What’s For Dinner? Your Guide To Meal Planning PLUS a Fun DIY Meal Planner!

It’s 5PM and I’m standing in front of a slab of frozen meat, cursing at myself for not being more organised. Sound familiar? Let’s talk EASY meal planning and ending dinner time MAYHEM with pop sticks.

Groundhog day be gone. No one wants dinners to be boring or hard. There HAS to be an easier way, AM I RIGHT?

I know there’s a way of avoiding the evening fiasco – and that’s by being organised with meal planning. I love to cook, but deciding on what to cook drives me bonkers. Half an hour spent planning the family meals and grocery shopping once a week, brings a WHOLE WEEK of content!

What is meal planning and will it change my life?

Simply put, meal planning is coming up with a list of dinners and shopping for your family’s meals in advance (as in a week in advance, not two hours before dinner, just to clarify). Will it change your life? Short answer – yes. Meal planning takes the stress out of that last minute Heck, what’s for dinner!? decision every. single. night. It’ll also save you a whole stack of time, limit food wastage and save you money. Also, if you leave your menu plan in plain sight, the kids MIGHT just stop asking you what’s for dinner (only if they can read, obvs).

What do I need and how do I start?

You don’t need a fancy meal planning system, computer software or anything like that to start. Pen and paper will do the trick (though to be fair, Kmart DO sell some pretty sweet meal planner notepads). Or scroll down below to a cute pop stick DIY you could make with the kids.

A good, manageable starting point is to plan the evening meals over a single week. On a Friday night (or any night) look at the week ahead and what you have on, taking into account anyone working late, sports training, very important MAFS watching, etc. What nights will require a quick dinner and on what nights do you have more time to cook? These are important considerations.

Step 1. Set the menu for the week

When starting out in meal planning, it’s super important to think about what you NEED to eat, rather than what you want to eat. A crisper of not so fresh vegetables can be transformed into a casserole or spaghetti sauce rather than being tossed out. Take the shelf cooking approach for week one. Check what you have in your pantry and freezer and let those items determine what you eat for JUST the first week. Random tins of chickpeas can make curries go further. Tin tomatoes can be used for spag bol and pizza sauces!

TIP: Need a hit of meal making inspo? We all know taco Tuesday is an actual thing, but how about sausage Saturday, slow cooker Sunday, meatless Monday or fish Friday?

TIP: When dealing with fussy eaters, let kids choose one or two meals a week they’d like to eat. For sure, they’re going to try adding chicken nuggets or party pies at least once – and you know what, a meal of party pies isn’t going to hurt anyone. Add a healthy side salad and you never know your luck, that might be eaten with gusto too.

TIP: If you always have leftovers, leave a night free for designated leftovers eating. Not enough leftovers for everyone? Have an easy dinner on standby to fill the shortfall – soup or pasta – anything quick and easy!

Shelf cooking pantry

Step 2. Grocery list and shopping, ‘supermarket sweep’ style

You’ve chosen your meals, now is the time to make your shopping list. If you’re serious about wanting to save some money, you need to treat grocery shopping as a mission. Trolley at the ready, hit those supermarket aisles, checking off your list ONLY. Don’t be distracted by a sparkly sales lady or Neil Diamond music blaring through the speakers. If you can return to the car with all the necessary food bought and the budget intact, well done!

TIP: Making a shopping list eliminates ‘just in case’ buying. A few “I might need it…” items, even at only a few dollars each, soon adds up!

TIP: Easily distracted? If your supermarket offers a ‘click and collect’ style service, use it! A pick-up or delivery service is an immediate time saver AND you save money by not throwing unnecessary extras in your trolley.

TIP: If time allows when unpacking groceries, do some meal prep while you have the chance. Cut those vegetables for a stir-fry or marinate those chicken drumsticks so they’re ready. Your future self will thank you for being able to watch more of MAFS the news instead of being in the kitchen.

save money shopping

The end of the week is nearing, what now?

You’ve stuck to the plan all week, dinners have been stress-free and now the end of the week is nigh. Before the planned week is finished, plan the following week just as you did the first. A great way to NOT get stuck in a seven meal cycle is to create a master list of your family’s favourite meals, (including any new recipes you’d like to try) to refer to every week.

TIP: If you’re keen to expand your recipe repertoire, add one new recipe every other week to try. If it gets the clean plate of approval, add it to the meal list. As for a new meal not so well received.. well you win some, you lose some.

TIP: Of course, meal planning isn’t set in stone, but don’t let it all come undone. Mix your chosen meals up to suit the days as unexpected #lifehappens and unplanned things unfold. If you get to Friday night and can only muster the energy to dial for a pizza, well why not. Double olives, please! Be sure to cook up Friday’s meal in the following days though or it’ll end up dying a slow, wasteful death in the fridge.

Meal planning benefits

Healthier choices – More often than not, if you look at your family’s meals for the week as a whole, chances are you’re going to make wiser, healthier choices. Meal planning totally eliminates that whole last minute, panic buying for dinner where nutritional value is sometimes abandoned for the sake of getting something on the table. We’ve all been there and it’s an easy habit to fall into.

Time-saving – I hate to think about how much time I spend thinking about what to cook, not to mention a trip to the supermarket every other day. If I just have to think about it once a week and shop once a week, it’s HAPPY DAYS.

Sanity-saving – I reiterate, no more kids asking “WHAT’S FOR DINNER, MUM?”. Totally worth it!

Money-saving – Save money by wasting less PLUS save money at the supermarket. A quick look through the supermarket catalogue shows you what’s on special for the following week. Plan your meals around these specials to save even more money!

save money grocery bill

Meal Planning Pop Stick DIY

Turn your master list of meals into a weekly display so everyone can SEE what’s for dinner at just a glance. We love the simplicity of Your DIY Family’s pop stick meal planning system. Make your own today!

meal planning pop sticks, DIY

Tell us, are you are a savvy meal planner?  Share your hints and tips below, we’d love to hear them!

Avatar of Lexi Klaebe

South Australian mum and self proclaimed foodie, Lexi can most days be found in the kitchen, apron tied firm and armed with a whisk or wooden spoon!

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