Sometimes it seems harder to plan a week’s worth of dinners than it does to go through the store and mindlessly choose things from the shelves.  Even thinking about what you’re going to eat five days from now is enough to make some people squirm. But planners like me know that an unplanned trip to the grocery will likely result in a hodgepodge of items that together may or may not make a meal.

The following process will help you create a meal plan and shopping list for a week’s worth of dinners in less than 30 minutes.  Planners and non-planners alike can rejoice at the simplicity and cost savings that come with what I’m about to tell you.

Grab a pen and paper. It’s time to step through the grocery shopping process that’s going to save you time and money this week.

Bonus: Sign up for my email list at the bottom of this article for access to my weekly dinner planning printable for free!

Weekly dinner planning in 6 easy steps

Look at next week’s calendar

1 minute

When times are regular, and we’re not all staying home, you’ll likely have several obligations throughout the week. Use this time to figure out a plan for any nights you won’t be able to eat at home. It’s also an excellent time to decide if you’ll want to prep any freezer meals to pop into the oven as needed.

Check the weather

1 minute

Planning around the weather is a great way to determine if the week ahead will be best for grilling out or enjoying a hot meal out of the instant pot.  This gives you a gauge on the types of recipes you’ll be looking for in a bit.

See what you already have at home

5 minutes

Now’s the time to take a quick inventory of the fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Are you running heavy on chickpeas and brown rice? Do you have kale or broccoli that you need to use in the next few days?  Write down ingredients that you have available and would like to incorporate into meals this week. (There’s a section on my weekly dinner planning printable for this!)

From reviewing the supply in my kitchen, I see that we have frozen salmon, chickpeas, broccoli, taco shells, sauces, and spices readily available. I’ll use this list to consider recipes in the next step.

Look up recipes that include your existing ingredients

2-10 minutes (This will take less time if you have go-to recipes or favorites like me. Check out these 11 Easy & Healthy Weeknight Meals for some quick inspiration.)

When you’re looking through recipes, try and come up with meals that share similar ingredients but have different taste profiles.  The last thing you want is your family getting bored after Mexican-style black bean dishes all week or three straight nights of tacos. On a serious note, could anyone ever get sick of tacos? Probably not.

One of the best places for healthy dinner ideas is Pinterest. (Although our house also has a hefty inventory of recipe books). Remember that these recipes don’t need to be complicated. Pasta with sauce is just as good an option as any, especially if you’re limited on time or supplies. I happen to love to cook and tend to get a little more creative with our meals because I enjoy it so much.

Below are the five recipes I chose for a week of eating five nights at home with weather in the 70s. You’ll notice plenty of overlap with ingredients, but all meals are different enough to keep things interesting for the tastebuds. Also, Pad Thai is an excellent dish for the end of the week. It allows you to toss in any extra veggies that might be lying around.

Pro Tip: Several months ago, I made a rule to no longer try any new recipe that takes longer than 30 minutes on a weeknight.  (Shout out to the “stuffed sweet potato” recipe that took 2 hours in the oven to soften enough to be edible. Never forget.) Do yourself a favor and save new recipes that may take longer until the weekend.

Create your grocery list

5 minutes

With the list of ingredients you already have at hand, review the recipes that you’ve chosen and make a list of everything you’ll need to purchase.  If you tend to eat the same meals frequently, you may already have a lot of the staple ingredients. Repeat recipes with similar ingredients can lead to significant savings.

Below is the weekly grocery list for the five recipes above. Because a few of the recipes use the same staple items, I was able to make this list incredibly short.

ingredient list

I sometimes create my grocery lists using the Bear app, shown above if I don’t feel like toting paper to the store. It allows me to quickly click the checkbox to cross off ingredients as I add them to the cart.

Write the meal list in a place everyone can see

2 minutes

Having a weekly menu posted is a nice way to let the whole family know what to expect. Not only should it alleviate the stress of deciding what to make, but hopefully eliminate the “what’s for dinner?” questions you may be getting too.

Our weekly dinner menu goes on this combination tack board and whiteboard in the kitchen. If you use the weekly dinner planning printable, you can stick it up on the fridge for all to see!

weekly dinner menu board

Now you’re all set with an ingredient list tailored to the exact recipes you’ll be making. Add on any breakfast, lunch, and snack items, and you’re ready for the store!

A list helps create an easy weekly dinner plan on a budget

Going to the store with a list is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to save money on groceries. A list should be able to save you a pretty penny as long as you don’t fall prey to the many impulse purchases throughout the store.

Using this method, most weeks, our spending for dinner ingredients is around $50-60. On weeks when we’re spending a little more on staple ingredients like grains, sauces, spices, etc. it gets closer to $70-80. As a result, even in the most expensive weeks, we’re spending less than $8 per person per dinner.

How do I meal plan for one person, a family, or for a whole month?

The great thing about this method is you can scale it up or down to feed one person, a whole family, or use it to plan several weeks out.

When I was weekly dinner planning for one, I would generally pick 2-3 meals per week and rely on leftovers to get me through the other days. I found it challenging to try to make a single serving of any dinner recipe. So I would make the recipe as written and store the rest for later. Doubling is also a great option if you’re feeding a larger family or just one with bigger appetites.

If you’re an extreme planner and looking to do a monthly meal plan, I would recommend following the same steps and still breaking out the ingredient lists weekly. Planning for multiple weeks is a great way to pick recipes with common staple ingredients or repeat recipes. This means you can stock up (especially if something you love is on sale!) then repeatedly use the same ingredients over a few weeks.

Are you planning to try this strategy before your next trip to the store? Do you have another way of weekly dinner planning that has been successful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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