Master Family Meal Planning in 3 Steps

by | Aug 14, 2019 | Meal Planning

It’s 5 pm.  Everyone’s starving, and you forgot to thaw out the chicken. 

Again?  UGH.

You KNOW you need a plan, but you wonder what’s the use of pinning recipes that may or may not make the cut? 

Picky eaters + your hectic schedule are stressing. You. Out.

What if I told you meal planning for your family (picky eaters and all) can be simple AND practically stress-free?


Set Your Meal Plan on Autopilot!

Kiss "what's for dinner" stress goodbye with the 3-step process I use to plan meals for our family (picky eaters and all).

From Stressed Out Mama to the Mom With a Master Meal Plan

I’m Kat Charles, and this is my meal planning journey. 

Guys.  In the early days of marriage and motherhood, I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of meal planner.

I would make a list of meals that sounded good for the week, and stroll through the grocery store with list (and possibly a kid or two) in tow.

But if someone needed to go to the bathroom, or there was a diaper blowout, or I was otherwise distracted, I would forget something from my list.

And my meal plan–and my whole week–was thrown all the way off.

Once I got the groceries home, I’d be too tired to cook that night and order takeout…

Our growing kiddos’ rapidly changing palates often altered my meal plans.

And let’s not mention all the time I forgot to use all of the fresh produce I bought, resulting in wasted food AND money.  


It wasn’t long before I found myself in a meal planning rut.  

I craved variety, but I also needed a way to make meal planning easier…

I love to cook, but our busy schedule plus dealing with extra-sensitive palates on a daily basis threatened my sanity.

Something had to change. 

So I set out to find a way to save time, money, and my sanity while providing delicious, reasonably nutritious meals for my family of six.

And lo and behold–I found it.


This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.


Step 1:  Record family favorites.  

Brain dump your family’s favorite breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  Give each family member a chance to collaborate. 

If you don’t know what everyone will eat, you can figure this out–no problem–with a little trial and error. 

Pay attention for a few weeks and note the meals that get rave reviews (or that everyone will at least eat).  You’ll want to come up with at least two weeks worth of meals. (You’ll find out why in Step 3.)


Step 2:  Create a grocery list.  

Are you a paper person?  Use a notepad like this one.

If you’re more digital than analog–keep your list on Trello, a digital notepad like Evernote, or use one of these mobile grocery list apps.  

I like to organize the items on my list by grocery store section to make my shopping trip as smooth and speedy as possible.  


Step 3:  Create a rotating menu.  

This is where having two weeks worth (or more) will come in handy. 

Once you’ve got your list of family favorites, you can add them to your meal plan and rotate them.  If your family doesn’t easily get bored with meals, you can get by with a one- or two-week meal cycle. 

For my family, a four-week cycle has been working very well.



Now that you’ve got a solid plan, all you need is somewhere to put it.  For this part, you can use a paper calendar, or you can use this special meal plan calendar I’ve already made just for you.  *wink wink*

Here’s the how-to:

1)  The first thing you’re going to do is block off any special events, birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays where you might go out for a meal or order takeout.  

2)  Next, add your planned meals to the calendar in any order you like.  Help yourself out and save the easiest meals (crockpot and sheet pan meals, etc) for the busiest days of the week.

3)  Once you reach the end of your meal plan–two to four weeks, or whatever you planned for–copy the plan until you fill up a whole calendar month.  

BOOM–there’s your meal plan!  

Post your meal calendar where everyone can see it.  You can post a weekly menu easily if that’s your style.

Use your meal plan every month and tweak it for each season if you want to.  It’s easy to swap out meals here and there as your family season changes.  

Now that you have a PLAN, you can sit back and let it work for you instead of stressing out about what’s for dinner every night.


Did you know you can make meal planning and prep even easier? 

These 7 tips are life-savers:

1)  Crockpot meals  

Collect recipes for meals you can dump in your crockpot, set and forget.  Here’s a really good chicken recipe to add to your arsenal.

2)  Instant Pot meals

An Instant Pot is a programmable pressure cooker.  Use it to cook up meals FAST. Here are 25 recipes to get you started with your Instant Pot.

