Weekly Meal Plan For Family Of 4


Weekly meal plan for family of 4..If you’ve been searching for the best weekly meal plan for family of 4, then you’ve landed at the right place. Finding meal time to be a challenge for your family? Too much to plan and manage? Follow our weekly meal plan for family of 4. No need to spend hours calculating how to feed your family on a weeknight.

A 1-Week Meal Plan and Shopping List for Your Family of 4 (or More!)

Meal planning can seem like a daunting task, especially when you’re on a budget.

What’s more, coming up with delicious, nutritious, and kid-friendly meals can be quite the balancing act.

Still, plenty of recipes are not only scrumptious and nutritious for the whole family but can also get your kids engaged in the kitchen. Moreover, it’s possible to do all your shopping at once instead of constantly stepping out to the store.

To help, this article provides a 1-week meal plan and shopping list for a family of 4 or more.

excited family at the dining table



Egg sandwiches with sliced oranges


  • 4 eggs (one per sandwich)
  • 4 whole grain English muffins
  • Cheddar cheese, sliced or shredded
  • 1 tomato (one slice per sandwich)
  • lettuce
  • 2 oranges (slice up and serve as a side)

Instructions: Crack each egg and add gently to an oiled or nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook until the whites have turned opaque. Gently place a spatula underneath, flip the eggs, and cook for another minute or so.

While the eggs are cooking, cut the English muffins in half and toast them until golden brown. Add the egg, cheese, tomato, and lettuce to one half, then place the other half on top and serve.

Tip: It’s easy to expand this recipe to yield more servings. Simply add additional eggs and English muffins as needed.


Lettuce wraps with milk


  • Bibb lettuce
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • matchstick carrots
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 block (350 grams) of extra firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise, sriracha, or other condiments as desired
  • 1 cup (240 mL) of cow’s milk or soy milk per person

Instructions: Slice the tofu, peppers, carrots, and avocado. On a large lettuce leaf, add the mayonnaise and other condiments. Next, add the vegetables and tofu, though try not to add too many ingredients to each leaf. Finally, tightly roll the lettuce leaf with the ingredients inside.

Note: Cooking the tofu is optional. Tofu can safely be eaten from the package. If you choose to cook it, add it to a lightly oiled pan and fry until golden brown.

Tip: For a fun family event, prepare all the ingredients and place them on a serving platter. Allow your family members to prepare their own wraps. You can also swap out the tofu for chicken or turkey slices.


Sliced apples and peanut butter


  • 4 apples, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter per person


Rotisserie chicken with roasted vegetables


  • store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
  • carrots, sliced
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt, pepper, and pepper flakes to taste

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). In a bowl, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and spices. Place the vegetables on a baking pan and drizzle them with this mixture, then bake them for 40 minutes or until crispy and tender. Serve with chicken.

Tip: Refrigerate the leftover chicken for tomorrow.



Oatmeal with fruit


  • 4 instant packets of plain oatmeal
  • 2 cups (142 grams) of frozen berries
  • 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of hemp seeds (optional)
  • a handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
  • brown sugar (to taste)
  • 1 cup (240 mL) of milk or soy milk per person

Instructions: Cook instant oatmeal in a large pot using water or milk as the base, following packet instructions for measurements. Just before it’s ready, mix in the frozen berries. Serve with 1 cup (240 mL) of milk or soy milk.


Chicken sandwiches with tomato soup


  • leftover chicken (from the day before) or sliced deli chicken
  • 4 whole grain ciabatta buns
  • lettuce, torn
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Cheddar cheese
  • mayonnaise, mustard, or other condiments as desired
  • 2 cans (10 ounces or 294 mL) of low sodium tomato soup

Instructions: Follow the directions on the tomato soup package, which may require stovetop cooking. For additional protein, use milk or soy milk instead of water.

Tip: You can let your family members make their own sandwiches. If you don’t have leftover chicken from Monday, use sliced deli chicken instead.


Hummus and sliced veggies


  • 1 large English cucumber, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 package of hummus

Tip: To get your kids involved, let them choose the type of vegetables.


