Best Meal Planning Methods for Your Lifestyle

Frugal meal planning is always a good idea, but with so many ways to meal plan out there, you may not know which to try. We’ll help you find the best method so you can enjoy a smart meal plan that fits your lifestyle!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • February 11, 2020

Meal planning is a super useful skill and can help you live healthier both in and out of the kitchen. The only problem is that one meal plan formula won’t fit everyone’s lifestyle. A plan that works for a nurse working three 12-hour days per week is not going to meet the needs of a stay-at-home parent battling with a picky eater.

This is why we’re going to walk you through three different meal planning methods and plenty of resources that will help you make a dinner rotation that suits your life. Whether you’re on a tight schedule, need a budget-friendly structure, or crave adventure at the dinner table, we’ve got you covered.

1. Schedule-Based Method

We at Cook Smarts know that Mondays are usually no one’s favorite day. That’s why we like to start the week off with a win, putting our easiest meal first. If you want to easily get into the groove of the week or give yourself a break on the days you really need it, then you should definitely try the Schedule-Based Method for your weekly meal plan!

How it works:

Take a look at your schedule and figure which are your busiest days each week. With your calendar in hand, fill in those busy days with easy meals, dishes you know like the back of your hand, or leftovers. Then, on the less busy days, slot in the dinners that require more work.

Consider doubling a recipe when you have extra time so you can enjoy leftovers on your on-the-run days. Even if a meal takes an hour to make, if you eat it twice, that averages out to only spending 30 minutes of time across those two days!

Great for:

The Schedule-Based Method is great for those with busy schedules, those in school, or those who have kids that spend different nights at different households.

Make it even easier:

Check out these resources to make your ‘busy day’ meal planning even easier!

2. Category-Based Method

At some point in time, everyone has felt a case of dinner-decision fatigue. That’s why having a category-based dinner rotation can help by eliminating one more dinner decision that needs to be made. 

How it works:

Choose your favorite types of meals and then figure out a simple rotation that will always help you answer that pesky “What’s for dinner?” question with ease. Mondays could always be Slow Cooker Day with enough extras for Leftover Wednesdays, with Taco Tuesdays coming in between. There are so many recipe categories to choose from! Here are some ideas that will keep your dinners interesting every week:

  • Meatless Monday
  • Taco Tuesday
  • Baked Protein Night
  • Baked Potato Night
  • Burger Night
  • Casserole Night
  • Curry Night
  • Fish Night
  • Grain Bowl Night
  • Grill Night
  • Hearty Salad Night
  • Pasta / Noodle Night
  • Pizza Night
  • Sandwich Night
  • Slow Cooker Night
  • Soup Night
  • Stir-Fry Night

Great for:

The Category-Based Method is great for those who love variety and trying new things, but still want some structure to make dinnertime easier. This method is also perfect for families with older kids who can be assigned one of the days to prepare dinner — with a preset theme in mind, they can easily find a recipe that falls in the day’s category.

Make it even easier:

Remember that the vast recipe archives in our meal plan service lets you search by keyword or tags to instantly find dozens of slow cooker, taco, burger, and curry recipes (plus any other category we mentioned above and more)! You can also use these resources to make your weekly dinners easier, too:

3. Ingredient-Based Method

Shopping and cooking can be a whole lot more simple when you keep a pretty consistent grocery list from week to week. A regularly-bought set of ingredients also gives you the option to buy in bulk and save on your monthly grocery bill, especially if you choose budget-friendly foods. Once you stock your pantry well (see guide below), you actually won’t need to buy a bunch of ingredients every time you hit up the grocery store.

How it works:

All you have to do is pick your favorite staple ingredients that you love to eat and cook with. Then you can decide what kind of meals you want to make with your ingredients each week. For example, if Mondays are your beans and spinach days, you can choose to make a soup, chili, burrito, grain bowl, or salad. If you want to enjoy chicken and broccoli on Fridays, you can consider stir-frying them, roasting them, flipping some quesadillas, making a soup, or whipping up a pasta dinner.

Great for:

The Ingredient-Based Method is great for those with picky eaters in the family – if you know your kid likes chicken or carrots, it’s a good idea to ensure a recipe uses those ingredients at least once per week. This meal plan strategy is perfect for those who are on a budget, too. Between bulk buying and choosing budget-friendly ingredients, jaw-dropping savings await!

Make it even easier:

The extensive recipe archives in our meal plan service let you search by ingredient to instantaneously pull up dozens of recipes that feature noodles, chicken, kale, salmon, or any other ingredient you fancy. Also, take a look at these resources to help you stay organized with your staples!

Now that you understand three smart strategies for weekly meals, we want to ensure that the methods work for you. These general rules will help you avoid cooking burn-out and keep your meal planning practice going strong:

  1. Don’t fill your week with a completely new recipe to cook each day or you will quickly find yourself reaching for the nearest take-out menu. It’s always good to include at least a couple tried-and-true dinners or plan for leftovers to let you enjoy some purely simple nights.
  2. Make sure to bookmark meals that everyone loved so that you can put crowd-pleasers on rotation for future weeks. If you’re visually inclined, you can keep them on Post-Its or add them to your Pinterest board. Our Cook Smarts ‘My Collections’ feature can also help you easily create categories for more precise bookmarking so you can meal plan with confidence.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Meal planning is just like any other skill – you get better the more you practice. And remember, if you find something that isn’t working with your system, make a note of it, and figure out how you can improve the process so that meal planning is a habit you can stick with.

If you want to make meal planning even more manageable, consider joining our meal plan service that will plan 4 dinners for you every week while giving you access to our keyword recipe archives, 1-click grocery lists, and many more features that will cut hours of extra work from your already busy weeks. 

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Best Meal Planning Strategies for Your Lifestyle | Cook SmartsBest Meal Planning Strategies for Your Lifestyle | Cook SmartsBest Meal Planning Strategies for Your Lifestyle | Cook Smarts


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