How to Back-To-School Meal Plan Like a Pro + Recipes!

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Meal planning is kind of a passion of mine. I’ve been doing it every single week for the last 6 years, so now it is second nature to me. I find such peace of mind waking up on Monday morning knowing meals are set for the week, and everything we need has already been bought.

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Being perfectly honest, it took me a little while to get in the groove of things. It does take a decent amount of time and planning while prepping menus, lists, and make-ahead meals. But once I got the hang of it, I couldn’t imagine not planning every week! We also save a good amount of money this way. By only buying things that we know we need and will use during the week has cut back on impulse buying dramatically.

Here are some of my best tips for starting out:

Pinterest is your friend!

Pinterest is my best friend when it comes to meal planning. I know what our family likes and doesn’t like, so I just search for recipes based on that. I have a Pinterest board system set up as well. My boards include lunch ideas, main dishes, sides, soups and salads, Instant Pot, and crockpot. Once I pick a recipe from there to use for dinner for the week, I copy it to the “Meals This Week” board. This way, all of my weekly recipes are in one place and I don’t have to search for them. If I make a recipe we like, then after cooking it, I’ll move it to my “Recipes I’ll Make Again” board. If it’s not a winner, I delete it.

Get the whole family involved.

Every week I ask my husband and 3-year-old daughter what they want to eat. While hers is usually along the lines of PB&J and cucumbers, my husband likes to give his input. This also helps make him feel like he’s a part of the process and enjoys meals more knowing he had a hand in picking them.

Buy a reusable menu board with dry erase markers.

A picture of mine mounted to our pantry door is below. You can purchase one like it here, or one that hangs on your refrigerator here. Every week I write out breakfast, lunch, and dinner before going to the grocery store. This helps me visualize every meal while making a grocery list. This is also helpful because the whole family can see what’s for dinner instead of adding to the already one million questions asked a day.

Make extra at dinner.

I know what meals can be frozen and reheated. Soup, chili, and casseroles do great as leftovers for lunch the next day. When planning meals, I always take into consideration what’s for dinner the night before to see if it can be used in some form as lunch the next day. This cuts down on cost as well as time. The Instant Pot is one of my all-time favorite kitchen tools (read about my make ahead Instant Pot yogurt experience). I can make enough for leftovers in no time using my IP! 

Buy in bulk when necessary. 

We go to Sam’s usually once every month and a half to buy things such as meat and chicken nuggets. When I come home, I portion meat into single-serving baggies, then place in a freezer bag marked with what’s in it and the date. Chicken and pork are one per baggie, and ground beef and turkey are one pound portions. This helps in two ways: we only need 1-2 chicken breasts or pork chops per meal, and the ground meat defrosts much faster when squished flat in a baggie. I love saving time!

Prep for the week on Sunday.

Every Sunday, I take about an hour at some point to prep. My go-to prepping usually includes homemade freezer breakfast sandwiches and burritos, pizza dough (freezes for up to 2 months), buffalo chicken for wraps, cutting and/or portioning hearty fruits and veggies (like carrots, celery, blueberries, and grapes), and making things like overnight oats, baked oatmeal, and granola. I don’t make all of it every week, but we usually pick one or two to eat off of for a few days. This grab-and-go system works well because it’s easier to stick to what you plan when it’s readily available. Portioned containers are fantastic to have on hand when doing this!

Of course every week, we buy other staples not written on the board like cottage cheese, milk, and snacks. But perhaps one of the most amazing things about all of this is I only have to grocery shop once a week. Before prepping, I would find myself asking my husband what was for dinner, picking something, then realizing we were out of half the stuff and having to stop at the store on my way home. This added at least 1-2 trips a week to our weekly shopping trip. I was always left scratching my head wondering what the heck we even bought in the first place!

Start out small, maybe with dinners for the weeknights. Then as you get more comfortable add in lunches, then breakfast. Check out some of our favorite meal planning meals below, but most of all, just have fun with it! Happy planning!

Some of my favorite meal planning meals:

Fool Proof Pizza Dough from The Pioneer Woman
Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Muffins from The Novice Chef
Make Ahead Freezer Sandwiches from The Cozy Cook
Peanut Butter Banana Baked Oatmeal from Joy Food Sunshine
Instant Pot Pulled Pork from The Salty Marshmallow
Creamy Tomato Soup (freezes really well!) from The Novice Chef
Sweet Potato Chili from Tastes of Lizzy T
Instant Pot Brown Rice from Kristine’s Kitchen
Peanut Butter Cheerio Bars from Passion for Savings

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Kristin Latchaw
I am a born and raised Cincinnatian, and I love this city and everything it has to offer. I'm married to my wonderful husband, Joe, and our daughter is a spunky, opinionated toddler named Rozlyn. I was raised a West Sider, but moved northeast shortly before marriage. My husband teases that West Side roots run deep, and I cannot go anywhere without seeing someone I know! I love exploring the city with my little family. Some of the most fun we have had together is when we just get up and see where the day takes us. I am embracing my current role as a SAHM and constantly learning as I go!

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