7 Things to Do Right Now If You Feel Overwhelmed Meal Planning

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Are you feeling overwhelmed meal planning? You’re not alone! This post is for anyone out there who’s thought, “Why can’t I figure this out?” I’ll help you understand that what you’re feeling is totally normal and I’ll share 5 things you can do right now to make meal planning easier!

overwhelmed meal planning

Why do people meal plan?

People meal plan to stick to a budget, save money, and reduce the stress of figuring out dinner every night.

But, for many people, meal planning adds even more stress! Instead of just figuring out what to do eat for dinner, you’re tracking your mental grocery list, thinking about the kids’ after-school activities, keeping track of leftovers, and more.

The longer I meal plan, the more I realize that it is a cognitively demanding task.

As a teacher, I’m trained to look at different tasks by the amount of thinking required to achieve them. Meal planning is right up there with the most mentally challenging (and draining) tasks.

When you’re meal planning, you’re taking in all of these rotating and complex variables to find the right decision for that individual meal.

No wonder you feel overwhelmed!

overwhelmed meal planning

7 Things to Do Right Now If You’re Overwhelmed Meal Planning

Consider this your phone a friend moment. You’re trying to do your very best to set up a meal plan that works but it’s taking too much time, too much money, and you feel like you just can’t do it!

I’ve been there. I hear you 100%! I’ve had so many moments wondering what was wrong with me for struggling to meal plan.

Before we even talk about tips, just take a breather! There’s no need to force the process. You’ll learn better when you’re out of the stress & panic mode. Take a breath. Shake it off. Get ready to try again.

1. Lower the bar

Before we talk about anything else, I need to give you permission right now to make and serve simple, even boring, meals.

If a Lunchable can be considered a meal, then so can these super simple meals:

  • Grown-up Lunchables (Deli meats, cheeses, bread, fruit)
  • Quesadilla with salsa
  • Grilled cheese with sliced apple
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Pancakes

It’s completely okay if dinner tonight isn’t a totally balanced meal. You’re building a habit! Anything you can do right now that keeps you skipping the drive-thru is a complete and total win!

master meals list

2. Brainstorm a master meals list

Before you even ask, a master meals list is just what it sounds like…a master list of meals.

This is incredibly helpful for those nights when it’s like you can’t even remember what people eat anymore. Have you ever had those moments?

When I get hangry, I suddenly can’t remember how to make any meals and just want ice cream.

In a master meals list, you’ll simply record your favorite recipes for each meal.

This is not a license to start Googling up a storm, though!

Here’s what I used to do:

Google recipes for hours.

Click and open about 100 tabs.

Print out about 30 recipes.

Get excited thinking about how I’d try a new recipe *every* single day!

Grab my stack of recipes and realize…I have no idea how to track and record all of the ingredients for 21 meals and 7 snacks each week.


Order pizza.

Focus on the meals you can make without looking up a recipe. Yes, quesadillas and grilled cheese count! The simpler, the better.

weekly meal planning tool

3. Stock your pantry

Once you know what you like to eat, it’s time to stock your pantry.

Imagine this situation…

You come home from a long day at work. You’re starting to get a headache from hunger and the last thing you ate was a granola bar 5 hours ago. Your kids are bickering and the dogs chewed up a throw pillow.

The kids are asking about dinner and have literally no idea what you’re going to make. The pantry just has some random ingredients you’re not even sure what to do with.

You remember that you’ve already ordered takeout twice this week so you grab a box of mac & cheese again and call it a night.

We’re all been there. You figure it out in the end, but nothing about this process felt calm or aligned in any way.

Imagine a different situation.

Your pantry is fully stocked with the basic ingredients you use for your favorite recipes.

Since you’ve got everything you need for your favorite one-pot pasta dish, you throw everything in the pot, get the kids situated, and change your clothes.

By the time you’re done, so is dinner.

Learn how to keep a well-stocked pantry here and grab my free pantry staples list so you know exactly what to buy.

Get your pantry staples list now!

Cooking from scratch is a gift you can give yourself and your family! It’s way easier than you think and my free pantry staples list & meal planner will help you get started right away.

Send your free downloads directly to your inbox!

