If you’ve struggled with making a meal plan, you’re not alone. This is what led me to the idea of reusable meal plans. Now that I’ve figured out this system, I don’t think I will ever go back to planning “from scratch.”

If you constantly struggle to find the time or energy to meal plan – reusable, rotating meal plans are your answer. Make one or several sets of meal plans, SAVE them, and simply reuse the meal & grocery lists again and again.

You may have a LOT of questions and maybe even some concerns of why it wouldn’t work for your situation, especially if you’ve never made a meal plan before.

But, I promise you, there are a million ways to make this type of system work for you, and I’ll show you how!

If you’re already set on creating a reusable meal plan, download the free workbook below!

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Getting Better at Making Meal Plans

Before we get started on the specifics, I want us to “begin with the end in mind”. 

Why are you interested in getting better at making meal plans? In what way do you want to improve?

There are so many benefits to meal planning:

  • Saving time
  • Improving health
  • Reducing stress and uncertainty
  • Saving money
  • Reducing waste

Which one of these motivates you the most? What would bring the most relief to your situation? Which one are you struggling with?

7 Strategies for Better Meal Plans

1. Know the right meal planning frequency for you

While weekly meal plans may seem the most logical, deciding how often you’ll sit down to meal plan is a crucial element in creating a system that will feel natural and be something you can stick to.

Too often, we choose a meal plan that may work for someone else but is not aligned AT ALL with our lifestyle or personality. That makes it very frustrating, difficult, and unproductive. So let’s get this right for you!

The 3 most common “frequencies” of meal planning are:

  • Weekly
  • Bi-weekly
  • Monthly

In order to determine if you should plan your meals weekly, biweekly, or monthly, consider these 5 key areas.

  • Schedule – What is your predictability factor?
  • Storage – How much room do you have?
  • Paychecks – When do you have the cash on hand?
  • Bargains – Do you live for a good sale?
  • Personality – Are you more of a long-term or short-term planner? What will work for you?

If you’re unsure of the right balance for you, download these templates. They include .doc worksheets, and printer-friendly templates for weekly, biweekly, and monthly meal plans.

2. Build a Realistic and Easy-to-Use Selection of Recipes.

I know from many readers (and from my own experience!) that simply filling in the meals can be the most intimidating part of making weekly meal plans. It is often where people feel most discouraged.

There are a few ways you can help yourself in this area – specifically in how you select and store your recipes.

How to gather recipes & meal ideas

The number of meals you plan at each session will of course vary by how often you are planning. You may only need 5-7 meals each week, or you may be looking at 25-30 for a whole month!

Either way, it will help tremendously if you have AT LEAST this number of meals to choose from.

At this point in your process, I don’t suggest getting lost in the world of Pinterest goals and complicated recipes. Instead, build up a list of recipes by:

  1. Jotting down your favorite, tried-and-true meals.
  2. Asking anyone else involved in your mealtimes (partner, family, roommates, etc.)
  3. Combing through any recipes you want to try and adding the ones that are simple, easy, and something you’d really want to eat!

After this, if you haven’t reached your goal, consider other ways to brainstorm. Some really helpful approaches are included below.

Themed MealsMethods of Preparation
Italian / PastaOne-Pot Meals
Mexican / TacoSheet Pan Dinners
Asian / Stir-frySlow Cooker
Meat & SidesGrill Out
Breakfast for DinnerAir Fryer
Salads / Soups / SandwichesPre-Prepared Meals
(Frozen dinners, etc.)

Remember this, if nothing else: the most important way to ensure success in meal planning is to choose meals you will ACTUALLY cook. 🙂

Related Resource: 9 Solutions to Meal Planning for Multiple Diets

How to store your recipes

The way you store your recipes can be a HUGE way to improve your meal planning process. And it doesn’t have to be difficult!

The main principle is keeping all of your recipes in one place. However, it is also very handy if you use a tool that can:

  • search all your recipes by ingredients
  • search all your recipes by categories or tags (one-pot, Indian, breakfast, whatever you want to use!)
  • scale serving sizes for easy adjustments when cooking
  • import recipes from multiple sources (online, photo, or manual input)
  • assign meals to a certain day and generate a shopping list (only if you want to meal plan digitally – I don’t always use this)

While there are many tools out there designed for this purpose, my favorite is Cookbook. Here’s why:

  • It is a one-time cost, instead of an ongoing membership.
  • It is MUCH cheaper than its competitors.
  • It has so many features to make cooking easier – like checklist-style ingredient lists, read-aloud instructions, and built-in timers.

