Meal Planning Made Easy: The Cheat Sheet Method
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.
If you’ve never had meal planning work for you, I have good news! This method by Melisha of Finding Time to Fly is by far, the easiest way to meal plan, and only takes 15 minutes a week. A WEEK! Just grab the printable cheat sheet included, and round up your family’s favorite recipes. You will love spending less time in the kitchen, and your food budget will be a lot healthier too. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Melisha!
– – – – –
Maybe you’ve tried meal planning and given up. You have a few weeks of success and start feeling organized. Then all of the sudden life gets busy. There’s no time for planning meals, so you go back to old habits of winging it, fast food, and take out.
Pretty soon your food budget is out of control, and you are stressed out.
Why are we caught off guard when life gets busy? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a plan for busy times since they do happen all the time? When life gets a little overwhelming, I use a Meal Planning Cheat Sheet to plan our family dinners. Using this strategy keeps my budget on track and allows me to create an entire weekly meal plan in under 15 minutes.
Sound impossible? You’re going to love the simplicity of this strategy, and how easy it is to make your own Meal Planning Cheat Sheet! Here’s how you do it.
The Meal Planning Cheat Sheet
Start by printing out this free, blank Meal Planning Cheat Sheet to organize your dinners. I’ve included 10 categories plus a couple of blank spaces where you can add your own.
Now start listing all the dinners your family eats on a regular basis. You can do this in one brainstorming session or over time. You could even get the whole family involved and create your list together during dinner one evening.
As you think of dinners, list each one under the category it fits best such as Pasta, Mexican, Chicken, Beef, etc. List as many dinners as you can think of with a goal of having 5-10 dinners under each category. I’ve included a section labeled “other” for those dinners that may not fit nicely into any of the other categories.
Here are dinner categories along with a few examples to get you started:
- Pasta - Dinners that have pasta as the main ingredient go here.
Pasta Dinner Ideas: Spaghetti, Lasagna, Chicken Alfredo, Mac & Cheese
- Mexican - We’re not just talking tacos here. Think about anything you might be served in a typical Mexican restaurant.
Mexican Dinner Ideas: Tacos, Burritos, Taco Salad, Fajitas, Taquitos
- Crockpot Meals - Crockpot meals are my favorite! I love coming home at the end of the day being greeted by the smell of dinner already done.
Crockpot Dinner Ideas: Beef Stroganoff, Pot Roast, Barbecue Chicken, Chicken & Dumplings
- Chicken - There are so many ways to cook chicken. Don’t be surprised if this category is the longest on your Meal Planning Cheat Sheet.
Chicken Dinner Ideas: Grilled Breasts, Wings, Fried Chicken Legs, Hawaiian Chicken Kebobs, Chicken Pot Pie
- Beef - Beef comes in many forms such as steak, roast, ground, and cubed. There are numerous recipes in each of those types of beef that can be included in your Cheat Sheet.
Beef Dinner Ideas: Burgers, Steak, Chopped Steak, Chili, Meatloaf, Stuffed Peppers
- Pork - Like beef, pork is available in several forms such as roasts, chops, loins and even ground. There will be lots of dinner possibilities here, too.
Pork Dinner Ideas: Pulled Pork, Grilled Pork Chops, Pork Loin, Roast
- Seafood - Fish, crab, lobster, shrimp…oh my at the dinner possibilities here!
Seafood Dinner Ideas: Teriyaki Salmon, Baked Tilapia, Shrimp Skewers, Crabcakes
- Sandwiches - Think beyond white bread and deli meats for this category. Plan some simple and some more hearty sandwich dinners.
Sandwich Dinner Ideas: Sloppy Joes, Philly Cheesesteak, French Dip, Brats
- Soups & Stews - Out of a can, homemade and slow-cooked all day, or anything in between goes here.
Soup & Stew Dinner Ideas: Tortellini Soup, Clam Chowder, Chicken Noodle, Potato Soup
- Other - Anything that doesn’t fit neatly in the above categories can be listed here.
