4 Week Meal Plan for Busy People – Save Money and Time!

I mentioned in a previous post that we made a 4 week meal plan to try to save money and simplify our lives. Today I would like to share how we do it, in case you might be interested in trying this for yourself!

My goal was to do it for dinner only, since that is where we were struggling the most at being prepared, consistent, and healthy. I live with my husband and 9 year old. Both my husband and I work full time and do not typically get home until 5 or 530pm, so it’s difficult to cook elaborate family meals without running too late with dinner.  Also, we have a couple of activities after work in the evenings which results in the need to have a plan in advance.

How I made the 4 Week Meal Plan of Dinners, and how you can too!

There are 7 steps to T’s 4 week meal plan of dinners:

      1. Interview family members (If applicable)
      2. Download and print my template or create your own
      3. Fill in activities and favorite meals
      4. Fill in the gaps
      5. Make grocery list
      6. Meal prep
      7. Be flexible

Let’s dive into these steps in a bit more detail!

Step 1 – Interview family members/regulars (If applicable)

To determine what meals should go on the plan, I asked each family member what their favorite meals were to eat at home. This not only ensures there will be something everyone likes on the menu at least once or twice a week, but also encourages buy-in for those more “food-particular” people in the family. Here were the results of my interviews:

Husband: Homemade pizza, any variation of meat and potatoes, Chicken Parmesan, sandwich bar, chicken Casear salad, burgers.

Child: Breakfast, tacos, snack plates or charcuterie boards, frozen nuggets/strips of various types.

Self: Tex-mex anything (taco salad, fajitas, enchiladas, margaritas….the list goes on), curry, breakfast, homemade soup or stew with salad / bread, risotto in the instant pot, homemade pizzas and salad. Ok, I probably can’t get away with margaritas as a meal, but you get the idea.

Now we have a list of meals that we will use to start building the 4 week rotating dinner plan. In my case, I ended up with around 15 meals, or meal “concepts,” with which to build my meal plan.

NOTE: we always repeat meals in the 4 week meal plan to make life a bit easier and the grocery list a bit shorter.

NOTE 2: If you have a “picky” family member/regular, you are probably wondering – what if some of my family members don’t like what other family members put on the list? Ex. My kid likes nothing basically. Except the 4 things listed. This is fine. What I do is just make sure there is at least one or 2 “components” of every meal on the table that kiddo will eat. The goal is to keep exposing him to new foods, and eventually he may try them. Or so the experts say.

For example, my kiddo doesn’t like chicken parmesan, but I serve it with salad, bread, and maybe some random vegetable like sliced cucumbers. He will eat lettuce, croutons, bread, and cucumbers. Probably until he’s 80. If someone doesn’t like curry, serve a side of veggies or warm naan bread which you know they like. Also, I often serve meals as “components” rather than everything combined. For example, the sandwich bar allows everyone to choose their own sandwich toppings. This may be a non-issue for your family or regulars, in which case you are VERY LUCKY. Add this to your gratitude journal immediately.

Step 2 – Download and print my template or create your own

Next you’re going to grab your TonFIRE-Meal-Planning-WorkSheet, or you can just draw one on paper if that’s your jam. You will notice that my meal planning worksheet has 3 columns:

      1. Week # and day
      2. Dinner
      3. Activities happening

Step 3 – Fill in activities and favorite meals

On your sheet, enter any of your family’s activities during the dinner hours that happen every week. For example, I have yoga class Thursdays at 5:30pm. This will affect what we do for dinner that night. Maybe you have a standing dinner out  with friends once every week or 2. Fill it all in!

Then, start slotting your list of meals into the days. For now, leave any days with interfering activities blank. Feel free to re-use meals as you desire. Not every slot has to be filled.

For example, every Monday we have breakfast for supper, but the type of breakfast may vary – Omelets, pancakes, egg cups, crepes, etc. Every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday (or Tex-mex food night). Every Sunday is “meat n’ potatoes n’ veggies”. This should still leave you with a number of gaps. We will take care of these in step 4.

Step 4 – Fill in the gaps

At this point, I ended up with some days having no meal assigned to them, as there are more than 15 days to fill. I decided when making the meal plan that I wanted to have extra space for leftovers or takeout, and time to try new recipes.

Since Thursday nights are busy, each one is slotted as “leftovers/takeout” since we don’t have time to cook. We made every Saturday “New Recipe night” since we have more time to prepare something new. You may choose not to do this if you have more family choices to add to the plan.