Vegetarian tacos


  • 4–6 soft- or hard-shell tacos
  • 1 can (19 ounces or 540 grams) of black beans, rinsed well
  • Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • lettuce, shredded
  • salsa
  • sour cream
  • taco seasoning

Instructions: Cook the black beans in a lightly oiled pan with taco seasoning. For additional protein, use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.



Cheerios with fruit


  • 1 cup (27 grams) of plain Cheerios (or similar brand)
  • 1 cup (240 mL) of cow’s milk or soy milk
  • 1 banana, sliced (per person)

Tip: While you can use other types of milk, soy and dairy milk have the highest protein content.


Egg salad sandwiches with grapes


  • 8 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of store-bought or homemade mayonnaise
  • 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 mL) of Dijon mustard
  • 4 lettuce leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup (151 grams) of grapes per person

Instructions: Peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut them into quarters. In a medium-sized bowl, add the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Using a fork, mix the eggs and condiments. Make sandwiches using the whole wheat bread and lettuce.


Air-popped popcorn with drizzled dark chocolate


  • 1/2 cup (96 grams) of popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of dark chocolate chips, melted

Tip: If you don’t own an air popper, simply add 2–3 tablespoons (30–45 mL) of olive or coconut oil to a large pot, then the popcorn kernels. Place a lid on top and cook until almost all of the kernels have stopped popping. Watch it carefully to avoid burning.


Pasta with tomato sauce, ground turkey, and veggies


  • 1 package (900 grams) of macaroni or rotini noodles
  • 1 jar (15 ounces or 443 mL) of tomato sauce
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 pound (454 grams) of lean ground turkey
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste

Instructions: While the pasta is cooking, add ground turkey to a large pan and cook it over medium heat. Prepare the vegetables and add them to the pan. Pour in the tomato sauce near the end. Drain the noodles, add the sauce, and serve.

Tip: Make an extra batch of noodles or save extras for leftovers tomorrow.



Whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and banana


  • 4 whole wheat bagels
  • 1–2 tablespoons (16–32 grams) of peanut butter
  • 4 bananas

Tip: Give your kids a glass of cow’s milk or soy milk for additional protein.


Pasta salad


  • 4–6 cups (630–960 grams) of cooked, leftover pasta
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 cup (150 grams) of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup (73 grams) of black olives, pitted and halved
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) of feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) orange or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • red pepper flakes (to taste)

Instructions: In a medium bowl, mix the olive oil, red wine vinegar, orange or lemon juice, honey, black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes. Set aside. Prepare the veggies raw and stir them into the cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add dressing and stir well.


Boiled eggs and celery sticks


  • 8 hard-boiled eggs
  • celery sticks, chopped


Homemade burgers with french fries


  • 1 pound (454 grams) of ground beef
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 1 package (2.2 pounds or 1 kg) of cut french fries
  • Monterey Jack cheese slices
  • lettuce leaves
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • several pickles, sliced
  • mayonnaise, mustard, relish, ketchup, vinegar, or other condiments as desired
  • salt, pepper, and other spices to taste

Instructions: Prepare 4 patties with the ground beef, salt, pepper, and other spices. Place them on a baking sheet and bake them at 425°F (218°C) for 15 minutes. Prepare the toppings and place them on a serving tray. Cook the french fries according to package instructions.

Tip: Allow your kids to choose their own toppings and dress their own burgers.



Cottage cheese with fruit


  • 1 cup (210 grams) of cottage cheese per person
  • strawberries, sliced
  • blueberries
  • kiwi, sliced
  • drizzle of honey (optional)

Tip: Allow your kids to mix and match the fruit of their choice.


Mini pizzas


  • 4 whole wheat English muffins
  • 4 tablespoons (60 mL) of tomato sauce
  • 16 slices of pepperoni (or other protein)
  • 1 cup (56 grams) of shredded cheese
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 of an onion, diced
  • 1 handful of baby spinach

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Cut the English muffins in half, then add the tomato sauce, pepperoni, cheese, tomato, onion, and spinach. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

Tip: To involve your children, allow them to assemble their own pizzas.