However you choose to store your recipes, you will be grateful to stop coming up with & keeping track of ideas in your head! This will make it easier and quicker to choose meals and move on to the rest of your meal plan.

For further help in gathering your recipes, download these worksheets below.

The next two techniques can improve how you assign meals to your weekly meal plans.

While it is important to NOT overthink your meal choices, there are two factors that can especially set you up for success, if considered when choosing and pairing meals:

  • Making the most of shared ingredients
  • Prioritizing the perishable; stretching the non-perishable

Let’s break those down!

3. Choose Main Ingredients First

It often saves money to buy in larger quantities – whether you’re at a bulk store or just buying produce in a bag instead of individually.

If you plan to do so, planning multiple meals with that shared ingredient avoids waste and captures those cost savings!

You can structure your plan around these type of items by choosing your main ingredients first. Determine how many meals could be made from that “bulk” amount, and plan accordingly.

For example, these might include meats, potatoes, eggs, or even dry goods like rice. Personally, I often buy a HUGE bag of potatoes because it is cheaper, and plan 5-6 meals to use them all up.

Not only does this ensure all of the food is used (and none goes to waste!), it also can help you select your meals more quickly by searching shared ingredients.

4. Consider the Shelf Life of Ingredients

“The Perishability Factor” 🙂

Another tip regarding ingredients is to “prioritize the perishable; stretch the non-perishable.” This simply means that you plan meals with more perishable items first, then save the ones with ingredients that last longer for the end of the time period.

If you are planning week-to-week, you may only need to consider this when using very sensitive produce (see table below for examples).

However, as your planning length increases, you may need to rely on more meals that use longer-lasting produce and/or dry & frozen items.

Sensitive ProduceLonger-Lasting ProduceDry or Frozen Items
AsparagusCabbageRice or pasta
MushroomsOnionsFrozen meats
AvocadosCarrotsFrozen veggies
Leafy greensOrangesCanned foods

Some great ideas for completely or mostly “non-perishable” meals include:

  • Lentil spaghetti (uses dry lentils, canned tomatoes, and dry pasta)
  • A simple stir fry with frozen veggies, prepared frozen chicken, and dry rice
  • Rotel, beans and rice skillet (uses canned or dry ingredients only)
  • And many other recipes can be made to last longer by freezing individual ingredients like meat and veggies, and thawing when it’s time to cook

Again, there’s no need to get bogged down on this step. It is just a helpful technique if you have struggled with food waste and/or would like to begin meal planning for longer periods of time.

5. Use a Grocery List AND Staples List to Prepare for Shopping.

Creating your grocery list

Of course you don’t need to be told how to transfer each meal’s ingredients to a grocery list! Here are just a few tips worth mentioning:

  • As you add items to you list, you can keep track of how many servings you need simply by adding a tally mark next to the item. When you are finished adding all your meals, use that number of servings to determine what size or how many of that item you need.
  • Keep your list of meals with you at the grocery store. Hopefully you won’t need to refer back to it, but in case you can’t find an ingredient you need, you can quickly reference the meal to determine a replacement.

Shopping your pantry

Prior to going to the store, check your pantry, fridge & freezer for any items on the list. Mark off anything you already have.

This will reduce waste, save money, and cut down on time in the grocery store! Win, win, win.

I recommend doing this within 1 day of going to the store. I have tried doing this too far in advance, and it can be confusing to remember which items-on-hand are actually extra and which ones are needed for meals already planned.

Using a staples list

THIS is one of the best ways to keep things from falling through the cracks and free your mind from the burden of “what were we running low on?”

The Staples Checklist is a list of every little thing you want to “always have on hand” so that you don’t have to buy it every time. 

You create this list once and use it for reference. Just run through the list before you go to the store, and you’ll make sure you have everything you need!

This will be highly personalized to you and your family, but you can get a master list and full guide here. I’ve included some simple examples below for reference:

MilkCoffee, teaSaltToilet paperShampoo
ButterPeanut butterPepperPaper towelsDeodorant
Salad dressingsSugarVanillaPlastic bagsSoap
MarinadesBaking sodaItalian seasoningDish soapMake-up
Baking powderCuminBatteries
Olive oilChili powderCleaning supplies

The best way to build your staples list is simply to:

  • Make notes of what is currently in your fridge, pantry, spice rack, and supply storage.
  • If you are adding ingredients from a recipe to your grocery list, notice what items you normally have on hand.

