Why Use a Meal Planner

Posted on Sep 11 2012 - 10:30pm by Demelza Young

Do you ever feel like the most asked question in your household is “what’s for dinner?”  Indeed, it seems to be one of the greatest questions of our time.  Wouldn’t it be nice to just know the answer and to save yourself the frustration of being asked by five different people?  The answer is closer than you think.  One of the best ways to prepare for your meals is to use a weekly meal planner.  Sitting down for thirty to sixty minutes per week will save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation down the road.

Time saver.  “What?  I don’t have an hour to spend on meal planning!”

It may seem like a lot of time to sit down and plan out your meals, but as you grow more accustomed to the process and create a collection of recipes your family enjoys, the time you have to spend planning will lessen.  Realize that you only have to set aside this time once a week, and that the time payoffs for the rest of the week are even greater.  When operating without a weekly meal plan, it’s easy to get distracted at the store and to even make about four grocery runs (instead of just one) during the week. Let’s say that your average time spent at the store is only 20 to 30 minutes.  This means that your four trips to the store could add up to about 80 to 120 minutes.  If you shop with a grocery list and make only one store run per week, you could save yourself 20 to 60 minutes of your time.

Another tip is to organize your shopping list by aisle to save yourself even more time at the grocery store.  I group things like the produce, the frozen items and the dairy, but take it one step further.  For example, while cheese, yogurt, and milk are all dairy items they never seem to be grouped together at the store.  At my usual grocery store, I know that I’ll come across the yogurt before I find the milk section and the milk before the cheese so I’ll write it that way on my list.  You don’t have to do it this way, but I’ve found that knowing the layout of my shopping center and incorporating that knowledge into my shopping list helps keep me from going back and forth between various aisles when it’s unnecessary.

A weekly meal planner also allows you to plan your meals around your weekly schedule.  If you know you have a lot to do on Wednesday, you can use a crock pot meal that you put together Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning and allow it to cook all day while you’re at school or at work.  You could also plan to eat leftovers from earlier in the week, or plan to whip up something simple like sandwiches.  Another fun fact: since you know what you’ll be making each day, you can combine various tasks throughout the week.  If both Thursday and Friday require meals with chopped bell peppers, you can chop enough for both meals on Thursday.  If you require browned meat for more than one recipe during the week, you can simply brown enough for both meals on the same day.

Money saver.  I always arm myself with a plan before heading to the grocery store.  While it’s never been a habit of mine, I know several people who are highly susceptible to impulse buying.  It’s easier to ignore the sale displays and candy by the registers when you have a shopping list handy.  It may not seem like much to spend only $2 on a pack of gum and a candy bar, but if you’re driving to the store four times per week and purchasing two impulse buys each time that’s almost $10 per week you’re spending on impulse purchases (and that’s assuming your impulse buys are just small things like candy).  Depending on the price of those unplanned items, it could be double that amount.  If you stick to your weekly meal plan and shop only once per week, you can save yourself a lot of money on your shopping as well as gas bills.  In fact, if you scan the weekly ads and plan your weekly recipes around what’s on sale, you could even lower the cost of your overall grocery expenses.  Knowing what you are eating on different days also helps to maximize your use of leftovers.  If you cook grilled chicken on Monday, you can use the leftovers in any number of ways: for use as a salad topper, on a sandwich, or in a tortilla wrap, to name a few.

Nutrition. Utilizing a weekly meal planner grants you more awareness as to what you are feeding your family.  It encourages you to make better choices.  Maybe you weren’t aware of exactly how much soda or snack foods you were buying each week, or maybe you couldn’t see the lack of variety in your diet.  You have more control over the portion sizes, ingredients, freshness, and flavor of your meals when you plan to eat meals at home.  You’ll be less likely to rely on fast food when you already have the ingredients and the knowledge of what you’re preparing (or have already prepared) for dinner later on.

If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, a weekly meal planner is also helpful.  You can plan healthy meals and buy only the ingredients listed on your shopping list, limiting your access to trigger foods or more fattening options that may have been keeping you from reaching your goals.  When you have a plan, you will be less likely to impulse buy or to purchase junk food.

Family time.  You learn a lot about your family when you start talking about who likes to eat what and when you choose to spend time together eating and cooking meals as a family.  Going back to the question about what’s for dinner, a weekly meal planner makes life less stressful for everyone.  Remember those little paper menu schedules you were sent home with back in elementary and middle school?  You can post your week’s plan on the refrigerator so that not only you but also the rest of your family knows what you will be preparing for the day.  This also means they can help you prepare the menu.  You could ask your older children to make the salad for you when they get home from their after-school activities, or your younger kids to set the table.  You could call your spouse on your way home from work and ask him or her to preheat the oven for you.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  After all, everyone should be happy to do something that cuts down on the amount of time it takes dinner to be ready.


Demelza Young is an alumni of Northern Kentucky University. She currently enjoys volunteering her time in her local community, reviewing online content with her cat, and sharing quality recipes.

31 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Patty A September 12, 2012 at 12:56 am - Reply

    I recently started using a meal planner, if I don't I have no idea what to make during the week.