Fruit smoothie


  • 1–2 cups (197–394 grams) of frozen berries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup (250 mL) of Greek yogurt
  • 1–2 cups (250–500 mL) of water
  • 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of hemp seeds (optional)

Instructions: In a blender, add the water and Greek yogurt. Next, add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.


Tofu stir-fry


  • 1 block (350 grams) of extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 cups (185 grams) of instant brown rice
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 grams) of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 mL) of honey (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) of red wine vinegar or orange juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) of sesame oil or vegetable oil

Instructions: Prepare the brown rice according to box instructions. While it’s cooking, slice the veggies and tofu and set them aside. To make the sauce, mix the ginger, garlic, honey, soy sauce, oil, and red wine vinegar or orange juice in a medium-sized bowl.

In a large, oiled skillet, cook the tofu until light brown. Remove from heat and place on a paper towel. Add the broccoli, pepper, onion, carrots, and 1/4 of the stir fry sauce to the skillet. Cook until tender, then add the cooked tofu, rice, and remaining sauce to the skillet.

Tip: You can use any leftover veggies in the stir fry to reduce food waste.



Baked frittata


  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (118 mL) of water
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of broccoli
  • 2 cups (60 grams) of baby spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup (56 grams) of shredded cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of thyme
  • salt, pepper, and pepper flakes to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Whisk the eggs, water, and spices in a bowl.
  3. Lightly oil a large skillet, cast-iron pan, or oven-safe pan with cooking spray.
  4. While the oven is preheating, sauté the veggies in a skillet or pan over medium heat.
  5. After a few minutes, add the egg mixture to the pan. Cook for 1–2 minutes or until the bottom is cooked and the top is beginning to bubble.
  6. Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
  7. Bake it in the oven for 8–10 minutes or until done. To check, place a cake tester or knife in the center of the frittata. If the egg continues to run, leave it for another few minutes and retest.


Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with strawberries


  • 8 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of peanut butter or nut-free butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of jam
  • 1 cup (152 grams) of strawberries per person


Turkey roll-ups


  • 8 mini soft-shell tortillas
  • 8 slices of turkey
  • 2 medium avocados (or a package of guacamole)
  • 1 cup (56 grams) of shredded cheese
  • 1 cup (30 grams) of baby spinach

Instructions: Lay tortilla shells flat and spread avocado or guacamole on top. Next, add one slice of turkey, baby spinach, and shredded cheese to each tortilla. Roll the tortilla tightly and cut in half.

Tip: To keep the roll-ups from falling apart, add a toothpick. Be sure to remove the toothpick before serving it to small children.


Homemade chili


  • 1 pound (454 grams) of ground beef
  • 1 can (19 ounces or 540 grams) red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 can (14 ounces or 400 grams) of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 jar (15 ounces or 443 mL) of tomato sauce
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 cups (475 mL) of low sodium beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • shredded cheese (optional as a garnish)

Instructions: In a large soup pot, sauté the onions in oil until translucent. Next, add the ground beef to the pot, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook until the meat has browned. Add all spices, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and red kidney beans.

Next, add the broth and bring it to a bowl. Reduce the temperature to medium heat and cook for 30 minutes. Top with cheese if desired.



French toast and fruit


  • 6–8 eggs
  • 8 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (151 grams) of blackberries or strawberries, frozen or fresh
  • maple syrup (to taste)

Instructions: In a wide bowl, whisk the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract until combined and fluffy. Oil a large skillet with butter or oil and bring it to medium heat. Place the bread into the egg mixture and coat each side. Fry both sides of the bread until golden brown.

Repeat this process until all the bread is cooked. Serve with fruit and maple syrup.

Tip: For an extra treat, top with whipped cream or powdered sugar.


Cheese, crackers, and grapes


  • 5 whole grain crackers per person
  • 2 ounces (50 grams) of Cheddar cheese, sliced (per person)
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) of grapes

Tip: Many crackers are made with refined flours, oils, and sugar. For a healthier option, select 100% whole grain crackers.