Once your list is complete, save it to check off every time you meal plan. I usually check for these items at the same time I “shop my pantry”.

Click here to download templates for your grocery list and staples checklist!


The COVID pandemic converted me completely to ordering groceries online.

By quickly adding what you need online, you can do all your groceries in less than 10 minutes!
Put grocery shopping on autopilot by using Amazon Fresh!

6. Be Creative with Food Prep.

I know, I know – is food prep really a part of meal planning?

While it certainly is a process all its own, I am a firm believer that the more proactive you are with food prep increases your chances of sticking with your meal plan!

It’s important to broaden what we mean by food prep. It’s not just prepping 20 crockpot meals once a month, or packaging 5 meals for lunches on Sunday.

It also can be:

  • Freezing or storing produce appropriately when you get home from the store so that it will last longer
  • Chopping & portioning ingredients for each meal
  • Cooking time-consuming components ahead of time, like brown rice
  • Batching shared ingredients, like shredded chicken

Related Resource: 4 Time-Saving Ways to Batch & Freeze Meals

Use the food prep worksheet to help you come up with your own ideas.

I highly recommend making a list of these tasks while you are meal planning, and knocking them out as soon as possible after shopping.

Included with the templates is a worksheet to identify food prep for each meal plan.

7. Reuse your Weekly Meal Plans.

I think I could talk about this strategy all day long. It has single-handedly changed the whole way I meal plan, and it is so simple.

Just save your meal plans on your computer!

  • Save your meal list – already grouped by shared ingredients and perishable items.
  • Save the grocery list you made for those meals – before you added miscellaneous items, used it to cross off during shopping, etc.
  • Save the list of any food prep needed for those meals

Then, all you have to do is print those lists out, along with your staples list, and you are 90% done with your meal plan.

Creating a Meal Plan for Multiple Diet Requirements

Due to allergies, sensitivities, goals for weight loss or gain, or general preferences, I know that finding meals that work for the whole family can be difficult.

For the final section of this article, we’ll be going in-depth on how to tackle this challenge. As you find your approach to accommodating these differences, I recommend using your meal list to include notes for each family member.

For example, you could have “burrito bowls” as the meal with notes for:

  • Mom & Dad – chicken, black beans, and cheese
  • Son, lactose intolerant – no cheese, add avocado
  • Daughter, vegan – no chicken or cheese, add avocado

The rest of the system – adding groceries, etc. – would reflect these nuances and could be used the same way.

Several of my readers find themselves preparing meals for a variety of diets within their family. The reasons can vary, as well:

  • A temporary dietary restriction for health reasons or procedure-related
  • A personal commitment to a specific diet
  • A food allergy or sensitivity
  • A condition like Celiac disease
  • Picky eaters – toddlers or adults!

When you have multiple diets to accommodate, it can feel demotivating and confusing to find a meal that works for everyone. Or worse, you give up entirely because no one has time to prepare multiple recipes for every meal.

To work around this obstacle and find solutions that work for you, I have compiled 6 tried-and-true strategies to make meal planning for multiple diets easier:

  1. Use a deconstructed approach.
  2. Customize individually.
  3. Make simple switches and small sacrifices.
  4. Involve your family in the process.
  5. Focus only on sharing the most important meals of the day.
  6. Batch and freeze when you can.

How to Make Family Meal Planning Easier

1. Use a deconstructed approach.

The very first and most basic strategy you can employ is to find common ingredients. Some people refer to this as the “lowest common denominator” amongst the diets.

It may help to start with food groups.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Protein
  • Dairy
  • Oils

Based on the restrictions, eliminate any entire groups that any person can’t have. (For example, my son can’t have any dairy, so we would eliminate that entire category – just while we’re finding common ground.)

Then, brainstorm a few types of food that are common for everyone in each category. Examples would include:

  • My son can’t have eggs or nuts, but we can all eat meat for protein.
  • If someone is vegan and can’t have meat, perhaps you include legumes and beans in the protein section.
  • If you’re planning gluten-free meals, rice, quinoa, some oats, and many others could be the perfect common ground. (Source & more info here.)

Finding these “key players” will help you in constructing meals that can be customized for each person. We’ll talk about “garnishing with preference” in the next strategy, but the focus here is to choose the base (or majority) of your meal that works for everyone.

