5 Practical Steps to a Simple Meal Plan and Easy Weeknight Dinner Ideas

meal planning

May 27, 2022

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I'm Chelsi Jo

I know all too well how hard it can be to have the word simple and meal plan in the same sentence. I mean oxymoron right? I am here to tell you that a simple meal plan is absolutely possible and your easy weeknight dinner ideas are finally here! I’ve dug down deep for the past few months and created 5 practical steps to help build a growing list of 10 minute dinner ideas. This simple meal plan I created is full of Trader Joe’s dinner ideas, but can also be adapted to your favorite local market. The goal was to provide a system that would make family dinner ideas less painful for not only you, but me too, and I think you are really going to love it, so let’s get started.

1-Create a current list of meals your family loves

The very first step to a simple meal plan is to know what meals your family absolutely loves. There has been nothing more frustrating to me than spending hours on a Saturday scouring Pinterest for “family dinner ideas”, or “easy meal plans”, writing them down in my cute meal planner that I searched endlessly for, then making a shopping list based what I do and don’t have in my fridge, and then cooking up a meal no one was actually interested in.

I use to absolutely dread coming up with a grocery list every week because it was taking me HOURS to complete. Every now and then we would come up with a meal that everyone loved and then a week or two later we forgot all about it. What in the world you guys!? I knew there was no way to get around cooking because eating out regularly is hard on the body, and the bank. There had to be a system that worked better than sifting through Pinterest searches of other peoples favorite meals.

The Commitment to a Healthier Meal Plan

That’s when it came to me! We can just eat Mac N Cheese every day for the rest of our lives, YES!! I really think I was on to something there. I mean, have you walked in to any grocery store lately, or looked at the kids meal at any restaurant? They are packed full of Mac N Cheese options. I know I’m not the only person that has defaulted to believing in the possibility of living off this stuff.

Sadly, I’ve invested years of holistic healing through food and am committed to keeping a no preservative, no dyes, low processed grains and sugar, high protein, fat, and plant based carb meal plan for myself and my family. I operate at my optimum when I stick to a loose paleo diet (and I say loose because I am all about everything in moderation), get good sleep, and keep a good routine. More about that later on.

The Start Of The Simple Meal Planning System

This is where my idea for this system began to grow. I sat down, with the help of my kids and husband, and started writing down all the meals that we all like. The most important part of this entire step is to remember that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. If you have picky eaters around your table then I know this can be extremely challenging, but it IS possible.

If you have a meal idea, like lasagna for example, that only 2/4 of your family members like, that’s ok, you can put it on the list. Ask yourself, “is there anything about lasagna that the other 2 members like? Can I pull out a few noodles and meat and sauce and cheese and put them on a plate before I mix it all together and let them eat it that way?”

Finding Simple and Successful Family Dinner Ideas 

This is about finding family dinner ideas that are simple and successful for your family. One of the worst feelings is being limited to a handful of options and not knowing how to expand the variety of foods in your home. Start with what you know works, then add in slowly. It is absolutely okay to add one thing on a plate, or one meal a week that might only be liked by one person. You will have plenty of easy weeknight dinner ideas on hand in no time if you give this a try.

2-Make Meal Cards

The second step for simple meal planning is to make meal cards. Once you have all these ideas written down, you will need a way to keep them organized. Trust me when I say this, writing down your ideas is not enough. I have endless meal planners, sheets of papers, templates, and the like, full of meals that I have made. The notes are all there but I can’t do anything with them because I don’t have a system.

Simple Meal Plan Tip – Use Meal Cards

When I started exploring what this would look like I just used old fashion index cards. I would write the name of the meal on the front, and then everything I needed to make the meal on the back. It is super practical and worked relatively well. If you’re like me though, practical has to be met with some sort of design, so I made up some cute meal cards and have made them into a super simple download for you to print off at home. Now when I have our meal cards on display I feel inspired and I know you will too.

I was just tossing them in a kitchen drawer for a while until I got a wild idea to buy one of the little boxes our grandmas had in their kitchen, you know, a recipe box. And guess what, Joanna Gaines, my spirit animal, has one through Magnolia, at Target for $15, so obviously I got that one. (it’s no longer available though.)

meal planning

Another one I am drooling over is this one from Rifle Paper Co. on Amazon for $34.

Me, my kids, and my husband are able to look through our catalogue of meals and pick out the meals for the week in a flash. Imagine literally being able to pull 7 cards out of your recipe box that have a straightforward list of what we would need to make the meal right there in simple text, and boom, meal planning is done! I am no longer searching for hours on what we will be eating, and I am able to have contribution from others on what the week of meals will be. Here is a look at what our current meal cards look like, and they are totally going to be as awesome in your kitchen as they are in mine.

simple meal plan for weeknight dinners

Get them downloaded asap and start making meal time simple!

3-Make A Menu Board

The third essential step to a simple meal plan is to make a menu board. This step is incredibly important for success in implementing this simple meal plan. Overlooking what you planned to eat for the week is asking for one heck of a mix up at the end of the week when you ate the rice with your salmon meal and now you are having potatoes with your tacos. Oops.

Or better yet, another member in your family goes on an eating spree and gobbles up the items you had set aside to make a meal. Now we are 5 cars deep in the In and Out line and a Wednesday night. (Ain’t nobody gonna be mad about that tho, am I right?). Take those meal cards you have downloaded from this blog post, or make your own and create a space where you will hang them for the week where everyone can see them.

Make Your Own Menu Board for Simple Meal Planning

This is the board I made out of a wooden sign, a few clips hung on some small nails, and a white paint pen. I stumbled upon the wood sign in the clearance section, and picked up clips from the scrapbook supply section, all at Hobby Lobby.