4. Make a big batch of something for Sunday dinner

Even when I feel overwhelmed meal planning, I can stick with this one simple routine. Essentially, I just make one big pot of something (usually soup or a casserole) on Sunday night.

My husband and I eat it for dinner that night and then we come back to it 1 to 2 other nights later in the week.

Do you know how amazing it is to come home and just have to reheat dinner??

We save these leftovers for the busiest nights of the week and they’ve helped so many times!

5. Double up

Even if you’re not ready to meal plan, I bet you can make a double batch of something.

For example, let’s say you’re making tacos for dinner. That’s one of my favorite last minute dinners for those nights when I’d really rather just get takeout.

If you’re making one batch of taco meat, it’s not much harder to make 2 batches.

Then, you’ll have extra taco meat for tomorrow that you can use for more tacos, burrito bowls, taco salads, taco casserole, etc.

You’ll be so happy the next night when a part of dinner is already done!

6. Start with one meal

Remember how meal planning is a mentally challenging task? Well, coming up with a different recipe for every meal and snack over the course of the week can be too much.

Especially if you feel overwhelmed meal planning, try picking just one meal.

If you need a win…start with breakfast.

Breakfast is the easiest meal for meal prepping because you can make really simple recipes. Bake an egg casserole or make some baked oatmeal.

One recipe. One tray. 6 meals. Seriously easy.

But, maybe breakfast and lunch already feel okay to you.

Let’s face it – dinner is where the problems really come in. You’re already tired and hungry and now you need to do more work? Bleh.

This week, start with planning 1-2 dinners. Keep doing whatever else you were doing the other nights.

Let those 1-2 dinners per week become normal and less stressful before you add anything else!

7. Lock in a schedule

Look, I know this isn’t going to be an exciting recommendation and it might even feel boring. But, it will work and it will help you start meal planning like a pro.

Make the same recipes each week.

Imagine how it would feel to know exactly what to do each night of the week. You’re so used to having Taco Tuesday that you actually remember to stick the frozen ground beef in the fridge overnight to thaw.

Thanks to Pizza Friday, you know to start a batch of sourdough pizza crust in the morning before work.

When you follow a consistent weekly schedule, it becomes second nature to maintain the routine.

Let it be as simple as possible! Here’s a peek at a potential meal planning routine:

  • Monday – Leftovers from Sunday
  • Tuesday – Taco Tuesday (Double Batch of meat)
  • Wednesday – Taco Bowls (Brown rice, taco meat, salsa, cheese, veggies)
  • Thursday – Lemon Chicken with Roasted Potatoes & Broccoli
  • Friday – Pizza Friday (Serve salads that use the leftover lemon chicken & potatoes)

Although you’re cooking almost every night here, you’re doing something to help future you each time.

Remember: keep it simple

Meal planning is a routine. Just like any other habit, we need to build it over time.

Plus, meal planning is meant to make life easier. To reduce your stress.

If meal planning is adding stress, then you need to cut it into smaller pieces.

? You can also listen to my podcast episode on Meal Planning for Beginners to hear me guide you through the initial steps of setting up a meal planning routine.

✏️ I’m creating a guide to walk you through setting up a simple, sustainable meal plan to help you cook every day! If you sign up for my email updates, you’ll be the first to know when this tool comes out.

Get your pantry staples list now!

Cooking from scratch is a gift you can give yourself and your family! It’s way easier than you think and my free pantry staples list & meal planner will help you get started right away.

Send your free downloads directly to your inbox!

Ready for more meal planning tips? Here you go!

Save these tips about overwhelmed meal planning for later

overwhelmed meal planning
overwhelmed meal planning

Are you overwhelmed meal planning?

Did these tips help? Which one do you want to try? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Number one is awesome, thank you! Even though I know it’s worthwhile work, some weeks it’s like pulling teeth to get it done?

  2. Thank you so much I thought I was going crazy. For the past 3 years I had a job where meals were provided. Now it’s like I’ve moved out of mom’s house all over again.

    1. You’re doing all the right things, I promise! Meal planning is tricky because it’s just so many moving parts. Plus, like any new habit, it takes time to get into a rhythm. I’m so glad this post was helpful!

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