Between busy schedules and a family full of picky eaters, the dinner struggle is real. Finding inspiration for quick, budget-friendly and (at least somewhat) healthy meals can challenge the best of home cooks, never mind those whose plates are already heaped pile-high.
That’s where meal planning becomes a lifesaver—if you can take the time to actually do it. If you don’t have the means to sit down weekly and plot out your favourite fare, we’ve got your back with this simple guide that will help you plan your meals and grocery list, too. These meal ideas and recipes (one for every night of the week, plus two bonus ideas to swap in and out) makes preparing a weekly meal plan or menu easy while helping you to create dishes that are anything but routine.
How to Start Meal Planning? Try These No-Fail Meal Planning Ideas!
Get the recipe for Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
1. Start with Pasta
Pasta is an affordable universal favourite, so why not make it a weekly thing? Having a designated pasta night is genius because you can essentially pair any kind of pasta with whichever sauce, protein and veggie you feel like, and then you can do something completely different the following week.
Looking for some inspiration other than another plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Try these recipes instead:
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
15-Minute Three-Cheese Spring Pasta with Peas
Sweet Potato and Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Garlic Scapes and Grilled Shrimp
Anna Olson’s Beef Stroganoff
Ina Garten’s Bow Tie Pasta with Broccoli and Peas
Get the recipe for Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak
2. You Can’t go Wrong with Protein and Veg
A barbecued, baked or even pan-fried cut of meat or fish always pairs well with some steamed or baked veggies. Switch up your marinades and cooking methods for even more variety, and then throw in some rice, lentils or potatoes for a complete meal.
Want some new ideas? Check out these simple-to-prepare recipes:
30-Minute Kimchi Chicken Patties
No-Mess Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin With Veggies
The Best *Vegan* Steak Recipe Ever
10-Minute Blackened Trout With Green Beans
Dill Salmon Burgers With Dairy-Free Tzatziki
Get the recipe for Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup
3. Soup and Salads are Your Friends
There are so many hearty salads and filling soups out there these days that it’s easy to make either one a meal in itself. If the weather is nice, plan on eating an elevated salad one night of the week with some fancy ingredients to make it interesting. Or, for those weeks when you need something a little more comforting, plan on having a hot soup and some crusty baguette to go with it.
Get started with these recipes:
Immune-Boosting Bone Broth, Chicken and Vegetable Soup
The Pioneer Woman’s Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup
Marinated Artichoke Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan
The Pioneer Woman’s Lighter Asian Noodle Salad
Get the recipe for Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich
4. Make Use of Your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
Who doesn’t love a meal that you can throw together and then forget about until it’s ready? That’s the beauty of slow cookers and Instant Pots—they do all of the heavy lifting for you. Figure out which night of the week will be your busiest, and then plan to use either tool to help pull dinner together in a breeze.
Need a new Crockpot or pressure cooker recipe? Check out any of these delicious dishes:
Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich
Instant Pot Chicken Adobo
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas
Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs
The Pioneer Woman’s Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili
Get the recipe for Slow Cooker Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas
5. Stock up on Easy-to-Assemble Ingredients
Having a well-stocked pantry is always key when it comes to throwing together last-minute dinners, or figuring out how to use up fresh ingredients that have been sitting in your fridge for a few extra days. Make sure to keep things like canned tuna and lots of stock, tomato sauce and a few protein-filled grains and legumes on hand.
Check out these simple ideas to elevate your basic pantry staples:
The Pioneer Woman’s Classic Tuna Melts
The Pioneer Woman’s Tuna Noodle Casserole
One Can of Chickpeas, Six Different Meals
10-Minute Spicy Sautéed Cauliflower and Chickpea Dish
One-Pot Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce
How to Make the Perfect Veggie Burger (Plus One Easy Recipe!)
Get the recipe for The Best Homemade Veggie Burger
6. Find Your Freezer Meals
Remember those meals you made a few months ago that have been sitting in your freezer just waiting to be eaten ever since? Well, make use of them already, especially if you know you have an evening coming up where preparing dinner is just going to be another thing to worry about. And if you haven’t gotten on the freezer meal train just yet, you may want to think about starting. Whether it’s doubling up on your next pasta sauce or cobbling together a second lasagna or tray of enchiladas, there are plenty of freezer meals that you can make ahead of time to enjoy on those hectic nights when cooking is the last thing you want to be doing.
Get the recipe for Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts
7. Have an Eat-With-Your-Hands Night
Whether it’s a burger, pizza or taco, it’s always fun to eat with your hands. That’s probably why these are the same fast-food items we tend to usually order throughout the week. If you want to save money, use better ingredients and still have a meal in a matter of minutes for a well-deserved Eat-With-Your-Hands night!
From pizza and tacos to sloppy joes and charcuterie boards, there are plenty of hands-on dishes to choose from here:
The Pioneer Woman’s Sloppy Joes
Mushroom Lovers’ French Bread Pizzas
The Pioneer Woman’s Shrimp Tacos
Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts
Get the recipe for Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Crispy Cauliflower Crust
8. Make One Night a Meatless Night
We’ve heard of Meatless Mondays, but really any night of the week is a good excuse to go meatless—especially when you incorporate foods like whole grains, quinoa and barley that fill the tummy and soul. Stir yourself up a creamy risotto, build a yummy Buddha bowl with all the things, or stuff an eggplant or squash with some whole grains and nuts. Keep it simple and hearty, and before long, you won’t even remember a time when you didn’t incorporate a meatless dish into your meal planning.
Check out these easy vegan recipes for beginners to get you started.
Get the recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili
9. Plan a Designated Leftover Night
Last but not least, it’s always a great idea to make one night an evening of no planning. That’s right, we’re talking leftovers. Once a week, throw whatever leftovers you have in the fridge on the table for everyone to enjoy, or reimagine them into a creative, brand new dish that requires very little effort.
Check out some of our favourite ways to use up leftovers here:
The Best Leftover Turkey Pizza
Our Favourite Leftover Chicken Recipes
The Most Genius Ways to Use Leftover Rice
Weeknight Dinners That Taste Even Better as Leftovers
Looking for more meal planning tips? Try these hacks that will help you plan like a pro.