If you still have gaps, repeat some of your favorite meals throughout the weeks.

Once the gaps are filled – HURRAH! You are done your 4 week dinner meal plan! Here’s what mine looks like after this step:

Week 1 Dinner Activities happening
M Waffles/pancakes/crepes, fruit, ham
T Taco Salad/Tacos
W Pizza/garlic bread & salad Dessert Night
T Leftovers/takeout 530p – Yoga 8pm – D&D
F Soup & sandwich/salad
S New recipe night
S Meat, potatoes & veggies
Week 2 Dinner Activities happening
M Omelets/Frittata, salad
T Nuggets/fish, potatoes, veggies
W Chicken parmesan, salad Dessert Night
T Leftovers/takeout 530p – Yoga 8pm – D&D
F Burgers & veggies
S  New recipe night
S Mushroom risotto, veggies
Week 3 Dinner Activities happening
M Waffles/pancakes, fruit, ham
T Taco/Mexican night
W Curry Dessert Night
T Leftovers/takeout 530p – Yoga 8pm – D&D
F Snack Plates/Charcuterie boards
S  New recipe night
S Meat & Potatoes & Veggies
Week 4 Dinner Activities happening
M Cereal/oats, eggs, fruit
T Taco/Mexican night
W Sandwich bar, salad or soup Dessert Night
Leftovers/takeout 530p – Yoga 8pm – D&D
F  Burgers & Veggies
S  New recipe night
S Meat, Potatoes, Veggies


T’s Meal Plan – Useful Notes

Activities: Last year we were doing activities 3 nights a week; this year it’s only Thursday night which has made it easier to plan and make meals. If you have more activities than we do, you may want to incorporate more batch cooking so you can repeat meals easily.

Desserts: Wednesday is our dedicated “Dessert night”. This was instituted early on, when we were eating too many desserts. It’s always fun to discuss through the week what EXCITING THING we are going to have for dessert night. Anticipation makes it better when it arrives.

Meal Kits: Once in awhile, we order a meal kit. This is especially good for people who get bored of the same meals week after week or month after month. Also it’s great for “New Recipe Night”. I did a review of 2 popular meal kits in this post if you want to check it out.

Leftovers: We try to have leftovers that will keep until the next day as often as possible. Then, we have lunch already made for the next day. BooYAH!

Step 5 – Make a grocery list

Once my meal plan was filled in completely, I went through each meal and made a “standard” list of ingredients. I usually order groceries online for pickup, so this makes it much easier to just look at “frequently ordered items” to get what I need each week. We have to refill our produce stores weekly, but we can usually store enough dry goods and freezer items to last the month. The only thing I typically need to add outside of the norm would be any unusual ingredients for our “New Recipe Night”. I divided my list into categories by location in the store:

      • Aisles
      • Produce
      • Deli
      • Meat/seafood
      • Dairy
      • Frozen foods
      • Bulk

Step 6 – Meal Prep

I try to look at the meal plan every week in advance to prep. For example:

    • We always have Taco Tuesday/Mexican night, so I try to prep the taco filling on Sunday to have on Tuesday.
    • Friday,  I usually take meat out of the freezer to have on Sunday.
    • I’ll grill or roast a large pan of veggies on Monday night to break up over a few meals.

My goal with every meal is to fill my plate with 1/2 veggies/fruit, and it helps to have those ready to go with minimal prep to discourage carb-plate-itis. If I’m REALLY short on time one week, I’ll buy a big fruit/veggie tray or a pre-made salad to allow me to pile them on my plate before the other foods.

carb-plate-itis: A word T made up to describe a common affliction of eating way more carbs for a meal vs. anything else.

4 Week Meal Plan – Step 7 – Be Flexible

If you have been keeping up with this blog, you know I’m not perfect, and not super-great at follow through. I also like to procrastinate. There are times when we aren’t right on track with the meal plan. THIS IS NORMAL. However, I have rarely had to think “oh, what are we having for dinner tonight??” as I can just check the sheet to see what’s up. Also I find that we are better stocked with ingredients now that I’m shopping online on a fairly regular schedule with a set list.

So far, I’ve been using the plan for one 4 week rotation. I may make some tweaks here and there to simplify, but overall it’s been a win! I’ll be sure to post an update if we make any significant changes to improve.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to leave your thoughts, tips and feedback in the comments.

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