Other Dinner Ideas: Quiche, Breakfast, Leftovers, Eating Out
If you don’t have 10 dinners listed under each category, that’s fine. This method of meal planning will still work with only 2 or 3 dinners in each section. Consider this an ongoing list. As you try new recipes and discover new family favorites, keep adding them to your list.
During “normal” weeks, you can try new recipes and prepare fancy meals, but keep in mind you’ll be consulting your Meal Planning Cheat Sheet during weeks that are already crazy.
Don’t add dinners to this list that take a lot of preparation time or have specialty ingredients you don’t normally keep on hand. The meals on this list need to be relatively simple, go-to meals that are familiar to you and your family.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve created your own Meal Planning Cheat Sheet, you are prepared for anything!
Not sure if this method is for you? Let eMeals do the work and put together a yummy meal plan for your family. Try it HERE, for free!
How to Use Your Meal Planning Cheat Sheet
To use your Meal Planning Cheat Sheet, you’ll also need to print out a Weekly Meal Plan.
Before you need them, go ahead and print out a few of these so they are easily available when things get busy. A little preparation now will save you time and money later.
Fill in your Weekly Meal Plan by choosing a dinner from a different category for each day of the week.
- Monday – Pasta
- Tuesday – Mexican
- Wednesday – Seafood
- Thursday – Chicken
- Friday – Crockpot
By selecting dinners from different categories, you’ll get a nice variety without any effort. Are you starting to see the beauty of this system? You’ve done all the thinking ahead of time!
Related: Do ALL Your Meal Planning Ahead of Time with this Rotation Hack
As you list dinners, create your grocery list on the right side of the Weekly Meal Plan. Quickly check to see if you already have some of the ingredients on hand so you’re not purchasing items you already have.
That’s it! You did it! The next time life gets a little out of control, you’ll be able to plan your family meals with ease. There are plenty of things in life we cannot control. Dinner…we’ve got this!
Have you ever tried this method of meal planning?
Melisha Kreppein is a busy wife, mom of 5, wearer of many hats who struggles to keep everything in balance. She has a degree in Education specializing in mathematics, works part time as Accountant and Website Manager for her church, and is also a blogger. You can read more of her posts at Finding Time To Fly where she offers lots of great printables and shares time and money saving strategies for busy moms focusing on the areas of home, food, family, faith, and fun.
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.
This is a great way to plan meals. Personally, I look at what I have first, then I fill in the gaps based on what I have.
Thanks, Lindsey! You are exactly right! Always check to see what you have on hand first. Buying duplicate items wastes time and money.
Thank you so much for this. I have been trying so hard to plan meals for my family that are healthy, quick, and give a lot of variety (hello picky toddler and hubs) but it has been very challenging and time consuming because I find that I’m spending all my free time trying to prep everything. Meal planning has been overwhelming so far. This method actually sounds doable and helpful. Thank you SO much!
Someone make an app to do this. Now that would be great. This idea is just that GREAT IDEA. Cant wait to start!!
Love your website. I just started one but the learning curve is quite daunting. Continue success!
It is challenging! You have to put a lot of energy into it that’s for sure. 🙂
Hi I’m interested in meal prepping and meal planning for the freezer please and would like some recipes please.
I’ve got 3 boys (49, 3 &1 years old) and it is hard to keep up with the food already!!!!! LOL 🤣
I need a meal plan for freezer, crockpot and for day to day !!!! Thankyou
Plus I’m challenged in the kitchen I wasn’t taught to cook!!!!!!!!😫
Oh boy that is a challenge! There are a lot of freezer meal plans out there! I’d love to put one together but right now we have a tiny freezer that we barely have room for the essentials none the less a bunch of freezer meals. 🙁
My mom used to do this when I was a kid and I was always amazed that she could plan meals for the month and grocery shop ( minus perishables) once. I started doing this when I had my kids and was on a very tight budget. Now that we are in the teenage years and no one is ever home, I print out the calendar for each month and plan directly on that. Who wants to plan an waste time preping a meal and no one is home to eat it. Using these tools is a great way to start.
When schedules are constantly changing, flexibility is key!