7 Tips For How to Use a Printable Meal Plan Template, According to Dietitians

Prepping meals based on a meal plan
Prepping meals based on a meal plan.

AfricaImages/Getty Images

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a common goal, but it's often difficult to balance busy lifestyles with meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. The key is to plan ahead. Creating a meal plan by using a template can help you stay on track.

If you're not a fan of pre-made meal plans, you can create your own using the template provided. By making the plan yourself, you can customize it based on your own personal preferences and dietary needs.

Simply choose the meals you will have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week. Add in snacks so they are top of mind and you won't forget them when planning your grocery shopping list.

Meal planning is a great way to keep you organized. If you pick your meals in advance and shop with a list to make sure you have the right ingredients on hand, you end up saving time and money, and have a better chance of sticking to your nutrition goals. Here are some steps to take so you can get started.

Download a Printable Meal Plan Template

Verywell Fit Meal Plan logo

Download the Template

Check Out What You Already Have

Start your process with a good scan of your fridge, freezer, and pantry to check which foods you already have on hand.

"Shop your cupboard, fridge, and freezer first," says culinary dietitian Shauna Lindzon from A Spoonful of Shauna. "To reduce food waste and save money, keep a list of what you have so you don't buy duplicates or accumulate too much food."

This kitchen scan can also help you see what you tend to rely on the most. For example, if you have lots of canned tuna and pasta, look for recipes that feature these staple ingredients. Tons of frozen vegetables? This week might include a veggie-heavy stir-fry. Your pantry staples can start to guide your meal plan choices.

You can also check your freezer for leftovers. Did you batch cook and freeze some soup or lasagna? Add those to the meal plan for the week to use up leftovers.

Source Recipes

Once you have a list of basic staples, look for recipes that use the key ingredients that you already have on-hand. You'll also make a grocery list to fill in any gaps (see step 5).

You can source recipes from social media, blogs, magazines, cookbooks, or friends. Reference your own favorite recipes or consider downloading a meal planning app that has a wide variety of recipes. Choose some meal options based on your preferences, and build from there.

"My best advice for someone just getting started with meal planning is to put together a recipe binder," says dietitian Megan Byrd from The Oregon Dietitian. "When you go to meal plan, you’ll have a binder full of recipes your family loves and it will make it so much easier."

In addition to being inspired by certain recipes, you can also check store flyers or coupon apps to see what's in season and what's on sale.

"Use coupons and weekly sales to begin making your recipe and snack list each week," says dietitian Maddi Osburn with Flexible Nutrition. "This can help you save money, increase nutrient variety in the diet, and encourage you to try new foods."

Consider Schedule and Leftovers

"Before you plan your meals, think about the week ahead," says Lindzon. "Are you going out, entertaining, working late, or attending events? Are there meals that will have leftovers?"

Take your schedule into account as you plan your meals. For example, if you are working late one day, plan for a 15-minute meal like scrambled eggs, rather than a whole chicken that takes over an hour to roast.

It's also helpful to make extra food and plan how to use leftovers. "To save time in the kitchen, consider batch-cooking some staples, such as beans, and repurposing them throughout the week." says dietitian Christine Milmine from Plant Powered You. "For example, you could have black bean burritos on Monday, and a veggie, grain, and black bean bowl on Wednesday."

Write Down Meals in the Template

Use the 7-day template provided to plan your meals for the week. Some can be simple cues such as "yogurt parfait" or "tuna sandwich," while others can show a recipe name and remind you where you sourced the recipe from.

Choose meals that match your schedule and fit into the time that you'll have to prep and cook. Also plan meals based on the freshness of ingredients. For example, if you buy fresh chicken on Saturday, use it Sunday or Monday rather than Thursday.

If planning all meals and snacks for seven days seems overwhelming, start by planning dinners only, and slowly add in the other meals and snacks once you get used to it.

"Keep a list of commonly eaten meals listed on your fridge," says Milmine. "When you are stuck trying to figure out what to make, check out your list for inspiration!"

Dietitian Karolin Saweres from My Nutrition and Me suggests creating themed meals when planning out the template, which helps cuts down on brainstorming new ideas every week.

"Try Meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, crockpot Wednesday, leftover Thursday, homemade pizza on Friday, spaghetti on Saturday, and then dine out on Sunday," says Saweres.

And remember, you don't need to be too rigid. "Creating a weekly meal schedule can be a great framework for the week, but be flexible!" says Milmine. "It's okay to rearrange meals, or come up with something new altogether."

Make a Grocery List

"Before you head to the grocery store, check your inventory!" says Milmine. "This might help you save money and reduce food waste." Make a list of what you have on-hand (see step 1), and then create a list of what you need.

Start by reading through the recipes and meals you've chosen for the week, and write a list of the ingredients to buy. It's best to categorize the list based on the layout of the grocery store, so you can shop in an organized way.

Start with vegetables and fruits, which tend to be the first section at many grocery stores. Then organize your shopping list by aisle by adding sections for grains, dairy, fresh meat, frozen, and packaged food.

"You should also keep a running list of ingredients that gets used up, so you won't forget to replace them" says Lindzon. "You can keep a list in your phone or on the fridge, and add these missing items to your shopping list each week."

Shop Smartly

Shop with your list in hand, which should ideally be set up by each section of the store. Shop wisely and save money by using coupons, buying store brands instead of brand names, and not shopping when you're hungry (you tend to buy more when you're hungry!)

If saving time is more valuable to you than saving money, you can buy prepared items, such as roast chicken, cooked rice, and pre-chopped vegetables.

"When grocery shopping, buy produce that’s washed, trimmed or chopped to save on time," says Saweres. "Examples include baby carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, and broccoli or cauliflower florets."

Meal Prep

It's time to cook! Check the prep and cooking time that's listed on your recipe and plan accordingly. If you are new to cooking, choose recipes marked "easy" and add 10 minutes to the suggested prep time to allow for mistakes.

Prepare your meals over time, instead of all at once, advises Lindzon. "You can do some prep in advance to save time later. Try to wash and chop vegetables and make dressings or marinades in advance." You don't need to do all food prep in one day, but can work on it when you have time.

If you live with friends or family, consider sharing the cooking duties.

If you are new to meal planning or feel overwhelmed, reach out to a registered dietitian. They can help you create a customized meal plan that meets your individual needs and preferences.

A Word From Verywell

Meal planning is a great way to stay organized, reduce food waste, and meet nutrition goals. Your meal plan helps you create your grocery list, and will enable you to prep in advance because you know what your next meal will be. Remember, it's a work in progress and can be flexible to accommodate your changing schedule. Once you get used to it, meal planning will be a huge help in your busy lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I plan a menu for a week?

    Start by checking the ingredients you have on-hand. Next, choose recipes based on your preferences, then schedule the meals into the template. Shop for the ingredients you need, and prep in advance when you can.

  • What are a few things to consider when meal planning?

    When planning meals for the week, take your food preferences, time, dietary needs, and cooking skills into account. Choose meals that can be prepared in the time you have. Think about how meals will look on the plate (and taste), and try to plan meals rich in color, texture, and variety so you're excited to cook and eat.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adultsInt J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):12. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.