Cleaning & Organization Dinner How-To

3 Life-Changing Meal Planning Hacks

easy meal planning hacks

These meal planning hacks are without a doubt, life-changing. You’ll never meal plan the same way again. Dinnertime, things just got real. 

Let’s do some math for a minute, shall we? I promise, it will be fun. We’ll call it Mom Math.

Okay, so there are 7 days in a week and 24 hours in a day. Let’s say you spend 3 hours sleeping, 19,093 hours cleaning, 20.2 hours chasing (dogs or kids, either works), 33 1/3 hours cooking, and 10.999 hours meal planning. I admittedly cannot do math for the life of me, but this sure ads up to a whole lot of nonsense.

As moms, the mental load is real. There are approximately 4.6 billion thoughts firing through our brains at any given moment with a constant chorus reminding us of all the things we have to get done. So my question is, why not figure out a way we can gain some time back? Cut back on the amount of time we spend doing certain things? I mean, cleaning is cleaning and the time it takes is the time it takes. Certain household tasks just take more time than others. But why does meal planning have to be one of them?

meal planning hacks


True story, before having kids I used to spend hours on the weekend just leisurely flipping through my beloved cookbook collection, coming up with fun dinner ideas for the week and doting over new and interesting recipe ideas. I know, I’m literally cringing just recalling this memory. Nobody with kids has time for that, nobody.

But still. Planning meals has got to happen. The family has to get fed, every night, on a budget, with healthy foods. We.Can.Do.This.

3 Life-Changing Meal Planning Hacks

1. Use Pinterest (Smarter, Not Harder)

Pinterest is a black hole of wonder. Anyone who has used it knows this to be true. While your intentions may be to meal plan, Pinterest has other ideas for you. Give it 5 minutes and suddenly you’ll be pinning anything with the words “salted caramel” – “dollar store” – or – “chalkboard” in the title.

So how to circumvent the addictive nature of Pinterest and still get some meal planning done? Simple.

  • Go to Search
  • Type in your keywords (ex: chicken, 30 minutes)
  • Then click on “Your Pins

meal planning hacks


This will show you anything you’ve pinned that has chicken and can be made in 30 minutes.

Your primary goal here is to narrow down the playing field so you’re not sifting through thousands of chicken recipes on Pinterest. By searching through your pins first, you’ll also be more likely to find meals you actually want to make since you pinned them in the first place.

Also, are we Pinterest friends? Speaking of the addictive nature of Pinterest, I regularly pin to my Easy Family Dinner Ideas board.

2. One and Done 

This trick is as easy as it gets. Use one cookbook. BAM. That’s it. Now, because of my cookbook obsession, I often find it hard to limit myself and in the old days I would pick 7 different recipes from 7 different books – but with 2 kids, I’m all about easy meal planning hacks.

Here’s How to Do it:

  • Pick one cookbook off your shelf (my personal favorite for this hack is Dinnertime by The Pioneer Woman)
  • Plan a week’s worth of dinners from that one book.
  • Done.

 | meal planning hacks | Essential Cookbooks for Busy Families

3. Use a Cheat Sheet

This printable cheat sheet is something I wish I had a long time ago. Since baby #2 came along I have really been relying on any and all meal planning hacks to help save me time and get our family’s meals planned quickly – and this one is by far my favorite.

Here’s How to Use it:

  • If planning out a week’s worth of meals, pick 1 meal from each day (Monday-Sunday), plus any side dishes, if applicable.
  • If you think you’ll need a recipe to make a certain meal, use Pinterest, cookbooks, or your own recipe binder to help you out.

For example: Let’s say you really want to make the Black Bean Burrito Bowls from the Meatless Monday section, but don’t know where to start. Head on over to Pinterest Search and type in “Black Bean Burrito Bowls” – easy!

The great thing about this printable meal planning cheat sheet is that most of the dinner ideas provided don’t really require a recipe – but of course, you’ve gotta do you, so if a recipe is what you need, then by all means.

  • Decide which things you’ll make from scratch and which will be store-bought.

For Example: Maybe you’ve decided on chicken tenders and fries for Thursday night. You could make homemade chicken tenders and get a bag of frozen fries or vice versa – or depending on how busy your day/week is, just make it a freezer meal night. Bottom line is you can make the cheat sheet work for you.

easy meal planning hacks

P.S. if you’re as obsessed with this planner as I am, you can also grab the Meal Planner Extension, because, #planninggoals.

If you liked this post, then you’ll definitely want to check out:

Crazy Easy 3 Ingredient Slow Cooker Dinner Ideas

No Recipe-Required Dinner Ideas from Real Moms

Pinterest Meal Plan + Meal Planning Tips

Pin It!

These Easy Meal Planning Hacks are life-changing! I've been meal planning all wrong this whole time! Cut back big time on the amount of time you spend planning out your family's meals with these 3 easy tricks! Meal Planning | Easy Dinners | Menu Plan | Meal Prep | Family Dinners | Easy | Healthy | Hacks | Meal Planner |


Note: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links for your convenience. I never recommend products that I don’t love and use myself.

Have any simple meal planning hacks to share?

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  • Reply
    September 28, 2017 at 3:37 PM

    I love the cheat sheet! I have a running lady of family favorites, but I like how yours is organized by category.

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:10 PM

      Thanks, Meg! I also have a separate list of family favorites in another notebook :)!

  • Reply
    Liz Smith
    September 28, 2017 at 6:47 PM

    Your tips are so helpful for meal planning! Looking forward to employing your ideas! ❤️

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:09 PM

      Thanks, Liz!

  • Reply
    September 28, 2017 at 8:23 PM

    These are some great tips! I really like the idea of doing all the meals for the week from one cookbook. I would usually have recipes from too many different sources and I end up getting overwhelmed. I love Pinterest too. I have made a secret board called meal planning to save the meals I want to cook in the future in one place.

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:08 PM

      Thanks! It has really saved me a lot of time. I’ll just quickly flip through one book and pick out a variety of things.

  • Reply
    The Sanity Plan
    September 28, 2017 at 10:17 PM

    These are great tips! I’ll be sharing this post 🙂

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:07 PM

      Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2017 at 9:29 AM

    The days of cooking pre baby! I was the same! LOL Great tip on how to narrow down the search quickly.

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:06 PM

      Haha, everything changes! Including how we think about dinnertime! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms
    September 29, 2017 at 1:01 PM

    I should do that with my cookbooks! Since I started using Pinterest, I don’t use them that often anymore. I should get them out again!

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 8:05 PM

      I try to alternate – like I’ll do one week where I plan meals solely from Pinterest and then one week I’ll only use a cookbook. Best of both!

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