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Simplify Meal Planning: An easy meal planning template to meal plan on auto-pilot

Simplify Meal Planning: An easy meal planning template to meal plan on auto-pilot

Having a meal plan not only saves you time, money and stress. It also makes life a lot easier when it comes to getting meals on the table!

But the process of meal planning can often feel hard. Coming up with meal ideas is something I struggle with too. But I knew there must be a way to simplify the process of meal planning. To make it easier to decide what to cook each day. And make the meal planning process faster, easier and less work.

And the solution I came up with is an easy rotating meal planning template I can repeat. Making it so I can basically meal plan on auto-pilot!

I’ll share exactly how it works in today’s post. Along with giving you a FREE meal planning template you can use to put this system into practice in your life too!

Why Meal Plan?

Having a meal plan goes a long way to making your life simpler and run more smoothly. Without a meal plan, it’s easy to buy groceries you don’t use, resulting in wasted food. Or not having the ingredients on hand you need, making it more difficult and frustrating to prepare a meal.

Not only that, but without a meal plan, it’s easy to order take-out or go out to eat more often than your health or budget might like!

Meal planning isn’t something I enjoy. In fact, deciding what to cook is usually the part of cooking I dislike the most. Trying to think of a variety of balanced and healthy meals everyone will actually eat often feels tedious and frustrating.

But knowing a solid meal plan will save time, money and stress throughout the week, I know the importance of doing it. Making it faster, easier and less stressful to get balanced meals on the table.

Simplify Meal Planning: An easy meal planning template to meal plan on auto-pilot
Photo by Luisa Brimble on Unsplash

Put the work in now, reap the benefits moving forward

The thing about creating a simpler life is it isn’t always simple. It seems strange to say, but in order to simplify your life in the long term, it often requires some planning, forethought and intention in the short term.

A perfect example of this is meal planning. Having a meal plan in place makes life so much simpler and more efficient. However, it does require some planning ahead of time in order to be effective and make your life easier.

My previous meal planning system (spoiler: it wasn’t working!)

In the past, my meal planning consisted of trying to come up with different meals each week so we weren’t eating the same things too often. And trying to think of things everyone in our family would actually eat. It felt like a chore and I was frustrated with the process.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

I was using a small menu planning notebook to plan our meals. One day I realized, that instead of making a new meal plan each week, I could just refer to a page from a few weeks ago and copy it.

This way I wasn’t repeating the same meals week after week, but I also didn’t need to come up with a completely new meal plan each week.

Rotating meal planning template

Once I started referring to previous weeks to make the current week’s meal plan, I realized I could take it a step further and make a rotating meal planning template with our family’s favourite meals and simply repeat it.

I decided to come up with five weeks of our favourite meals, laid out in a way that generally works for our schedule and routine. Then simply rotate through those meals every five weeks.

I don’t worry about it getting too repetitive because each meal will only be repeated once every five weeks. It became my master menu plan template and took the effort and frustration out of meal planning.

Flexibility is Key

Of course, I still stay flexible with my meal plan. If we have something come up like an activity, company coming, a new recipe I want to try, etc. I can easily change and adapt the menu plan for that week.

But overall, it makes life considerably simpler. Without putting any time or effort in each week, I know I have a meal plan in place that is balanced and ready to use.

I don’t necessarily have to make the meals in the order I have listed on my master meal planning template. But I can also use those 7 meal ideas during the week in an order that works for what’s going on during that week.

Sometimes I follow the order and it works. Other times I adjust it to fit our schedule that week. But the great thing is I know I always have a pre-made, complete meal plan to default to without having to come up with new ideas each week. It’s there to fall back on each week and can be adjusted and customized to suit the week.

How to create a rotating meal planning template

I’ve put together a free printable rotating meal planning template you can use to create your own master meal plan. Click the image below (or click here) to sign up and receive a FREE meal planning template!

Get a free printable meal planning template!

Once you have your meal planning template printable, use the following steps to put it into action and create your own master meal planner to simplify meal planning!

1. Gather your favourite main dishes

Start by creating a list of your favourite meal ideas. Don’t worry about putting them in any order or doing any planning at this point. Simply list everything you and your family enjoy eating on a regular basis.

Aim to think of 5 weeks worth of meal ideas, so 35 meal ideas in total.

I want to keep my plan realistic for our lives, so I also include spots I know we’ll go out to eat or order take-out. I know we won’t cook at home every single night, despite our best intentions. So including spots for eating out works for our family and keeps our meal plan realistic.

Get input from your family

If the idea of coming up with five weeks worth of meals seems intimidating, don’t stress. Start by making a list of your and your family’s favourite meals off the top of your head. You’d be surprised how many things you can come up with.

Then involve your family and ask them for their input and favourite meals.

If someone in your family doesn’t like someone else’s choice, the great thing with a 5-week rotation is that you won’t eat it too often anyway. Also, even if you repeat a favourite meal twice within your 5-week meal plan, you still won’t be eating the same thing too often.

Incorporate family routines

It’s great to incorporate any family traditions or routines you have. For example, we usually get take-out and have a movie night every Saturday night, so that’s included in our meal plan.

I also try to make something quick and easy on Friday nights since we’re all tired by the end of the week. So my meal plan reflects that.

Another thing you can do is have theme nights incorporated into your meal plan. Maybe you have some kind of Mexican dish on Mondays, pasta on Tuesdays, breakfast for supper on Fridays, etc. This can make it even easier to think of meal ideas that fall within those themes.

Keep it simple

Don’t be afraid to keep your meal ideas simple and realistic for your preferences, lifestyle and family. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated!

I include frozen chicken nuggets from a box in my 5-week meal plan because that’s realistic for us in this stage of life. Chicken nuggets from a box are as good as it gets some days and that’s totally ok!