There are some super cute ideas for “weekly meal boards” on Pinterest. If you need inspiration click here. If you aren’t crafty, or don’t have the time, Etsy is full of them as well. Here is one that I love for a super modern farm look.

You can also purchase magnetic clips like these from Amazon for $8 and put them on your fridge door.

4-Plan Your Weekly Meals

The fourth simple meal plan tip is to plan out your weekly meals. Now that you have your easy weeknight dinner ideas all written down, and have a plan in place to add to the ones you currently have, it is going to be a breeze sitting down each week to plan your family’s meals. The only thing you will need to do is grab your recipe box, pull out the number of meals you need for the week and make a list of what you don’t have on hand to make that meal.

Additionally, since these dinner ideas are 10 minutes or less to prep, the list of ingredients you need is super simple. You will see on the front of the cards I created for you to download, a straight forward ingredient list. This makes drafting a grocery list a piece of cake, and allows you to complete in a matter of minutes.

Easy Ten Minute Dinner Ideas

Just add on your staples to the grocery list and you’re out the door. If you are struggling with ideas in general, and literally don’t feel like you even know where to begin, have no fear, I will be sharing all mine with you. Slowly but surely we will build a box full of 10 minute dinner ideas together. Here is a list of 5 different dinners that we love in our house.

My go to market is Trader Joes, because Trade Joe’s dinner ideas are literally everywhere as soon as you step foot in the door. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s close by, that’s okay, you may just spend an additional 15-30 minutes prepping food that hasn’t already been done for you. (Weekend meal prepping will help with all that, but I’ll save that for a different post.)

YOUR EASY DINNER IDEAS Download your meal cards here!

Remember, any and every meal is adaptable to the eating needs you have. For me, I really try and stick to a paleo as much as possible. After years of auto immune disorders and dedicating my path to healing via food I have experienced the gamut of restorative eating plans, but not everyone in my house eats that way. Often times my plate has more avocado and greens and I skip the bun or the processed grain.

For those of you avoiding gluten, make substitutions where needed. Vegan friends, use a Beyond Meat burger instead of beef (but keep that Daiya cheese because it is amazing). The point is not to say that these meals are exactly fit for any one type of family but rather that these meals can give you inspiration to create a meal fit for your needs.

5-Create An Evening Timeline

The final step for creating your simple meal plan is to establish a set time for cooking dinner EVERY night. This step is incredibly important. In order to make it a little more simple for you I’ve shared an example of what our night looks like, starting from the end of the night back to dinner time. This shows you how I worked through an ideal evening, from finish to start. Therefore, it is critical that you get out a piece of paper (right now) and work backwards through your evening. Use this as a starting point to get your evening routine established.

Your Evening Schedule

  • 7:30pm lights out for oldest
  • 7:00pm lights out for youngest
  • 6:15pm bath for both kids
  • 6:00pm dinner clean up
  • 5:00pm dinner
  • 4:30pm start dinner

Dinner Starts at 4:30?!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dinner starts at 4:30? Yep, it sure does. We have made a conscious decision in our home to prioritize our health and family time over long hours in after school programs, evening gym time, and personal endeavors. Dinner time in our home is something we look forward to. It is a time for us to talk about our day, connect, learn, grow, and nourish ourselves. There can be balance here, too. Most nights can be met at the table while 1-2 nights can be served in a different way. The main reason why I am sharing this portion of my life with you is because it is vital for the longevity of our inner and outer being that we love ourselves through food.

Dinner time in our home is something we look forward to. It is a time for us to talk about our day, connect, learn, grow, and nourish ourselves.

It is not sufficient to say that you love yourself just the way you are if all the while you are loving yourself, you are also making food choices that are directly hurting your physical and mental wellbeing. That is not loving yourself, or loving those who look to you for the love and talents you were meant to give abundantly to this world. In order to be strong women, we cannot just say we are strong, we have to be strong, and without nourishment our body will fail us every time.

Flexibility is Key

Let me be clear, I absolutely believe in being flexible, within reason, and there are many days where this ideal time line doesn’t happen. Those weeks when this time line isn’t part of our day, our day is really, really hard. You know how this goes: you look at the clock and realize the time got away from you and now you have to decide if you can refreeze that chicken you laid out to thaw and grab take out, or eat a late dinner and cook that chicken.

At that point, you’re either spending more money, eating less healthy options, or pushing back everyone’s bedtime. Now the kiddos get to bed much later, which means we get to bed much later, which also means the next day is harder and then Here. We. Go. Again with a cycle that has no automatic stop button.

It Doesn’t Have to be That Hard!

Needless to say, you have all landed here because getting nourishing food in our lives regularly is just plain hard. I promise, it really doesn’t have to be that hard. One thing that I believe in more than anything is discipline. With a few simple steps and dedication you can have peaceful evenings that are full of good yet simple meals. I would absolutely love to hear some of your ideas for meals that nourish your families plus meet the needs of sometimes picky eaters too.

Leave a comment or head over to my Instagram to let me know what go to meals you’ve been loving lately. And don’t forget to grab your free printable meal cards and get a jump start on your simple meal plans for easy weeknight dinner ideas. If you need a good way to save this post just add this image to your food/recipe board on Pinterest and you’ll be able to get back to it any time you need it.

simple meal plan

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I plan my day and week better in order to prioritize meal planning and cooking healthier foods for myself and my family?

By taking the few minutes out of your week to sit down and plan the week ahead you can be sure you are prioritizing meal planning and healthy eating for you and the entire family. Through implementing your fundamental needs HERE and planning your day and week with time blocking – you can be sure the whole family is fed well!

simple meal planning
creating a simple meal plan

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