  • 4 medium-sized soft-shell tortillas
  • 1 pound (454 grams) of boneless chicken breasts, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced
  • 1/2 of a red onion, chopped
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup (56 grams) of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup (56 grams) of Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 package of taco seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil, as needed
  • sour cream, as needed
  • salsa, as needed

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). In a large skillet, add the oil, peppers, and onion. Cook them for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and spices and fry until completely cooked through and golden on the outside.

Place each tortilla shell on a baking tray. Add the cooked veggies and chicken to one side of the tortillas, then top with avocado and cheese. Fold the other side of the tortilla over. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with sour cream and salsa.

Tip: For a vegetarian option, you can use black beans instead of chicken.

Shopping list

The following list can be used as a shopping guide to help you gather groceries for this 1-week meal plan. You may need to adjust the portions depending on the size and needs of your family.

Vegetables and fruit

  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 package of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • 1 package of baby spinach
  • 1 large head of Bibb lettuce
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 large English cucumbers
  • 1 large piece of ginger
  • 2 packages of strawberries
  • 1 package of blueberries
  • 1 package of blackberries
  • 2 kiwis
  • 6 bell peppers
  • 1 pack of matchstick carrots
  • 5 avocados
  • 1–2 heads of broccoli
  • 7 yellow onions
  • 2 red onions
  • 4 bulbs of garlic
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 bag of Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 large bag of frozen berries
  • 1 bunch of bananas
  • 1 large bag of grapes
  • 1 jar of black olives
  • 1 jug (33 fluid ounces or 1 liter) of orange juice

Grains and carbs

  • 8 whole grain English muffins
  • 4 packets of plain, instant oatmeal
  • 1 bag of hemp seeds (optional)
  • 2 loaves of whole wheat bread
  • 1 package (900 grams) of macaroni or rotini noodles
  • 1 package of whole wheat bagels
  • 4 whole grain ciabatta buns
  • 1 package of hamburger buns
  • 1 package of instant brown rice
  • 1 package of mini soft tortillas
  • 1 package of medium-sized soft-shell tortillas
  • 1 box of whole grain crackers
  • 6 hard-shell tacos


  • 2 dozen eggs
  • 2 blocks (450 grams) of Cheddar cheese
  • 1.5 gallons (6 liters) of cow’s or soy milk
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) of feta cheese
  • 1 package of Monterey Jack cheese slices
  • 24 ounces (650 grams) of cottage cheese
  • 24 ounces (650 grams) of Greek yogurt


  • 2 blocks (500 grams) of extra firm tofu
  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1 can (19 ounces or 540 grams) of black beans
  • 1 can (19 ounces or 540 grams) of red kidney beans
  • 1 pound (454 grams) of ground turkey
  • 2 pounds (900 grams) of ground beef
  • 1 pound (450 grams) of boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 package of pepperoni slices
  • 1 package of turkey slices

Canned and packaged items

  • 2 cans of low sodium tomato soup
  • 1 can (14 ounces or 400 grams) of stewed tomatoes
  • 2 jars (30 ounces or 890 mL) of tomato sauce
  • 1 bag of chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 package of hummus
  • 1 box of original, plain Cheerios (or similar brand)
  • 1/2 cup (96 grams) of popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup (175 grams) of dark chocolate chips
  • 1 jar of peanut butter
  • 1 jar of strawberry jam
  • 1 package (2.2 pounds or 1 kg) of cut french fries
  • 2 cups (500 mL) of low sodium beef broth

Pantry staples

Since these items are usually pantry staples, you may not need to buy them. Still, it’s best to review your pantry inventory before shopping.

  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • mayonnaise
  • sriracha
  • salt
  • honey
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • vegetable oil
  • pepper flakes
  • brown sugar
  • salsa
  • sour cream
  • taco seasoning
  • Parmesan cheese
  • pickles
  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • cumin
  • cayenne pepper
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • vanilla extract
  • maple syrup

The bottom line

Coming up with a weeklong meal plan that meets the needs of your whole family can be tricky.

Notably, this 1-week meal plan provides your family with delicious, nutritious, and kid-friendly meals. Use the shopping list as a reference and adjust it based on your family’s needs and budget. When possible, involve your kids and other family members in cooking.