Think about what your family actually likes to eat and work with that. Be realistic about what you like to cook and eat, and incorporate those meals. Don’t overcomplicate your meal plan.

2. Arrange the meal ideas in your meal planning template

Once you have 35 meal ideas listed, start arranging them in your meal planning template.

Arranging the meals in the template takes a little bit of thought and planning, but isn’t hard once you have your meal ideas thought up!

I try to have a variety of meals each week in terms of prep and cooking time required. For example, I like to make sure I have at least two quick and easy meals each week. And no more than 2 more labour-intensive meals per week. And the remaining meals each week require an average amount of work.

Also, take into consideration your family’s routine and schedule and plan around it. If you have evening activities on certain nights, that would be a good day for a quick and easy meal.

And remember, you don’t necessarily need to make the meals in the order listed in your template each week. But for simplicity’s sake, it can be helpful to try to arrange the meal ideas in a way that will likely work best for you each week given your schedule and preferences.

3. Add side dishes & vegetables

To make grocery shopping and cooking even easier, I find it helpful to include a plan for side dishes and vegetables to go along with each meal idea too. It’s also a great way to make sure the side dishes and vegetables I’m planning to make are balanced and will have some variety throughout the week too.

Make a list of your favourite side dishes and vegetables to refer to

Just like making a list of your favourite meal ideas is helpful, it’s also helpful to make a list of your favourite side dishes and vegetables before filling out your meal planning template. This makes it easy to include a variety of side dishes in your master meal planning template so you can easily have a plan for complete meals to follow.

How to use your 5-week master meal plan

To use the 5-week master meal plan, simply start on week one and make those meals. Then go on to week two the following week. Once you get to week five, go back to week one the following week.

I find it helpful to look through my meal plan for the week on Sunday evenings. From there I make my grocery list and order the groceries I’ll need. I also look at our schedule and decide if I need to adjust the order of the meals to better suit our schedule for that specific week.

I also take a few minutes to add reminders to my day planner if there’s any prep I need to do for certain meals. Like putting something in the slow cooker or taking meat out of the freezer.

I also tweak my 5-week master meal plan slightly based on the seasons. I add more BBQ and hot weather meals like salads in the summer. Then include more hearty, cold weather food during the winter.

Because of this, I basically end up with two 5-week master meal plans. One for warmer weather and another for colder weather.

Simplify your life with a meal plan

Having a long-term, rotating master meal plan in place has been fantastic. It takes the frustration out of meal planning and lets me meal plan basically on auto-pilot.

It’s not fancy or complicated, which is what makes it work so well for our family. Knowing our supper plans without having to spend time or energy deciding what to make, making sure I have groceries, etc. makes life so much simpler. It saves us time and money, all while taking the stress out of our evenings.

Do you meal plan? What have you found works or doesn’t work for you and your family? Let me know in the comments below!

Simplify Meal Planning: An easy meal planning template to meal plan on auto-pilot
Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

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Sunday 4th of September 2022

I really love this idea!! I'm only having a problem with this because I buy for a week based on sales!! I sit down for a week and plan out meals based on the sales that week on fruit, vegetables, milk- free dairy products, gluten-free grains and protein. The templete would be helpful for sure!! How do I make a templete of meals but still use the sale items?! Please help!!!

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 8th of September 2022

Hmm, that would make it a little trickier for sure. I don't usually take sales into account. But my first thought would be to have your 5 week meal plan, then pick out meals for the week based on what's on sale. You could cross off meals as you make them so you're not repeating the same meals. Then at the end of the 5 weeks, print off and fill out a new copy of the template and start again. I wonder if that would work?


Monday 11th of February 2019

Oh my gosh, this is great! I do meal planning but always throw away the plan when the week is over. How stupid can you be, right? I'm going to implement this today. Thanks for sharing, Melissa

Simple Lionheart Life

Monday 11th of February 2019

It was a big lightbulb moment for me too! Such a simple thing, but so easy to overlook. I'm glad it was helpful for you! Thanks for reading :)

Ute Rehill

Thursday 25th of October 2018

This is really great! While I do meal plan, I like the 6 week idea and some of the things you've built into it. I'll sit down with this for my next meal planning session. Thanks!

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 25th of October 2018

I'm so happy to hear you found it helpful! Thanks for reading :)


Friday 25th of May 2018

OMG I love it. I am so tired of thinking about what to make every day and I have some picky eaters here myself... I will try this. Thank you so much for sharing:-)

Simple Lionheart Life

Friday 25th of May 2018

You're so welcome Susi! I'm glad you found this post helpful! I agree with you completely - deciding what to cook every day is so frustrating! I hope this helps you simplify and streamline your meal planning. Thanks for reading :)


Tuesday 19th of September 2017

I have such a similar system to this, and not to be dramatic, but I feel like it has changed my life! My husband and I did the Whole30 recently and I had to meal plan weekly, and I was reminded of all the benefits of a system like this. :)

We've been doing it for about a year and a half, and I feel like it cuts my monthly meal planning time from about 2 hours to just 20-30 minutes to "shop my pantry" with my grocery list and run through our "staple" items. Plus, it is a LOT more flexible than it seems!

I just wrote a post & guide about this, too, and I love reading your perspective & experience with this! Having a set for warmer weather and for colder weather is such a great idea. Thank you for sharing.

Simple Lionheart Life

Tuesday 19th of September 2017

Thanks Brennan, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the post. It's not dramatic at all, it really is life changing! It's funny how making a few small, simple changes can have such a hugely positive impact on your life. I completely agree, this meal planning system saves so much time and effort. I'm going to check out your post too, I love hearing how other people meal plan too! Thanks for reading :)

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