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In a pickle: How to properly plan a meal

Here’s an in-depth look at meal planning made easy, with links to recipes to make it even simpler!

Woman cooking dinner

The idea of meal planning seems great, doesn’t it? Everything’s prepared and ready to go for the week, making your busy life that much easier. Meal planning saves you money, reduces stress and frees up your mind to think about things other than “What should I make for dinner?” throughout the day.

But why is it just so dang hard to follow through with this seemingly simple plan? Here, we’re looking at ways to plan properly and providing tips to ensure you’ll follow through!

Set aside time

Be specific! Don’t just think you’ll plan “on Sunday,” but go further and decide specifically when on Sunday you’ll sit down and plan your meals. Perhaps wake up an hour before you normally would to search for recipes and make a list. Another idea is to take advantage of the upcoming football season and meal plan/grocery shop when your husband’s engrossed in the game.

Simplify your meals

Planning your meals doesn’t mean you need to serve restaurant-quality, five-course dinners each night. Instead, think simple. There are seven days in one week — let’s break it down. Plan on cooking four nights per week, reserving one night for “fending,” one night for leftovers and one night for ordering a pizza or dining out (optional). Of the four nights you’re cooking, 2-3 of those nights should be easy go-to recipes you know your family loves. Reserve the other night(s) for trying a new dish or challenging yourself!

Simple go-to meal ideas

Easy dinner ideas |

Think sides

Write down 3-5 sides per week that would pair well with the meals you’ve chosen. This can be a salad, wild rice, pasta salad, veggies, potatoes or rolls. Again, keep it simple by choosing side dishes that are easy to make and compatible with each dish. By being fully stocked with sides each week, you can be flexible and make side dishes to match the hunger of your family. If everyone’s starving, serve your summertime pasta with wild rice and rolls. If the clan isn’t too hungry, the summertime pasta itself should suffice.

Don’t forget breakfast and lunch

Typically, dinners are the most challenging meals to plan, but that doesn’t mean breakfast and lunch get skipped! If your mornings are hectic, keep cereals, granola bars, fresh fruit and easy things like eggs and bacon on hand. Another idea is to make breakfast bars on the weekend to have throughout the week. We love these quinoa peanut butter banana bars — healthy and delicious! For lunch, opt for leftovers, cold-cut sandwiches, fresh veggie sticks, pasta salads, pitas with hummus and other quick options.


The key to meal planning is to make it enjoyable. If you love to cook, find creative ways to challenge yourself in the kitchen with varying recipes. If cooking isn’t your thing, keep it simple! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with serving your family dishes that don’t require massive amounts of prep work and time.

More on cooking

Ladies on the go: Quick breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas
How to cook — well! — on a budget
Shortcuts to speed up dinner

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