It’s 6 PM on a Wednesday night, and you’re struggling to answer the seemingly simple question, “What’s for dinner?” The truth is, you have no idea what’s for dinner because you didn’t plan it. Or maybe you had an idea of what you were going to cook, only to discover that you don’t have all the ingredients, or you don’t actually have enough time tonight to make it.
It’s one thing to have ideas for meals, but it’s another thing entirely to actually make those meals. You need a plan to turn those ideas into action, and that’s where a meal schedule comes in. By creating a meal schedule, you eliminate the “What’s for dinner?” question.
When dinner time rolls around you’re no longer sitting around wasting energy you don’t have trying to figure out what you can make and if you have the ingredients to make it before everyone has a hangry meltdown. Instead, you already know exactly what you’re making and you can save all of that valuable decision-making energy for more important things.
Keep reading to learn how to create a meal schedule tailored to meet your family’s needs in just 3 simple steps.
Step 1: Think about your schedule
Take a few minutes to answer these questions about your family’s schedule and lifestyle. This will help you choose meals for the week that actually work with your life.
- How many meals do you need to prepare this week (breakfasts, lunches and dinners)?
- Do you plan to cook breakfast or have ready-to-eat options like cereal or instant oatmeal?
- Do any family members need packed lunches for work or school? If so, which days?
- What does your family’s schedule look like this week? Any events that you’ll need to work around (after-school activities, meetings, plans to eat out with friends, etc.)?
- Are there any nights you know you won’t have time to make dinner?
- Are there sales at the grocery store you’d like to plan around?
Step 2: Choose your meals
Use the questions you answered above and your personal recipe collection to plan meals for each day of the week according to what works for your schedule. Be realistic when you choose your meals! Remember, the best recipe is the one you’ll actually make.
Here’s an example of a meal plan that’s tailored to work with a family’s schedule:
How long should you plan for?
My recommendation is to start by creating a meal schedule for one week of meals at a time. This way, it doesn’t take up too much time or feel too overwhelming. Once you’ve made it a habit and have a good sense of what’s going to work for your family, you can move to scheduling more than a week’s worth of meals at a time if you prefer.
Step 3: Record your plan
Write your meal plan down so that it’s easy to remember and access. There is no right or wrong here! Use the planning tool that is going to work best for you.
My Favorite Meal Planning Tools:
- If you aren’t sure where to start, try my printable meal planning template (see below). You can even laminate it and write your meal plan with a dry erase marker to make it re-usable! Keep it on your fridge or next to your family’s activity calendar.
- Paper planners. I personally love the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley, which has a designated meal area on each day page for you to write in your meal plan. Other good options are the Living Well Planner and the LifePlanner. A cheaper, simple day planner or monthly calendar can work great, too!
- Online calendars. Simply add your meal plan to each day on your iCal or Google Calendar and be able to access it on your desktop, tablet or phone anytime.
- Apps. If you’re using a recipe app to manage and store your meal arsenal, it might make sense to also create your meal schedule here. Apps like Pepperplate or Paprika have features that allow you to use your saved recipes to create meal calendars and shopping lists.
In general, I find it’s most useful to add your meal schedule to whatever planning method is already working for you. So, if you keep your family’s schedule organized with a certain planner, calendar, or app, add your meal schedule to that rather than trying to create an entirely new system. If not, maybe just keep it simple and start by creating a meal schedule on this printable template. You can always change scheduling tools later once you have a better sense of what’s going to work for you!
As you can see, creating a meal schedule is really not difficult at all. Take time to think about your family’s schedule, choose meals that work for that schedule, and write down your plan to help you stick to it. That’s it! Make this a habit, and you’ll never struggle to answer the “What’s for dinner?” question again.
Check out these other posts from the How to Meal Plan Like a Dietitian series:
- How to Meal Plan Like a Dietitian in 6 Easy Steps
- Expert Advice on How to Find the Best Healthy Recipes
- Practical Ways to Make a Better Grocery List
- How to Stock Your Pantry Like a Dietitian
- How to Stock Your Freezer Like a Dietitian
- 6 Brilliant Meal Prep Secrets to Save You Time in the Kitchen