Meal Planning 101


There are lots of bloggers who have done a post on this before, and everyone has a slightly different approach.

All I have to say is, if you are planning your meals then you’re already ahead of the game – it doesn’t really matter how you plan, so long as you are planning (see the benefits of meal planning here)!

Having said that, I had some requests for a meal planning post so I’m happy to share my method! (There’s also a PDF planning template at the end of this post that I created for you – yeah, I know, thank me later ;)).

My plan is pretty simple, though I realized after I photographed my notes that many people have difficulty reading my handwriting, so apologies in advance about that.

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Let’s get going:

  • I plan 4 meals per week, because there’s always things like leftovers, meals out and days when you’re too tired or short on time to do much more than nuke an Amy’s meal.
  • Separate out the four weeks of the month and make room for 4 meals to be written, as below.
  • I make sure that at least one meal a week is a new recipe I haven’t tried before – but this is because I’m a food blogger and want to keep coming up with recipes to post. If this isn’t a concern for you, then omit this, but it is good to keep changing things up so you’re not eating the same foods again and again!
  • On that note, I also leave room at the bottom to plan out 6 snacks and 4 breakfasts for the month, otherwise I get stuck in a rut and eat the same breakfast/snack on the same things over and over again.

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*NOTE: You may have noticed I don’t plan my lunches. Just not my thing. I tend to pack leftovers, or get sushi or a salad from the shopping plaza by my work, or just have soup or something light. If you want to plan them, I would suggest planning them like your dinners under a “Lunch” heading.


  • I write the name of the dish I’ll be making next to each meal heading.
  • From there, I draw an arrow to the side and write down any ingredients that I need to buy from the store in order to make this dish. You might need to leave more room if you anticipate needing a lot of new food for a dish.
Click on images to enlarge:

Copyright to Anna Wootton


  • I plan out six snack ideas (trying to make them different from last month, but some favourites just sneak in there – looking at you protein muffin!)
  • I highlight any parts of the snack (ingredients) that I need to buy from the store:

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  • I plan out four breakfast ideas
  • Again, I highlight any part of the breakfast I will need to buy from the store:

Copyright to The Guiltless Life

This way, you pretty much have your grocery list done already. You just write out the items that were to the right of each meal and the highlighted items on a separate piece of paper and voila!

You can just do this plan week by week, but I tend to it for the whole month because I do a huge bulk buy each month. So that’s when I buy all the non-perishable items even for meals that I won’t make until Week 4, like:

  • cans of beans, chickpeas etc.
  • cartons of Almond Breeze almond milk
  • condiments, spices, dried herbs
  • baking supplies like gluten-free flours, baking soda/powder, sugars and sweeteners
  • jars of nut butters
  • grains like oats, quinoa, rice

I do that shop at a place like Costco where the money savings make it worth bulk buying! Especially as a lot of these ingredients (I’m eyeing you nut butter!) can be quite expensive when bought in regular stores.

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(Does that image make anyone else’s eyes go funny? So weird.)

This way each week I’m not wasting much time food shopping – I just run to the store for a few items I need, like organic produce and dairy/refrigerated items that are needed.

Grocery shopping in 20 minutes? I’ll take it!

Here’s a link to download my meal planning template in PDF format:

If you want this in Word (so you can customize it) email me at

For fun, let’s do a poll!


  • Any planning tips you want to share?
  • Any other planning posts you want to see? I’m always open to suggestions!


  1. Alexiasana says:

    great post on meal planning! i do it similar to you, i plan out about 4 meals a week to cook and make a lot of leftovers to bring for lunches etc. i also try to make at least 1 NEW recipe per week. i easily get bored of the same food and its so much fun to cook new blogger recipes!

  2. You are so organized! I do meal plan sort of, I pick a couple meals I know Im going to make, but I just write everything down on one long list! I should try to be more organized like this!

    Happy Friday ! ❤

  3. This is fantastic Anna, thank you for the great post! I have an internship this semester where I have to plan my meals in advance… I could use the tips!

  4. wow you are so organized! this is a great meal planning strategy. for me – during the week i don’t really ‘plan’ meals because i cook just for myself. i load up on veggies and make sure i have some protein sources around. and then i just cook up something very very simple that sound good that night. friday is my night to go out to eat. and saturday and sunday i cook for my boyfriend. usually saturday morning i spend time picking out two fun recipes and then we will do our weekly shopping trip saturday morning. as far as snacks, breakfast, and lunch – i pretty much rotate the same things over and over. but, it doesn’t bother me! when i have a family/husband though and have to cook for more people than myself on a nightly basis i am going to have to take inspiration from you and plan things out more carefully!

