Reduce Weekday Stress with Meal Planning

Lindsay Watkins, RD, IBCLC

Life is hectic, so the thought of adding anything else to your "to do" list may seem impossible. But what if the task saved you time and stress during busy weekdays? This is what meal planning can do for you.

Why Meal Plan?

Between work, school, kids, activities and other responsibilities, it can feel like there is hardly any time to make dinner.

Benefits of meal planning:

• Knowing what’s for dinner, having the ingredients on hand, and possibly prepping a few things ahead of time, will save you precious time each night.

• Limits extra trips to the grocery store or ordering takeout or fast food at the last minute.

• Save money while eating healthier.

• Avoid the inevitable “what’s for dinner?” question that comes your way at about 4 pm most days.

Whatever your reason for meal planning, once you get into the groove of it, you’ll find it saves time and money, and makes your busy life easier and streamlined!


There are so many different ways to go about creating a great meal plan. Here are a few of my favorites:

Meal Planning Services

Meal planning services save time by taking the guess work out of planning, and they allow you to try new recipes. These services generally provide an outline for the week with 3-4 meals, a grocery list, and sometimes extras like breakfast and snacks. Examples of these services are Cooks Smarts, Sprouted Kitchen Cooking Club and eMeals. Many of these services are inexpensive and offer a one-week free trial to see if the service meets your needs and fits your lifestyle.

Plate Joy is another great option that offers a variety of dietary options, as well as a quiz to determine your lifestyle and taste preferences. Fill in the rest of the week’s meals with family staples or leftovers.

Plan Weekly Theme Nights

Create your own meal plan by giving each night a theme. Popular ideas include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Pizza Friday. Plan your own, or search for ideas online to make an outline that fits your life and family's schedule. My family loves “Soup Sunday,” and I make enough to have leftover soup for lunches during the week. Within your themes, you can play around with different recipes to keep things interesting.

Make Your Own

Sit down with a pen and paper or create a note on your phone. Choose a mix of simple meals, new recipes, and family favorites. Review your weekday schedule before you begin. If you have a super busy week, choose basic dinners like spaghetti or tacos. If you have a little extra time, try one or two new recipes. Is there late baseball practice one night? Plan a crockpot or freezer meal. Grabbing dinner with friends one night? That’s your night off!  

Tips and Tricks

Prep Ahead

If you have time on the weekend or early in the week, chop up some veggies, make a sauce or dressing, or cook some chicken in the crockpot or instant pot for an upcoming recipe. Do you have time to make an entire meal? Anything you can do ahead of time will cut down on the time and mess it will take to get dinner on the table during the week.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

Once you get more comfortable with meal planning, take it up a notch by cooking something you can use more than once for the week. Try making a whole roasted chicken on Sunday, then use the leftovers for chicken enchiladas or quesadillas later that week. Use leftover fish in fish tacos. Leftover pork chops could be made into fried rice. Make a huge batch of roasted veggies and use for sides, stir into scrambled eggs, or wrap into a burrito. These are just a few ideas. Come up with your own, or search the internet for ideas.

Allow for Flexibility

I find that planning for 3-4 nights a week works well. The other nights might be takeout, leftovers, breakfast for dinner or other simple meals. Families with older kids sometimes do “fend for yourself night,” which as a mom of three young kids, sounds amazing to me. Do what’s best for your family.

Get your Groceries

After you've chosen your meals, sit down and make your grocery list for the week. Check your pantry and fridge for ingredients you have on hand. Fill in your list with other family staples, and items you’ll need for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Consider using a phone app to streamline and collaborate. My family uses an app called COZI. My husband and I can each add to the list from our phones. My 7-year-old loves checking off the items at the grocery store as we put them in the cart. We also keep a list of dinner ideas and our meal plan for the week on this app. It’s simple but effective!  

Meal planning is just like any other habit. It can be challenging at first but gets easier the longer you do it. Once you get into the habit, it will make your weeknights less stressful and more enjoyable.