At the end of the week, ask your family members which meals they liked best. You can then revise this list or use it again for another week.

Meal Plan Example: How to Create a Meal Plan for a Family of 4

Follow along as we create a meal plan for a week! This meal plan for a family of 4 can be used as a meal planning template, or simply a meal plan example to help you see how to make meal planning work in real-world situations.

Learning to meal plan for a week is a fantastic skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. Meal planning helps people waste less food, save money, eat healthier, and stress less during the week. But reading tips for meal planning is one thing — actually creating a plan from scratch every week is another entirely. 

That’s why we thought it would be so useful to share a meal plan example where we take you through step by step and demonstrate how to create a meal plan. This meal plan for a family of 4 is fairly simple, but does take into account some of the variation and complexity that families have to plan for each week. Our hope is that by showing a realistic meal plan (no, our plan doesn’t include cooking 7 nights a week!), we’ll inspire you to see that meal planning doesn’t have to be hard — and your plan doesn’t have to fall apart if anything unexpected happens.

If creating a meal plan feels overwhelming or anxiety-inducing, you’re not alone. But take it one step at a time, and soon you’ll have a complete plan for your family to follow all week long, which you can then use as a meal planning template to make meal planning even easier going forward.

Meet Joanna

In our example, we’re going to meal plan for a fictitious woman named Joanna. Joanna does all the meal planning for her household, which includes her, her husband Darren, and their two kids. Joanna and her husband both work full-time and the kids are in school, which she’ll need to take into account in her planning. She meal plans and grocery shops on Sunday for the week of Monday through the following Sunday. 

Today is Sunday, so let’s get started!

Step 1: Add what you know

Joanna’s family always gets takeout on Friday nights, so we’ll go ahead and write that into our meal plan. She also knows that the family goes out to lunch with Joanna’s parents every Sunday. Easy so far!

Joanna goes to the gym on Monday and Wednesday mornings and grabs a smoothie afterward on the way to work, so she’ll only need to plan breakfasts those days for the others in the household. To keep things simple and prepless, we’ll decide now that they’ll have granola for breakfast those two days. We’ll make this distinction in our meal plan by labeling Joanna’s meals with a J, Darren’s with a D, and the kids’ with a K. 

Darren buys lunch at work, while Joanna prefers to bring lunch from home — usually leftovers from the night before. The kids bring a lunchbox to school, except on Fridays (pizza day!), when they buy lunch at school. Joanna’s not going to plan exactly what to put in the kids’ lunchboxes each day because she follows a school lunch formula to keep things easy — but she will need to remember to add lunchbox ingredients to her grocery list. 

We’ll schedule all that in, and so far Joanna’s meal plan looks like this:

Step 2: Consult the calendar

We’ve added in recurring weekly meals as well as events that will affect meals; now it’s time to account for this week specifically. 

Joanna looks at her calendar and sees that the family is going to Back to School Night on Thursday, so there won’t be time to cook dinner. We’ll schedule leftovers for Thursday night, and plan to double a meal earlier in the week. She also sees that they’re scheduled to have dinner at Darren’s sister Christie’s house on Saturday, so she won’t need to plan anything for Saturday night.

That’s all that’s on the calendar for this week, so now Joanna’s meal plan looks like this:

Step 3: Fill in meals 

From here, Joanna will choose meals she’d like to cook this week. Our favorite way to do this is to start by making a list of everything that needs to be used from the fridge, and potentially the freezer and pantry as well. In Joanna’s case, she doesn’t have a lot of leftover produce because she’s followed her meal plan well this past week. 

Joanna could choose recipes from websites, cookbooks, apps, or old favorites she knows by heart. In her case, though, we’re going to say she’s a Cook Smarts member, so she’ll follow the weekly meal plan she gets through her membership. This week, that includes Shrimp and Curtido Hoagies, Sheet Pan Honey Harissa Chicken, Turkey Chilaquiles, and Nicoise Pasta Salad. She’ll schedule those in on the suggested days, except that the family will have the Nicoise Pasta Salad for lunch on Saturday instead of dinner on Thursday due to Back to School Night. She needs to double a meal to have leftovers for Thursday’s dinner, and chooses the Sheet Pan Honey Harissa Chicken, which she’ll note in her meal plan as well. 

