10 Different Meal Planning Methods

There is a meal planning method to fit everyone's personality style. Which method do you love?

I have been married for over 10 years, but I am still trying to figure out how to manage my home, children, and work. It is amazing how there are so many different ways to do everything. I’ve settled into a meal planning method that works well for me, but it certainly isn’t the only way to meal plan.

Before we dig into different meal planning methods, let’s get some of the basic questions out of the way.

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is the simple act of thinking ahead about what you want to eat, using those ideas to create your grocery list, and then eating those meals over the next several days. For a more detailed look at meal planning read Meal Planning to Save Time and Money.

Why should I meal plan?

When I don’t meal plan, I end up spending more money by grabbing take-out. Which also means that I eat less healthy because I’m eating take-out, convenience foods, or less balanced meals.

Does meal planning meal that I plan all of the meals for the week or just the main meal of the day?

It can mean whatever you want it to mean! Many people like to assign meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I only plan specific meals for dinner. I think it really depends on how much enjoyment you get out of planning and organizing. Do whatever feels good to you!

But, Rebekah, I hate the idea of planning out every single thing I’m going to eat a week in advance! What if I don’t feel like eating lasagna on Sunday and tacos on Wednesday?

Meal planning doesn’t mean you have to be boxed into a schedule. There are actually many different meal planning methods. Surely, you can find one that fits your style.

crock pot cheesy pasta and beef casserole - an amazing dish for an affordable dinner party menu

10 Different Meal Planning Methods

In these explanations and examples, I will be focusing on meal planning only dinner/supper. However, any of these ideas could be tweaked to include planning breakfast and lunch also.

1. Fully Scheduled – Assign a specific meal for each night of the week. For example: Monday: Cheesy Vegetable Soup, Tuesday: Chili Pie, Wednesday: Chicken Fried Rice, etc.

2. Loosely Scheduled – Plan specific meals, but don’t assign them to any particular day of the week. Then every morning decide what you want to make for that evening and prep accordingly. This is the method that I use.

3. Monthly – Plan meals for every day of the month! It sounds intimidating, but many people love it. With this plan, you could significantly cut down on how often you go to the grocery store. Plan for the whole month with this free printable.

4. Themed Days of the Week – Assign each day of the week to a specific food theme to help you structure your meal plan. You can do this with different kinds of meat (Monday: chicken, Tuesday: beef, Wednesday: pork, Thursday: vegetarian, etc.) or you can do different styles of meals.

Here are some food themes to help you brainstorm:

  • Mexican/Spanish
  • Italian
  • Pizza Night
  • Breakfast for Supper
  • Soup
  • Vegetarian
  • Crockpot

10 Different Meal Planning Methods

5. Batch Cooking – I love having meals in my freezer to help me out on busy nights. One way that I fill my freezer is by batch cooking. I plan ahead so I can make a double batch (or more!) of a freezer friendly recipe. We eat one that night for supper and the other batch goes into my freezer for another day.

When I create a “Batch Cooking” meal plan, I focus on recipes that are freezer friendly. You can create an entire meal plan out of freezer friendly recipes and add 5 or more meals to your freezer in one week. Or you can fill your freezer more slowly and create just one or two freezer friendly dishes each week.

Some of my favorite freezer friendly recipes include:

If you are new to freezer cooking, these 4 Steps for Getting Started in Freezer Cooking will inspire you to start filling your freezer!

6. Freezer Cooking Day – If you love the idea of batch cooking and want to take it to the extreme, then a freezer cooking day is perfect for you! Instead of filling your freezer over time, you spend one crazy day making a ton of meals. It is a lot of work, but then the reward of being able to eat from your freezer all month is pretty amazing.

You can read about my own adventures in freezer cooking days here: Freezer Cooking Day (Part 1) and (Part 2)I also recommend 10 Tips for a Successful Freezer Cooking Day.

7. Pinterest Inspired – I really enjoy trying new recipes. Pinterest has been a great place for me to collect all the new recipes I want to try. Plus, Pinterest keeps my favorite “Pinterest discovered” recipes organized. 

The only bad thing about Pinterest, is that I struggle to remember which board I pinned a recipe onto when it comes time to make that meal during the week. Thankfully, Nicole gave me the great tip to create a secret board dedicated to my meal plan. As I add a recipe to my meal plan for the week, I repin the recipe to the “Meal Plan” board so I can easily find the recipe later.

10 Different Meal Planning Methods

8. Backwards Meal Planning – With this meal planning style, you focus on buying items that are on sale and in season to maximize your grocery budget.

“Instead of planning your shopping cart around your menu, you will plan your menu around your shopping cart.” – Mindy, author of Backwards Meal Planning

Check out the eBook Backwards Meal Planning for a full explanation of backwards meal planning, tips for how to make it work, and printables to help you put it into action.

9. Crockpot Inspired – Basing your meal plan around the crockpot can be helpful when you have busy nights or if you want to keep your house cooler by not using the oven. But is it possible to make an entire meal plan with only crockpot friendly recipes? It sure is! Check out 100 Days of No Processed Meals: Crockpot Style.

10. Eat from the Pantry Challenge – This isn’t exactly a meal planning method, but choosing to eat the stockpiles of food you already have in your pantry and freezer can be amazing for your budget. Check out these great tips for Preparing for a Eat-From-The-Pantry Challenge.

Which meal planning methods do you love? And which are totally NOT your style?


  1. We totally plan for the week. And by we, I really mean John 🙂 During the school year, we are pretty routine and he plans the meals, makes the list and shops. During the summer, we plan but there is usually a night devoted to a Pinterest find that I want to try. We have a meal board and everything! I would never make a nightly decision-we would starve!

    1. I love how much John is involved in the meal planning and prep! I think that is fantastic. It is an added perk that you guys don’t starve. 🙂

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