Free Printable Meal Planner and Menu Planning Tips

Collage of printable weekly menu planner images

Use this printable meal planner to make weekly meal planning a cinch! Simply plan out your meals, add them to the printable weekly meal planner, and never have to ask the question, “what’s for dinner,” again!

Weekly meal planner with a spoon and pen

Everyone says that this time that we’ve all been at home is a time to figure out the things that you really want in life. We’ve all been forced into living simpler, slower lives for safety sake and honestly I’ve been loving it.

We’ve done everything from a virtual scavenger hunt to my son’s birthday party at home ! And we’ve come up with tons of new recipes like the best ever cinnamon streusel coffee cake and better than takeout fried rice .

One of the things my husband and I have talked about for years is doing weekly meal plans, shopping, prep, and well you get it.

Talked about is the key phrase in that sentence. We’ve been married for 13 years and as much as we’ve talked about it, something always got in the way.

We like eating out too much. I mean hello eating all the best Disneyland food .

We travel too much.

There are activities, church meetings, work to get done, etc.

But the past eight weeks we haven’t had any of those things. It’s been a little bittersweet but at the end of the day, it’s been kind of a blessing.

And for the first time in our lives, we’ve meal planned for eight weeks straight, and it’s been amazing.

It’s one of those things that when we can return to a sense of normal that I definitely want to keep doing.

Luckily the meal planning we’ve been doing is simple enough that it’ll hopefully still work when we add in travel, activities, and some of the business that kept us from doing it in the first place.

How to Use this Printable Meal Planner

I’m going to share what we’ve been doing along with the printable meal planner that we’ve been using. It’s simple and universal enough that hopefully it should work for anyone!

Our meal planner is simple and to the point but still has all of the information you need for meal planning! Great whether you’re doing a regular menu or a Whole 30 meal plan .

1 – Take Stock of What You Have

Once a week my husband and I sit down after the kids go to bed and plan out our meals for the week. We used to do this on Sunday nights but now we get a local produce pickup on Wednesdays so meal planning has transitioned to Wednesdays instead!

The first thing we do is take stock of what we have in this order to brainstorm meal ideas.

  1. Perishables – anything that we need to use that will go bad in the next week
  2. Meat – what meat do we have on hand either fresh or frozen that we’d like to use. We try to rotate through a variety of meats during the week.
  3. Anything else – breads, tortillas, pizza dough, anything else we bought and want to use

I typically write down a list of the things we have on a separate sheet of paper (or you can do it on the back but you’ll see how I use that instead below).

2 – Brainstorm Meal Ideas

Once we’ve come up with a list of the things we know we want to use that week, we start just brainstorming ideas of things that sound good.

The photo below can give you an idea of our brainstorming process – there are obviously more meal ideas here then we have in a week!

Back of a printable meal planner with meal ideas

super bowl games for kids

If we need ideas, I typically just Google or search Pinterest using ingredients I know we want to use. It’s amazing how easy it is to find meal ideas quickly if you search two or three ingredients.

We also typically go through my recipe index and add at least 1-2 of our favorite recipes each week just because we know they’ll be easy to make. These are some of our foolproof regular meals that show up on our meal planner a lot because we can use them in different varieties.

A lot of the time our list of meals that were brainstormed is longer than we need for the week, so it makes meal planning for future weeks even easier! Just keep a running list and erase/cross things out as you make them.

3 – Schedule meals into the week

Once you’ve brainstormed a list of meals, it’s time to start narrowing it down and putting them into the schedule.

But before you do that, I recommend talking about your week and what you have going on. Right now our schedule is pretty much wide open but in the future when we are back to activities and working, the conversation might go a bit like this.

  • K has baseball practice on Tuesday night so we need to do a really quick meal or something that incorporates leftovers from Monday.
  • Britni has a church activity on Thursday night where she’ll be fed dinner so Thursday should be something just for the boys (or leftovers).

Once you’ve figured out what your weekly schedule looks like, it’s easier to know which meals make the most sense when. You don’t want to plan on lasagna if you only have 30 minutes for dinner.

Pick out the meals you want to eat and put them on the calendar.

Dinners filled in a printable weekly meal planner

And one pro tip – try to make meals that work together.

For instance, we’re doing a roast chicken and potatoes for dinner tonight and then going to use the leftover chicken for this homemade chicken noodle soup tomorrow.

Do taco rice bowls one night, double the rice, and use the rice for this amazing fried rice recipe the next day!

4 – Add prep work into the weekly meal planner

Since we’ve only been grocery shopping every 2-3 weeks, we’ve been using a lot of frozen meat. The problem is that if you don’t remember to thaw the meat the night before, you don’t have meat for dinner.

There’s a section on the printable meal planner that says “prep.” We use this for things that have to be done the night before or much earlier than actual meal prep.

This could be anything from defrosting meat to cooking rice (if you’re making fried rice). We use this as our reminder of what has to be done before we go to bed.

Colorful meal ideas on a printable meal planner

5 – Create your shopping list

I started this meal planning process with taking stock of what you have and brainstorming ideas based on what you already have. The goal is that you meal plan to use up the food you already have on hand rather than going grocery shopping and buying a ton of new stuff just to cook.

So I’m putting create your shopping list here but honestly, we try to meal plan based on what we already have. The shopping list portion is there for us to add things we run out of and know we need to pick up at the grocery store the next time.

Things like spices, eggs, breads, and other perishables. It’s our running list so that when we’re headed to the grocery store the next time I can print out my “things we aways buy list,” and add the few things that we ran out of of and have an already created shopping list all ready to go!

Download the Printable Meal Planner

Enter your first name and email address in the form below to get a free copy of this printable weekly meal planner. It’s a one-page PDF that looks exactly as shown in the images in this post.

I highly recommend laminating it and using wet erase markers (so it doesn’t get erased easily) so you can just clean it at the end of the week and start again.

You can always just print out a new one each week, but laminating saves paper and remembering to do it!

If you do not see the form below, click here to get to it .

Pens, spoons, and a weekly meal planner

Recipes to Add to Your Meal Plan

Here’s a week’s worth of our favorite recipes that would make a great addition to your printable meal planner this week! There’s a little chicken, sausage, pork, and beef!

Don’t forget to pin this printable meal planner for later!

Collage of printable weekly menu planner images