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Learning how to set up a meal plan the correct way can make such a difference in your life. Family dinners will be on the table faster, you won’t waste food, and you can even make a plan to eat your leftovers.

STEP 1: Make a list of your favorite recipes

Brainstorm ALL the meals that your family likes to eat. Include your favorite recipes, both complicated and simple, and your favorite cooking methods (like baked chicken parmesan as well as Instant Pot chicken parmesan).

If some of your recipes are saved in certain cookbooks, apps, or Pinterest boards, make a note of the recipe’s location next to the name of the recipe so you can find it quickly when you’re ready to add it to your weekly or monthly meal plan.

In my free printable meal planner, I included a recipe organizer. Use this list to add your family’s favorite recipes and simplify your meal planning process.

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    STEP 2: Add your schedule to your meal planner

    Next, include your schedule on your meal plan. Whether you are making a weekly or monthly meal plan, it’s helpful to see at-a-glance the amount of time you’ll have to devote to cooking, eating, and cleanup.

    For example, if you have to take your son to baseball practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mark a small B in the bottom of each Tuesday and Thursday block on your calendar. If your daughter has gymnastics on Wednesdays, write a G in the bottom of each Wednesday.

    You can also include theme days on your meal plan. For example, if you normally have a large family dinner at your in-laws’ on Sunday afternoons, mark that. If you like to make “taco Tuesdays” or pick up pizza on Fridays, include that.

    STEP 3: Plan your meals based on your schedule

    By adding your schedule to your meal planner, you’ll know which days you’ll need to make quick, simple meals, and which days you can be a little fancier or try new recipes.

    This also works well if your spouse is working late, if someone is out of town or won’t be home for dinner, or even if your kids are having friends over for dinner.

    At the beginning of the week (or month, depending on which type of meal plan you’re using), organize your family’s favorite meals onto your meal planner based on each day’s events.

    For example, on days when you’re heading to baseball practice at 5:30, you’ll want to have a simple, pre-cooked meal planned (like a slow cooker recipe) and on the table by 4:30 so everyone has time to eat, clear the table, and head out the door.

    STEP 4: Recycle your meal plans to use again

    Especially if the meal plan worked well for you, reuse it.

    I do this during busy seasons when I know I’ll be making lots of slow cooker and Instant Pot recipes, or even during the summer if I know I’ll be grilling as often as the previous summer.

    By making a list of your family’s recipes, adding your schedule to your meal plan, planning your meals around your family’s daily calendar, and reusing your meal plans, you’ll be able to simply your meal plans and set up a meal plan for success!

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