    • That sounds like a great plan though! I usually am cooking for my mom and I so it’s usually for 2 but I make enough for 4 most of the time to allow for leftovers. Sounds like you and your boyfriend have a great weekend pattern though!

  5. Great post! I need your organization skills! I normally just roam around my kitchen looking for something to make!

  6. I love this! I am always wanting to plan out meals before I go grocery shopping, but it never seems to workout right! This is a great strategy! I will have to give this a try! Thanks for the advice!!!

  7. good tips! I have a very similar approach. Only 4 meals, and i only plan dinner because cereal and oatmeal are just things I always have around. And definitely one new meal a week, but I’ve totally been slacking in my food blogging lately… as you may have noticed. Even when I make something new I am so rushed these days with late nights at work that taking pictures is just out of the question! Gotta work on that…

  8. I wish I was this organized! haha. Sometimes I’ll plan a meal or two, but since the semester started, neither of us is around enough for meals to happen together 😦 Hence the recipes for smoothies and mini quiches and such. But even so…I’m still not organized when it comes to meal planning 😛 great post, Anna!

    • Oh I remember how tough it was when I was studying and working too, so I wouldn’t expect you to be super planned – it’s so hectic! Plus it’s tough to be motivated to plan meals for one person, I get that. When I move out my culinary experimentation is going to go downhill haha.

  9. I envy your meal-planning organization! It’s something I definitely need to improve on. I know it would force me to incorporate a wider variety of foods. When my meals are last minute, I tend to stick to the same stuff!
    Your tips are so helpful and inspiring. Thank you!

    • I definitely get stuck in ruts too, girl, I feel you! Just because I plan doesn’t mean I’m always coming up with exciting stuff, but the planning does help encourage me to try to push my boundaries. Some weeks it just doesn’t happen though haha. You’re more than welcome, I hope this helps!

  10. this is such a great post im typically not much of a meal planner I rarely stick to it if I do plan plus cooking for one makes it difficult to make meals…. I typically plan my meals around whatever produce is in season or is on sale/looks good at the store and then kinda wing it from there, I usually try to create 2-3 new dishes per week based on what I have but I do find myself shopping almost every day… perks of working for a grocery store I guess 😉

  11. Love you girl!!!! Ahhh I should plan better, but with working from home, I just hit the store often…..probably not good for my wallet, but I love variety and new things…plus I like getting out of the house! LOL!!

    I do make a good shopping list though!! hehe

    • The grocery store is my favourite place to go if I just need to get out of the house last minute and don’t want to bother making plans with friends lol. Maybe that’s sad, I dunno – I love it! I love when I can browse Whole Foods with time on my hands – definitely a hit on my wallet also, but that’s when I discover all the new products I don’t find when I’m just running in and out!

  12. You are so organized! I think that is where I breakdown and don’t cook very much is because I get so disorganized. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  13. Thanks for the reminder. When I was heavy into Weight Watchers I planned my meals out and it made life so much easier. I need to get back to doing that again!

  14. I NEED to do this! Planning for one person seems so difficult to me. It really isn’t, it’s just taking the time to do it. I always have an idea in my mind of what I want to eat, but never really write it out. I just know that I have the ingredient and mostly wing it when I get home. This is definitely something that I need to work on.

  15. Love this post, Anna! Now that I have a new job (!) I am so excited to be home in the evenings to actually make dinner rather than eating eggs or cereal every night. So I was already thinking about how to plan meals and this came at the perfect time. I may or may not steal your 4 meals per week plan. 🙂

  16. Your meal planning idea is great! I tried planning our meals for an entire week but ended up not following them. 🙂 But i guess when you’re in a tight schedule, the meal planning idea will be of great help since you wont be worrying about what to cook for lunch or dinner after a very long tiring day at work.


  1. […] miss meat (I’m sure some do of course). I just mean that there’s something that makes meal planning a whole lot easier when you just have to think of the type of meat, the type of starch and the type […]

  2. […] I have written previously about meal planning and grocery shopping here. […]

  3. […] previously addressed meal planning and balanced meal building (though if there is anything more specific you want to know on either of […]

  4. […] previously addressed meal planning and balanced meal building (though if there is anything more specific you want to know on either of […]

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