Free Meal Planner Template + Most Helpful Meal Planning Tips
Updated on October 23, 2021 by Amber & The Team
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I love planning my meals. It helps me to stay on track with healthy eating habits and saves me a ton of time choosing what’s for dinner or while shopping for groceries.
I used to never plan my meals, and it always ended up in a food disaster. Either I ate something quick and unhealthy, or bought tons of food to cook just to never actually decide WHAT to cook.
Meal planning, however, helped me to improve this part of life and I think it can help you too! In this article, I’m sharing a free meal planner template and my absolute best meal planning tips, ideas, and tricks to help you quickly become a meal planning pro.
Beginner Guide To Meal Planning
Why It’s Important To Plan Your Meals?
I believe the most important reason to plan your meals is health. Period. Nothing else is as essential.
When you plan your meals, either using a meal planner template or a meal planning app, you control what, when, and how much you’re eating. You can avoid unhealthy choices that happen when you’re really hungry and can’t decide what’s your best (and fastest!) option to cook. You avoid overeating and you can stay on track with your health or weight loss goals.
However, there are a ton of meal planning benefits that aren’t related to health!
Once I started planning my meals, here’s what happened in my life:
- I stopped throwing out tons of expired ingredients that I didn’t use up (it’s horrible, I know… I’m completely ashamed of it and I just want to forget about it);
- I managed to eat a very clean and healthy diet, just like I always wanted;
- I was able to coordinate the whole week of meals with my partner to make sure both of us are happy with the food choices we made;
- Even when I was tired, I always knew what I am going to cook. A healthy meal plan meant there was no more energy wasted on googling meal recipes;
- I saved a lot of money since I wasn’t buying too much unnecessary food or food for “in case someone comes over.”
What Is a Meal Plan?
A meal plan is a list of meals in a form of a planned menu for every upcoming weekday. It usually includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. Some (including the meal planner template you will find below) also include a shopping list so you can also plan your purchases at the grocery store.
How To Plan Your Meals
Meal planning is simple, but one thing is essential – you have to develop a habit of sitting down for 15-20 minutes every once in a while (Sunday or Monday work great!) and thinking of meals that would suit your entire week best. I don’t recommend Saturday for this task because Saturdays are for fun, okay? Fridays too!
To help myself decide what I want, I love to scroll through Pinterest to see if there are any new recipes I like. Otherwise, I simply decide on my favorite healthy meals and write them down in my weekly meal planner template.
If my partner wants to eat something else, we try to think of two meals with similar ingredients to make sure we’re not buying too many products that we can physically use up until they expire. Right now, I’ve simplified my nutrition to several clean, tasty, and healthy meals that I repeatedly eat throughout the whole week. I’m doing this for weight loss purposes, but I noticed that it saves me even more time on meal planning and grocery shopping. It even saves me money and I don’t even have to look for recipes anymore!
What Are The 5 Basic Steps Of Meal Planning?
Some people like to quickly write down their meal choices, but there’s also a more extensive way to plan your meals for the best results. I love to do it when I get bored with the same food choices and long for more variety in my diet.
- Step 1 – make a list of all of your favorite meals, including the meals you would like to be eating for health or weight loss reasons. It’s best to structure this list as well (list all of your favorite breakfast meals, lunch choices, and your favorite dinners).
- Step 2 – do a quick kitchen inventory to find out what ingredients you already have.
- Step 3 – decide on what you’re planning to eat every day for the upcoming week.
- Step 4 – make a list of the required ingredients as well. If needed, find related recipes with step by step instructions and bookmark them.
- Step 5 – take a trip to the grocery store and stock up your fridge, pantry, and freezer on the required ingredients.
After finishing all of these steps you will have:
- Your meal plan that is filled with the meals you like;
- Meal recipes and ingredients you require for cooking.
All that’s left is simply cooking! If you need reminders on cooking, go ahead and schedule cooking times in your google calendar too.
Free Weekly Meal Planner Template (Printable)
Printable weekly meal planners are one of the easiest ways to start meal prepping. I know it’s not the most “modern” way, but I’ve tried both modern and conservative ways to use a planner and paper won anyway. So if you’d like to plan your meals as well, here’s a cute, free weekly meal planner template printable that I love to use for my meal planning.