2. Customize individually.

Instead of making multiple meals, you can start with a common base or entire recipe – but customize it with multiple options.

There could be ENDLESS options to make available:

  • Butter vs. a plant-based alternative
  • Sunflower seed butter vs. peanut / nut butters
  • Pre-made diced chicken vs. tofu or beans
  • Shredded cheese vs. nutritional yeast

This also applies for waiting to add certain spices until afterward – like salt (to low sodium diets) or hot spices (for indigestion-related conditions).

3. Make simple switches and small sacrifices.

You can also save yourself a lot of time and effort by finding individual ingredients that work for everyone.

While you may sacrifice a little bit on the flavor or texture that you’re used to, it will be worth it to avoid preparing multiple options.

Examples include:

  • Finding gluten-free or veggie pasta options to avoid wheat
  • Switching to almond or soy milk to avoid dairy
  • Using allergy-free options like sunflower seed butter instead of nut butters
  • Cooking in olive oil or plant-based butters instead of butter to avoid dairy
  • Cooking lean ground turkey instead of higher-fat ground beef for low-fat diets
  • Using flax or chia eggs in baking instead of eggs
  • Purchasing specific sauces that are low sodium, sugar-free, fat free, gluten-free, etc. to meet your specific needs
  • Using spiralized vegetables in place of noodles or cauliflower rice in place of regular rice to accommodate low-carb needs

4. Involve your family in the process – especially if the diet is voluntary.

If you are dealing with a spouse, family member, or older child who is making voluntary diet choices or who simply has different preferences from the rest of your family, try to involve them in the effort to find meals that work for everyone. This can be a great way for them to take ownership, learn meal planning skills, and lessen your burden.

Not only will this keep you from guessing what they would like, it may help them realize the difficulty involved and lead to compromises that will make it easier for everyone.

Every situation will be different based on the preferences of personalities involved. However, here are some ways you can think about sharing this responsibility with your family members.

  • Ask them what meals they really like and task them with finding recipes that fit their new diet – similar to the Pinterest search we discussed earlier
  • Ask them what additional toppings or food groups they would like to have on-hand more often to add to meals. Enlist them in helping prep those items regularly and freeze ahead of time. For example, when my husband wanted to increase his protein intake, he was in charge of cooking a large batch of diced chicken and freezing it to add to lower-protein meals.
  • Create a family Pinterest board where everyone can save recipes that they would like to try or that they feel meet their dietary needs. This can serve as a great starting point for you to look at when you are selecting meals.

5. Focus only on sharing the most important meals of the day.

The extra time, thought, and energy it takes to create menus that meet multiple requirements can put a drain on us. In order to balance this extra work, I’ve learned to only focus on the meals that matter most.

For example, maybe your family eats breakfast and/or dinner together. These are the meals you can focus on preparing as one, big, happy meal. 🙂

But when it comes to snacks, packed lunches, or any other more “separate” eating times – use these as opportunities to choose no-brainer, individual options.

For example, my husband and I both eat muffins for occasional morning snacks. Since my son usually eats Cheerios during this time, I don’t worry about avoiding his allergies – I use egg and milk in the muffins, since he won’t be eating them. (His allergies aren’t severe enough to react in proximity to food, just if they are in contact or digested. This may not be an option for you if you are dealing with severe allergies.)

If you buy pre-packaged snacks, let that be a time where you can tailor specifically to preferences by purchasing options for each individual.

6. Batch and freeze when you can.

One HUGE way to cut the stress and time often involved with planning and preparing meals is to cook once and eat twice 🙂

This technique can be helpful in several ways.

If you find a meal that everyone truly loves, try doubling the recipe when you make it and freezing the rest. That way, you always have an “emergency” meal that has everyone covered.

You also can prep a big batch of the “custom” options and freeze them so they’re always on hand when you need them.

  • Cooked, diced chicken to add to low-protein or meatless meals
  • Gluten-free pancakes, bread or baked goods to swap out for wheat-based options
  • Frozen veggie noodles to swap out for higher-carb options

For all my tips on batching & freezing, plus other time-saving techniques, save this post.

What’s next?

Get started with your free guide! In 16 pages, it’ll walk you step-by-step to setting up your reusable meal plan as quickly as possible – with plenty of extras for troubleshooting and improving your plan.

This is easily the MOST valuable free resource I’ve created, and I can’t wait to hear how “Meal Planning on Autopilot” makes a difference for you.


By: Brennan Brown

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