve also gone seasons without and definitely feel more scattered and not sure what to make at dinner time. I hope these tips help make it easier for you!

  8. Lisa Manderino | 11th May 20

    I like that cook once and eat all week idea! I have been meal planning a lot more these last few weeks!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Isn’t it awesome!? It makes things sooo much easier!

  9. Debbie | 11th May 20

    Good advice. Planning is key. Prepping food and having ingredients readily available for several different dishes is great!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Yes! the planning really is important for making life and cooking easier.

  10. Linda Egeler | 11th May 20

    I must admit, meal planning is not my thing. It really isn’t something that I enjoy and there are days where the “What’s for dinner?” question is almost more than I can bear. Cook Once, Eat All Week sounds like the exact philosophy that I need!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Oh, I totally hear you Linda. It can be a total pain to try to figure out what to cook beforehand…and then the inevitable “what’s for dinner?” is the worst!!!! I hope this helps you make it easier!!

  11. Lee Anne | 12th May 20

    Great ideas! I Have been trying to implement themed stuff to make things more fun!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Thanks! I really like adding a theme, it DOES make it more fun!

  12. Sara - Seek Discover Learn | 12th May 20

    I’ve heard about the book Cook Once, Eat All Week, but I had forgotten about it. I’ll have to actually look into it this time. Being at home and having to cook every night is starting to wear me down a little bit. I miss the nights that we would grab dinner at the concession stand at the ballpark before my son and daughter’s ball games.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Yes, definitely do check it out. It’s really been a lifesaver for us. And my kids have liked EVERYTHING I’ve made from it. It’s a miracle. I’ll be doing a full review of just the cookbook in a few weeks.
      The cooking every night is really wearing for sure! Hopefully we can get back out there soon!

  13. Lisa Maslyk | 12th May 20

    I really need to plan my meals, this is a great way to get started!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      I hope it helps Lisa!

  14. Suzan | It's My Sustainable Life | 12th May 20

    Great tips! I fear I’ve always just winged it 🙂

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Well, you’re definitely not alone in that. Hope they help make things a bit easier for you.

  15. Eva Keller | 12th May 20

    Great ideas! We like to do this with our grocery shopping. I make a list every couple of weeks, or whenever we’re running low and we discuss what dinners sound good for the upcoming week. We build up our list from there based off of ingredients that we’ll need to use repeatedly until they’re gone so they don’t go to waste like shredded lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. If we buy all of those for one meal, at least half is always still leftover and they don’t last long, so we always plan our next meal around what would help us finish off those ingredients.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      Oh, that’s a brilliant way to do it. I love planning around using all the ingredients so we don’t waste things.

  16. heather J jandrue | 12th May 20

    Anything I can do to make meal planning easier, I am all for. Great tips!

  17. Kendra | 12th May 20

    I love doing the one you suggest using one ingredient for the whole week. We’ve done that recently with a whole turkey made into multiple different meals and a ham. I still have a big pork roast to work on soon.

  18. Diane Kurzava | 12th May 20

    I cook like a episode of Chopped, but that’s mostly because I forget where all the recipes are that I’ve set away to make later. Using just one resource sounds like an idea I need to follow.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th May 20

      lol, I tend to do that when I’m low on groceries. I use this app called Paprika that saves all of the ones I find online in one place. It’s a life saver!

  19. jen | 12th May 20

    I have started meal planning more in the past year or so. I have a handful of recipes that I know my family will eat and I usually rotate them in and out. It’s been easier to meal plan now that we’re home and we don’t have activities every night.

  20. Charlene | 12th May 20

    I have been doing more of the meal planning and prep since the quarantine started because my husband is still working. I love finding new meals with simple ingredients that can be used in multiple meals throughout the week!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 13th May 20

      That’s great Charlene! I do too. =)

  21. Santana | 13th May 20

    Sometimes I forget to take anythong out for supper and just end up throwing it in the instant pot… I think I need to meal plan lol

  22. Tonya | the Writer Mom | 13th May 20

    I love these ideas! I recently started meal planning again, and it makes life so much easier.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 13th May 20

      Thanks! It really does! I hope this helps keep you going =)

  23. Sandi | 14th May 20

    I love the pick a theme idea. I never considered it, but it makes sense. Thank you

    • Kirsten Reeder | 14th May 20

      Oh, thanks! Glad it was helpful =)

  24. Katherine Wolfe | 14th May 20

    Great tips! I hate meal planning but I love the results, ha ha, so these tips look like enough to motivate me to get back to it.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 14th May 20

      I totally understand. If I don’t follow one of these things, I hate it too. And when I don’t plan, then making dinner is such a chore! I hope this is motivating for you. =)

  25. Alice | 16th May 20

    I love the pick a country and make their food idea. Grat way to learn about cultures!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 16th May 20

      Thanks! It’s one of our favorites too!

  26. Tiffany | 17th May 20

    Never thought of using a theme or keeping the same list of ingredients. Maybe that would help with less waste as well in the fridge! Will give this a go!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 17th May 20

      It took me a looooong time to figure that out too! It really does help save on food waste. Let me know how it goes!

  27. Cindy | 17th May 20

    I don’t consistently do meal planning, but when I do, it makes the week go more smoothly! I’m plant based, so an afternoon spent in the kitchen on the weekend, prepping veggies, cooking brown rice, making vegetable broth and sauces, goes a long long way in making meals during the week easy.

  28. Melissa Jones | 17th May 20

    I used to be so good at meal planning! I need to get back to doing this!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 18th May 20

      I’ll admit, I’ve gone in phases for sure… And when I get back into it I think, why did I stop this?!

  29. Ruth Iaela-Pukahi | 24th May 20

    I’m horrible at meal planning. I used to be better when I was a stay at home mom but now my mind is so wrapped up in making sure we have the money to buy the food and survive, meal planning has been thrown to the side. 🙁 Since the stay home stuff has been going on, I’ve been asking my kids what they want for the week so I don’t have to think. LOL. I am very interested in the cook once, eat all week idea!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *