How to meal plan {and some free printables}

The temperatures are dropping and slow cooked meals like casseroles and curries are the perfect family dinner for this time of year. But slow cooking requires a little more planning than usual since you need to have the ingredients on hand to begin cooking earlier in the day so now is a good time to get into some good meal planning habits.

Meal Planning - Meal Routine

Apart from helping you get your slow cooker going early, meal planning also:

Saves time - no more staring into the fridge or wandering around the supermarket trying to think what to have for dinner. You can also plan to cook double batches of meals and freeze them for busier nights ahead.

Saves angst - you can avoid that last minute 'what can I cook for dinner?' scramble because you've already planned it all.

Saves money - avoid costly takeaway meals and instead, plan your meals around supermarket specials and seasonal produce.

Reduces waste - plan to use up the ingredients you already have rather than throwing them out later when they pass their use by date.

Encourages healthy eating - plan your meals around a balanced diet, making sure to include a wide range of in-season food.

Declutters your fridge, freezer and pantry - you only buy what you need each week so there's less clutter and you can actually see what's in there.

So follow these three simple steps to get meal planning happening in your house:


This step isn't essential but setting up a meal routine will make meal planning each week so much easier. Look at what you have on during a typical week and plan meal 'themes' around those activities.

For instance, if you get home late on a Thursday evening, you might make Thursday your slow cooker night. If you have a little more time on a Tuesday night, you might make that the night you try a new recipe. Or you may have the same pizza every Friday night.

You'll find that having a Meal Routine makes regular meal planning so much easier. So, click on the picture below to download your free printable Meal Routine. Print it as often as you like - you can create a Meal Routine for one week or a fortnight or more. Then, when the seasons change or if you get bored with the one you're using, begin a new one.

Free printable Meal Routine template


Most people start out meal planning for the week ahead but it doesn't take much longer to meal plan for a fortnight, month or even a school term. Often, you can simply repeat the same few weekly plans over a period of a couple of months. This can save time because you can often cook double quantities and freeze half for future meals. It can also save you money if you buy the ingredients in bulk.

Choose the Weekly Meal Plan template for planning by week or print two and plan by fortnight.

Free printable Weekly Meal Plan template

Or choose the Monthly Meal Plan template for planning by month or print two and plan by school term.

Free printable Monthly Meal Plan template


With your Meal Routine as a guide, and taking into account in-season produce and store specials, fill in your meal plan.

Begin by looking at what you have in your planner. For instance, if you're going out for dinner one night, put that in so you know not to plan a meal that night.

Then add the easy ones: do you have the same thing for breakfast every Sunday? Pop that in. Do the kids have tuck shop for lunch every Friday? Put that in too. Is Friday night pizza night at your place? Fill that in.

Another idea is to ask each family member for a favourite meal to add. Put those in and you'll probably find that your meal plan is filling up quickly.

Then fill in the rest of the gaps using your Meal Routine. If you're meal planning for more than one week, duplicate meals and plan to cook a double batch and freeze half.

And you're done! Just remember to stick your Meal Plan on the fridge so the rest of the family can see what the menu is for each day.

Happy meal planning!