  2. Bobbie (aka Rebelle ) September 12, 2012 at 8:12 am - Reply

    I use a meal planner all the time. My Cook'n software is my best friend. Not only do I plan my meals on it my recipes are right there. It really saves me time and money!

  3. Melanie S September 12, 2012 at 8:35 am - Reply

    Meal planners are so helpful…when I remember to use them  🙂

  4. Trisha G. September 12, 2012 at 8:48 am - Reply

    l plan our dinner but need to start planning out the rest of out meals. I do agree with how important it is amd can be a huge money saver!

  5. Sue Invegas September 12, 2012 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Great Idea! Sometimes I run out of ideas so maybe If I did this I would have everything I need ahead of time too!

  6. Melinda Dunne September 12, 2012 at 9:06 am - Reply

    My son and I were just talking about this last night. Last year we planned all our meals as I was teaching him how to budget and cook then we got away from it. Last night I told him we have to start one again so we can be prepared because I hate cooking the same thing over and over again. I am on a diet so baked chicken and salad gets boring for the whole family. 

  7. julieann r September 12, 2012 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Great post!  I wish I was more of a meal planner….it really does go so much better when I sit down and do this than when I just wing it each night.  I love AllRecipes for this….you can make your own meal plans, print out instructions, ingredient lists, etc.  Thanks for reminding us all about the benefits of meal planning.

  8. Natasha September 12, 2012 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I just started using Big Oven app for my meal planning – it is a time saver!

  9. Alaina Bullock September 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Another excellent idea!  Last year I started keeping one, but then slacked off!  I wish I hadn't because for those few weeks it made things a lot easier! Thanks for the reminder!  Time to start another one!

  10. Amanda Cantrell September 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    I use a menu planner. I will swear by it! My husband is able to help me prepare meals when he is home and then it helps us save money with groceries by only getting what we need. Great idea!

  11. Malia September 12, 2012 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    I've tried meal planning, and although it is a great idea, I don't keep up with it.  It is good to know in advance "what's for dinner?"  instead of trying to figure out what to cook each night!

  12. Angie September 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    Great post! Thanks for the info!

  13. Lauren Ivy Chiong September 13, 2012 at 2:01 am - Reply

    Great post!  I am going to try out your tips!  Thanks for sharing!

  14. Motherhood on the Rocks September 13, 2012 at 8:54 am - Reply

    I always plan my meals. I have a dry erase board on the fridge and write them on there so everyone stays in the loop!

  15. TammyLyne September 13, 2012 at 8:58 am - Reply

    I love my meal planner..I usually use mine starting every Januray 1st because thats when my diet begins and I could not do it without my meal planner.I am def going to incorparate some of your tips..thanks 🙂

  16. Theresa September 13, 2012 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Great tips. I tend to lay out my recipes that I want to use for the week, but then change my mind often. I need to make a meal plan, then stick with it. That would really be beneficial in healthier eating as well.

  17. Tom Shewbridge September 13, 2012 at 9:34 am - Reply

    We do meal planning, and we also use wipe off boards on the 2 refridgerators to list what's inside of them, and to mark what's getting low, or what we need to buy.  Thanks for the share!

  18. Tina @ My Highest Self September 13, 2012 at 11:04 am - Reply

    I do need to start using a meal planner, dinner is ALWAYS up in the air around here. That's been leading to a lot of ordering out for the adults. I'd love to get more creative with the kids meals too. Very nice post!

  19. Teri H September 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    This has become a big issue in my home. "What's for dinner ma!" I never really considered a meal planner BUT since I am big on using my calander for everything, I bet it would work right into my daily life. Thank you so much for sharing!

  20. MamaBreak September 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    I love these ideas! the more you plan the less you eat out!

  21. Beth September 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this great and informative post. My mom always used a meal planner when I was growing up and it always seemed to simplify everything.

  22. Elizabeth B September 14, 2012 at 12:13 am - Reply

    what a great idea i wish i was more orginized so i could do meal planning

  23. Mary Walker September 14, 2012 at 11:08 am - Reply

    Anything that saves time and money, count me in!

  24. Ashley September 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    I really need to start using a meal planner more!  You make great points in your post. And yes, "what's for dinner" is the number 1 question in my household.

  25. Tamara September 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for the reminder, I keep forgetting to do mine then end up with 'whats for dinner' and hey we gotta run to the store for XYZ I have got to get back to meal planning.

  26. Kelley Johnsen September 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Having a meal plan takes the stress out of the kitchen, keeps me from wasting food, and I save money!  I always have a meal plan!  Thanks for the tips!

  27. Candy Olivares September 20, 2012 at 1:01 am - Reply

    I still cannot get myself to do this. I so need to buckle down. 

  28. jheylo September 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    this is usefull and conviniet for me because i tend to forget things lately and having this would be esier for me to remember appointments or what are the things that needs to get done and errands as well.

  29. Angie September 24, 2012 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    I really need to try this– I need to be more organized!

  30. Ashley Brown October 5, 2012 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Meal planner is an effective for saving time and money. By planning meal in advance we make fewer trips to the grocery store which saves money on gas. It also helps in staying healthy as it makes us more aware of what we are feeding to our family.

  31. Tatanisha W March 29, 2013 at 1:07 am - Reply

    Meal planning is soo important when it comes to saving money! Thank you for sharing your tips!! 

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