It’s free for your personal use, and all you have to do is print a bunch of these to have them ready whenever you sit down and plan your weekly nutrition + grocery list. It’s important that your menu template doesn’t feel too overwhelming, so it will look like this:
Grab Your Free Weekly Meal Planner Template
Choose according to the paper size you use:
Note that some weekly meal plan templates have a snacks section, but this particular meal planner template doesn’t. That’s intentional. I like to keep the snack part free-to-choose so I can snack on exactly what I want at that moment (kind of allowing myself to be a mindful eater). Here’s my favorite tip: list several different snack choices on the other side of this template. Then, choose the snacks that are most appealing to your stomach at the moment, but always keep your choices tied to this list. You don’t want to end up snacking on too many cookies. (I mean, cookies are okay… It’s the too many cookies I don’t recommend).
If you’re looking for a cleaner weekly meal planner printables, check out this one from my Planner Essentials collection:
It’s an excellent weekly menu planner template for minimal design lovers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Meal Planning
How Do I Make a Monthly Meal Plan?
To create a monthly meal plan using this meal planner template, print 4 copies of this template on two sheets of paper. Mark every sheet with week numbers (week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4). Then plan your meals for your whole month. If using this method, I still recommend going grocery shopping once a week to make sure you have the fresh ingredients you need every week.
P. S. You can also use monthly meal planner templates that fit the whole month on one page. I personally don’t use them because they end up being too small and it’s hard to write on them, especially if your handwriting is on the bigger side.
How Do I Make My Meal Plan Easier?
If meal planning sounds like too much work for you, make sure to simplify where possible:
- You can choose to cook bigger meals so you can eat them on lunch, dinner and sometimes – even the next morning;
- You can shop for groceries online and have them delivered to your door;
- If you live with your partner, you can decide to have the same meals and cook them together (saves a ton of time!);
- Don’t limit yourself – if you like to eat out in a restaurant once in a while, grab some take-out or microwave a freezer dinner – that’s absolutely fine. We’re humans, not robots. It’s okay to sometimes say “no” to cooking. The earth won’t stop turning just because you’re too lazy to cook that chicken stew.
- Remember that it’s okay to swap meals, change your plans on the go or forget to buy a particular component. It happens a lot when you just start managing your meal planner template (but it gets a lot easier each week).
How Do You Plan a Simple Meal?
Sometimes, planning just your weekly menu is not enough. Some recipes may require their own planning. To make things simple, here’s what I recommend:
- Find a recipe for your meal. If your meal consists of a main dish, side dish, and salad, find a recipe for each of them;
- Print these recipes (or save them to your device);
- Make a master ingredients list and include all of the things you need to get for your meal;
- Go shopping!
- Start cooking approx. 30 minutes earlier than it would take you to finish cooking. This way, you don’t have to rush and there’s enough time to avoid any cooking trouble.
Other Things You Can Achieve With a Meal Planner
If you would like to step up your meal planning game, there are even more ways to plan your weekly food choices. Go ahead and expand your meal planning to:
- Achieve specific meal serving sizes;
- Achieve specific nutritional value (calories) for your meals;
- Include specific nutrient-dense foods in your meal planner template (for example, more meals made from Vitamin-D rich ingredients);
- List specific requests from your family members;
- If cooking for allergic people, write down foods or ingredients to skip in cooking;
- Have separate pages for pantry inventory, refrigerator inventory, and freezer contents;
- Make a list of ingredients you have with expiration dates (then use up the ones that are closest to their date);
- Make a binder or book where you collect interesting recipes you find online;
- Try a digital meal planner template on your Android or iPad;
- Try a spreadsheet meal planner on your PC;
- Print and fill a separate meal planner template for kids (and let them decide what they want);
- Decide if you might also need a water tracker or drinks section in your meal planner template (I personally don’t, but I know some people who find that absolutely essential);
- Try different meal planner template versions – vertical, horizontal, with blank spaces, without blank spaces… Whatever suits you best!
I hope you loved this mini-guide on how to plan your meals and will try this nutritional/organizational approach yourself. Meal prep is such a nice way to take care of your health and diet. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegetarian, keto, whole360, vegan, weight watchers – you can improve your nutrition by simply planning your meals once a week. Your weekly menu can become so much more interesting. Your family members are sure to appreciate that as well. No matter how advanced you are in your healthy lifestyle journey, meal planning is definitely worth your attention.
If you like these tips, scroll down for more – there’s so much more I want to share with you.
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