3)  Sheet pan meals  

I love, love, LOVE using sheet pan meals.  Why?  All you have to do is line your baking pan with foil, coat with non-stick spray or olive oil, add your food, and bake until done.  It’s very simple with easy cleanup. 

Perfect for busy nights full of activities, or when you want to be somewhere other than your kitchen. 

Here are 20 healthy and delicious sheet pan meals to add to your meal plan.

4)  Make-ahead freezer meals  

You can have the convenience of pulling a frozen pizza out for dinner without all the additives by making your own freezer meals.   Freezer meals are great to have on hand to prepare for times when you won’t want to cook a lot–like after having a baby.  They’re also nice to have on hand to share with friends who could use a good, home-cooked meal.

Here are 105 recipes (that’s over 3 months’ worth!) for meals that freeze particularly well:


5)  Food prepping

Meal prepping is a popular way to get ahead of your cooking for the week (or month).  

I’ve tried meal prepping one day a week in the past.  Every single time it took me at least 2 hours.  It was a no for me, but it might work great for you.  Everyone is different.  I needed another way, which led me to what I currently do–food prepping.

 Food prepping is preparing individual foods instead of whole meals. 

The day after I grocery shop, I chop my fruits and veggies, and portion out my meals to be prepared at another time.  I might unbox and organize snacks like applesauce cups, string cheese, and yogurt. 

I make sure everything is easily accessible in my fridge and cabinets.  Sometimes I will even cook meats like chicken and ground beef for salads or spaghetti.  Food prepping saves me enough time and a whole lot of energy.  


TIP:  Getting your kids involved in food prep is a great way to teach them knife skills and food handling.  They will be more likely to eat what they help prepare. AND it will also make them less likely to ask you where the snacks are because if they help put the food away themselves, perhaps they will remember where it is.  AHA.


6)  Batch cooking

This is my favorite time-saving meal prep hack.  While I’m cooking something like spaghetti, I make a double portion to freeze for later. 

Spaghetti sauce freezes better than pasta, but you can always boil pasta in a few minutes when you need it.  If you need a reference, here’s a list of 21 foods that freeze well.


7)  Themed dinner nights

My kids really seem to enjoy theme nights, like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc.  You can make a different dish each week to keep things interesting.  And it can be as simple as grilled cheese and veggies on Meatless Monday.  Breakfast for dinner is another household fave. 

To be honest–I get a little bored with theme nights, but they are a great way to make mealtime fun and encourage family traditions.  I’m more than willing to compromise for that!


Do you need meal planning to be easier, more streamlined, and practically stress-free?

Download this FREE pdf guide to help you squash dinnertime decision fatigue and map out a plan your family will love!

Set Your Meal Plan on Autopilot!

Kiss "what's for dinner" stress goodbye with the 3-step process I use to plan meals for our family (picky eaters and all).

About Kat

About Kat

Hey there!  I'm a wife to my high school sweetheart, and homeschooling mom to four kids.  I'm also a planner junkie and a secret shower singer.

When I'm not doing the mom thing, you can find me curled up with a good book and a hot cup of chai.

Want to read my story?

I can occasionally be found hiding from my kids here:



  1. Australian Country Gypsy

    This is a amazing reference for any mom! Haven’t looked at your printable yet, but it looks super helpful. Seriously that first few sentences is me…. we have no microwave and when I forget to defrost something. Oh boy is my night screwed. Love you ideas, thank you for writing this! <3

    • Kat Charles

      We had no microwave for a while, and we had sandwiches and breakfast for dinner more than I want to admit! Thank you for reading! Let me know if you check out the printable–it has SAVED our mealtime! -Kat

  2. Kenzie

    Mind. Blown. 🤯 I am saving this for later and sharing!! This is going to help me so much with meal planning.

    • Kat Charles

      Happy to help, Kenzie! Thank you so much for stopping by.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Meet Kat

Hey there!  I'm Kat, homeschooling mom of four.  I'm on a journey to design a life I don't want to hide in the bathroom from.  Sound good to you?  Hope you'll join me!

© 2019 Kat Charles  |  Privacy  |  Disclosure  | Blog  |  About  |  Contact  |  Free Toolkit

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This