The Ultimate Guide To Meal Planning For Families + Sample Meal Plans for All 4 Seasons!

This Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning will help you put a healthy meal on the table every night. Learn why meal planning makes sense and read tips on how to make it happen. I’ve even included sample meal plans for all 4 seasons!

The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning will help you put a healthy meal on the table every night. Learn why meal planning makes sense and read tips on how to make it happen. I’ve even included sample meal plans for all 4 seasons!

I think meal planning is awesome.

Picture healthy food, yummy recipes, less time in the kitchen, and lower grocery bills.

I mean, it’s all good, right?

Cuz you really can’t go wrong when you’ve got it all down to a science.

This guide will help you achieve that, my friends.

Meals planned right to the last detail so that your time spent in the kitchen is enjoyable, yet efficient.

Planned, yet creative.

But most importantly, delicious and healthy.

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Keto Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers with steak, mushrooms, and cheese in a white glass casserole dish, ready to serve.

WHAT IS MEAL PLANNING?

Meal planning is basically planning out the week – not just the day – and taking steps to make sure that every meal is delicious. At the same time, you’ll plan meals that are part of a healthy diet and easy to make.

I’ve written guides on the instant pot and slow cooker, which are really good ways to take meal planning to another level. Imagine knowing exactly what you want to make for supper, having it all on hand, and in the case of the slow cooker especially, putting the ingredients together in the morning and letting it cook all day.

With meal planning, you’ll also formulate your menu for the week one day and shop the next. You’ll not only tailor the meal to your dietary requirements but also to work around whatever you have going on that week.

If you know you’ll be out a lot, consider doing a bit of meal prep as a way to have ready-made meals in the fridge after a long workday or an invigorating trek through the forest. My helpful guide to everything you need to know about meal prep (take a look!) can help you plan meals that are economical, full of healthy ingredients, and ready and waiting when you get home.

If you’ve got special dietary requirements, don’t let that stop you from meal planning, either. In fact, it’s all the more reason to. For example, you can aim to hit high fiber requirements or work toward a low carb regimen and make it work for you, all through meal planning.

Overhead viiew of Pan-Roasted Salmon in a white shallow bowl, served on a bed of green beans.

WHY MEAL PLAN?

Why plan your meals? This is an easy one. 

It’s a great way to use up things you have on hand. You can take inventory of the freezer, for example, and base your weekly menu on items that need to be used up.

It’s easy to plan for variety. I make a template of sorts and include what I typically serve each week by category. You could try something like this:

It’s also the best way to stick to a healthy diet. Meal planning enables you to reach goals that you may have. Whether it’s cutting back on sugar or giving intermittent fasting a go, having the ingredients on hand to prepare that nutritious meal or avoid unhealthy food is key.

It saves you money. Meal planning is a money saver, it really is. You can aim to have leftovers, you can plan meals around who’s home and who’s not, which means no wasting of food. Eating non-processed, clean-eating foods is a lot more budget-friendly, too.

It saves time and cuts back on stress. When you plan ahead, you can work things into the menu, like cooking in bulk and meal prep ← yay! Timesavers are always a welcomed thing in my kitchen. Knowing beforehand also takes the stress out of thinking about what to cook.An overhead image of a meal prep container with Healthy Chicken Fajitas made with Fajita Chicken, Fajita Bell Peppers and Lime & Cilantro Black Beans ready to be stored in the fridge.

HOW DO I START MEAL PLANNING?

When you are starting to think about meal planning, it’s ideal to know what your goals are. Consider these questions:

How do I choose the right menu?

  • It’s all good to want to try new recipes, but make sure that you always have a few meals thrown in that you are familiar with. 
  • Choose meals with ingredients that are easy to find, so you do not spend your shopping day running from store to store looking for a hard-to-find item.
  • Plan family favorites. A well-planned meal that also goes over well with the gang is bonus #1!
  • Plan for leftovers. Bonus #2!

How do I make a meal planning grocery list?

  • First, make a list of the ingredients needed for the meals you have planned. It’s sort of a master list of what you’ll need.
  • Next, go to the pantry and the fridge and cross off what you have on hand.
  • Take your list and rewrite it like an organized grocery trip, with the foods grouped by grocery store section. By this, I mean all veggies together, spices grouped, and meats together. 

Overhead image of Strawberries And Cream Steel Cut Oats in a white bowl, topped with strawberries and cream.

HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

To make meal planning easy peasy, it’s always good to have a few essentials on hand, all the time. They are basically staples that turn up in a lot of recipes.

For the pantry:

  • Pure maple syrup
  • Raw honey
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable broth
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Beans and lentils
  • Organic tomato sauce
  • Unsweetened applesauce and pumpkin purée
  • Rolled oats

For the fridge:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Almond milk
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Greens, like kale and spinach
  • Fruits and berries

Single glass meal prep container of breaded shrimp meal prep, with breaded shrimp over brown rice pasta and marinara sauce.

For the freezer:

  • Shrimp
  • Fish
  • Beef 
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Frozen veggies, like sweet potato and broccoli
  • Frozen fruits, like strawberries and mangoes
  • Whole wheat bread

Baking staples:

  • Flour, such as almond and whole wheat
  • Coconut sugar
  • Baking powder and soda
  • Dried fruit like cranberries
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Dark cacao powder
  • Dark chocolate morsels
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper

SEASONAL MEAL PLANNING

When you plan your meal around the seasons, it is another way to save money. You’re taking advantage of what is in season, and also benefiting from nutrient-dense foods that are readily available. 

Overhead view of a casserole dish with ground turkey zucchini boats cooked and ready to serve.

SPRING MEAL PLANNING RECIPES

Think about how you’d like to lighten up the menu a bit after a long winter. Spring is like a season of renewal. So, a renewed look at your weekly menu is just the ticket! I look to foods that are satisfying but not super-heavy.

Overhead image of a hand holding a white plate with perfect avocado toast, topped with a soft boiled egg.

SUMMER MEAL PLANNING RECIPES

I love summer and light, fresh meals. We eat a lot of salads in the summer along with tasty meals that are super-easy to throw together. After all, who wants to be in the kitchen in the summer? 

Yep – that’s what I thought. Me either!

Bowl of slow cooker beef stew, filled with cooked yukon potatoes, sliced carrots, beef chunks, and sweet potatoes, with a spoon in it and ready to eat.

FALL MEAL PLANNING RECIPES

As we move into cooler temperatures, I love to plan meals that include yummy fall vegetables. Fall is the season of beautiful colors. Naturally, sweet potato and squash top the list!

Overhead view of the casserole dish of the shredded chicken enchiladas that have been removed from the oven so the melted cheese can be seen.

WINTER MEAL PLANNING RECIPES

Hearty and healthy winter meals are truly a comfort to make and eat. Just because it’s winter, though, does not mean that I’ll fill up on calorie-laden dishes. Healthy, heartwarming, and delicious! That’s a winter meal.

This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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