The leaves are turning, the kids are back at school, and at home, busy schedules mean the dinner struggle is real. Finding inspiration for quick, budget-friendly and (at least somewhat) healthy meals can challenge the best of home cooks, never mind home cooks whose plates are already heaped pile-high.

That’s where meal planning becomes a lifesaver—if you can take the time to actually do it. If you don’t have the means to sit down weekly and plot out your favourite fare, we’ve got your back with this simple guide that will help you plan your meals and grocery list too. These meal ideas and recipes, (one for every night of the week, plus two bonus ideas to swap in and out) makes preparing a weekly meal plan  or menu easy while helping you to create dishes that are anything but routine.

How to Start Meal Planning? Try These No-Fail Meal Planning Ideas

easy-pasta-pumpkin-sausageGet the recipe for Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

1. Start with Pasta

Pasta is an affordable universal favourite, so why not make it a weekly thing? Having a designated pasta night is genius because you can essentially pair any kind of pasta with whatever sauce, protein and veggie you feel like, and then the following week you could do something completely different.

Looking for some inspiration other than another plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Try these recipes instead:
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

Blue Cheese Pasta with Spinach

Sundried Tomato and Orange Pasta with Salad

Pasta Puttanesca

Lentils and Tomato Sauce with Pasta Shells

 

korean-steakGet the recipe for Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

2. You Can’t go Wrong with Protein and Veg 

A  barbecued, baked or even pan-fried cut of meat or fish always pairs well with some steamed or baked veggies. Switch up your marinades and cooking methods for even more variety, and then throw in some rice, lentils or potatoes for a complete meal.

Want some new ideas? Check out these simple-to-prepare recipes:

Ginger-Soy Chicken Wings

Dijon Baked Chicken with Rice and Broccoli

Pork Tenderloin with Chipotle-Maple Mop

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

Baked Fish Packets

Horseradish Grill-Roasted Salmon

chourico-kale-soupGet the recipe for Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

3. Soup and Salads are Your Friends

There are so many hearty salads and filling soups out there these days that it’s easy to make either one a meal in itself. If the weather is nice, plan on eating an elevated salad one night of the week with some fancy ingredients to make it interesting. Or for those colder weeks when you need something a little more comforting, plan on having a hot soup and some crusty baguette to go with it.

Get started with these recipes:

Asparagus Soup with Mint Pistou

Creamy Artichoke Soup

Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

Roasted Squash and Seed Salad

Shaved Carrot and Pear Salad with Curry Vinaigrette

Grilled Turkey, Brie and Pecan Salad

Instapot-Pulled-Pork-recipeGet the recipe for Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

4. Make Use of Your Slow Cooker or Instapot

Who doesn’t love a meal that you can throw together and then forget about until it’s ready? That’s the beauty of slow-cookers and Instapots—they do all of the heavy lifting for you. Figure out which night of the week will be your busiest and then plan to use either tool to help pull dinner together in a breeze.

Need a new Crockpot or pressure cooker recipe? Check out any of these delicious dishes:

Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

Pressure Cooker Chili

Slow Cooker Shepherd’s Pie

Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs

Slow Cooker Shrimp Boil

Spicy-Shrimp-Fried-RiceGet the recipe Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

5. Stock up on Easy-to-Assemble Ingredients

Having a well-stocked pantry is always key when it comes to throwing together last-minute dinners or figuring out how to use up fresh ingredients that have been sitting in your fridge for a few extra days. Make sure to keep things like canned tuna, crab or chicken on hand, as well as lots of stock, tomato sauce, and a few protein-filled grains and legumes.

Check out these simple ideas to elevate your basic pantry staples:

Crispy Tuna-Cake Sliders with Citrus Slaw

Stuffed Mozza Peppers

Classic Crab Cakes with Pea Puree

Meat Balls in Tomato Sauce

Farmer’s Market Quinoa Salad

Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

giadas-Lasagna-Rolls Get the recipe for Giada de Laurentiis’ Lasagna Rolls

6. Find Your Freezer Meals

Remember those freezer meals you made a few months ago that have been sitting in your freezer just waiting to be eaten ever since? Well, make use of those meals already, especially if you know you have an evening coming up where preparing dinner is just going to be another thing to worry about. And if you haven’t gotten on the freezer meal train just yet, you may want to think about starting. Whether it’s doubling up on your next pasta sauce or cobbling together a second lasagna or tray of enchiladas, there are plenty of freezer meals that you can make ahead of time to enjoy on those hectic nights when cooking is the last thing you want to be doing.

Turkey-Burger-Patty-Melts-recipeGet the recipe for Southwestern Sloppy Joes

7. Have an Eat-With-Your-Hands Night

Whether it’s a burger, pizza or taco, it’s always fun to eat with your hands. That’s probably why these are the same fast-food items we tend to usually order throughout the week. If you want to save money, use better ingredients and still have a meal in a matter of minutes though, it’s always a great idea to have an Eat-With-Your-Hands night.

From pizza and tacos to sloppy joes and charcuterie boards, there are plenty of hands-on dishes to choose from here:

Chicken Tacos

Southwestern Sloppy Joes

Cheese, Charcuterie and Condiment Board

Turkey Burger Patty Melts

cauliflower-pot-pieGet the recipe for Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Crispy Cauliflower Crust

8. Make One Night a Meatless Night

We’ve heard of Meatless Mondays, but really any night of the week is a good excuse to go meatless—especially in the fall when harvest foods like whole grains, quinoa and barley fill the tummy and soul. Stir yourself up a creamy risotto, build a yummy Buddha bowl with all the things, or stuff an eggplant or squash with some whole grains and nuts. Keep it simple and hearty and before long you won’t even remember a time when you didn’t incorporate a meatless dish into your meal planning.

Check out these 16 ideas for protein-packed meatless meals to get you started.

Leftover-Turkey-Chili-recipeeGet the recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili

9. Plan a Designated Leftover Night

Last but not least, it’s always a great idea to make one night a night of no planning. That’s right, we’re talking leftovers. Once a week throw whatever leftovers you have in the fridge on the table for everyone to enjoy, or reimagine them into a creative, brand new dish that requires very little effort.

Check out some of our favourite ways to use up leftovers here:

Leftover Steak and Potato Salad with Bold Tomato Dressing

Pasta with Leftover Roasted Chicken

Sweet Arancini with Leftover Rice

Leftover Turkey Chili

Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes with Cured Salmon

Looking for more meal planning tips? Try these hacks that will help you plan like a pro.