In order to have lunch leftovers, Joanna could plan to cook an extra portion for dinner each night, but in this case we’re going to assume the kids are too young to be big eaters, so making 4 portions will yield leftovers already. We’ll also say that for Friday’s lunch, she’ll eat any remaining leftovers from the week — but just in case there aren’t any, we’ll also give her a back-up, or “insurance meal,” of instant ramen. She can add some extras to the soup to make the ramen a complete meal. We’ll give her the same backup on Wednesday as well, just in case there aren’t leftovers one day earlier in the week and lunches need to be shuffled around.

Joanna decides the family will have an easy dinner of Spaghetti and Meatballs (a dish she can make from memory) on Sunday night. There’s also a new pancake recipe a friend sent her that she’s been wanting to try, so she’ll schedule pancakes for breakfast on Saturday.

Step 4: Fill in the gaps

Joanna isn’t following specific recipes for breakfasts other than Saturday’s pancakes, so she still needs to fill in most of the family’s breakfasts. She’ll choose some quick and easy meals for the weekdays — eggs and toast on Tuesday and Thursday, and yogurt parfaits on Friday. On Sunday, when she’ll have a little more time to chop veggies in the morning, she’ll plan for omelets. 

That just leaves her lunch on Monday, when she won’t have leftovers to bring. She’ll keep things easy with a PB&J and a side of carrot sticks. If she had them, this would also be a good opportunity to use up produce, leftover cooked veggies, and leftover proteins from the previous week.

Step 5: Make your grocery list

Now all of Joanna’s family’s meals are planned! All she has left to do is create a grocery list based on what they’ll eat this week. This involves a single click for the Cook Smarts meals, plus she’ll need to manually add ingredients for the other meals to her grocery list.

A few additional considerations . . .

Follow these tips to make sure your meal plan can be carried out smoothly:

1. Schedule meals in order of their ingredients’ shelf life

Fresh seafood should be eaten the day you buy it or the next day. Delicate produce like lettuce and spinach need to be eaten within a few days, so are best used early in the week. And of course, if you already have veggies in your fridge from the previous week (and they’re still in good shape), prioritize them in your meal plan.

Reduce Food Waste with Our Produce Shelf Life Guide

If it makes it easier, you can make a note in your meal plan to choose a meal for Monday that uses the specific leftover produce you have, so that you can be sure it gets used. If you’re using a service like Cook Smarts meal plans, it’s easy to search the recipe archives by ingredients to find a meal that fits the ingredients you have on hand. 

2. Break each meal down 

If it’s helpful for your meal planning style and dietary preferences, you may want to break your meals down in your plan by listing “produce,” “protein,” and “carbohydrate” for each meal, and filling in foods for each component. That way, you can easily see where you have gaps, and won’t end up with nothing but a side salad planned for dinner one day. 

3. Choose some efficiencies

Use your time wisely by choosing some “prep once, eat twice” foods. Exactly how you do this is up to you. Some people like to eat leftovers of each meal, so you might cook Monday and Tuesday, then eat Monday’s leftovers on Wednesday and Tuesday’s leftovers on Thursday. Or maybe you double your meals to have easy lunches the next day, similar to Joanna’s approach in our example. Still another option is to cook a portion of a meal, and then turn the leftovers into a new meal entirely, like what we do with these Cook Once, Eat Twice recipes:

Cook Once, Eat Twice: How to Save Time & Money in the Kitchen

Other people double only their grains, vinaigrettes, or marinades to have a head start on meals later in the week without eating the exact same meal twice. And others will roast a large amount of veggies on Monday and use leftovers for tacos, soups, sandwiches, or salads throughout the week. Choose what works for you.

4. Include prep in your schedule

Need to marinate chicken overnight on Wednesday to have it for dinner Thursday night? Make a note in your meal plan or on your daily calendar to complete that step on Wednesday. This will prevent you from having unpleasant surprises during the week, and reduce the chance you’ll need to rely on insurance meals. 

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