How to Use My Simple Family Meal Planning System

Plan a grocery list on paper, or in a digital planner!

Are you struggling to plan meals and cook for your family? At one time or another, we’ve all been there. I would like to share with you my personal tips on how I plan my family meals. I designed an easy grocery list system which can be implemented using a traditional paper list, or a template on a digital planner on the GoodNotes app. (Android users can use the Xodo app)

sync iPhone grocery list from iPad
Using my digital planner’s grocery list on iPhone at the grocery store.

These days, with so many working from home and having the kids school at home, families eating together is increasing. If you’re used to eating out a lot or relying on school cafeterias to feed your family, you’ve no doubt encountered a few struggles. I’ve been cooking for my family for many years now and feel like it’s one of the best things I can do to love, serve, provide for and please my family.

This system streamlines my time for cooking meals for my family of five and keeps me stress-free. It also keeps us within our food budget and we waste less food. I’m giving you a look at my weekly grocery list and how I use it. 

Paper grocery list
My paper grocery list that I converted to digital.

I used to print out my list and then fold it to carry with me to the store. It’s fine if you still want to use paper!

digital grocery list on iPad
I reuse my digital grocery list on my iPad digital planner.

Recently, I switched to a digital list! I use my reusable grocery list on my digital planner. I can edit and mark it on my iPad at home, and it syncs to my iPhone. I carry my iPhone to the store. After I shop a section of the store, I stop and use my finger to mark items off my list that I’ve added to the basket. 

how to use a digital grocery list on iPhone

Rinne and I have created digital planners that we sell on our store for making planning so much easier. Our digital planners collection offers recipe & menu planners or life planners that include meal plan options like grocery shopping lists, meal lists and meal plan templates for days, weeks, or months. Or you can create your own reusable lists on the available blank page templates in our digital planners. 

My family meal planning VIDEO will walk you through the process of creating a grocery list on our digital planner, and at the end of the VIDEO, I give a quick overview of our four planners’ meal planning options.


My method for meal plans involves very little eating out…maybe twice a month, and at most once a week. Planning to cook all your meals helps save money as well as keeps food waste to a minimum. I also employ a large upright freezer that supports buying meat in bulk, (we buy a pasture-raised, grass-finished half cow once per year—direct from the farmer) stocking up, freezing excess leftovers (or garden bounty) and staple foods (such as flour).

buy meat in bulk and stock a freezer to save money

Personalize your family meal plan according to diet, time, skill and money constraints.

My system is personal to how and what my family eats and to where we shop. I don’t buy a lot of processed or packaged ingredients, but when time is short I will use them. It’s up to you. This is where each family can personalize according to diet, time, skill and money constraints. You can develop and personalize this system for your family by following some general tips that I’ll discuss further.

tips for stress-free, budget-friendly, waste-less family meal planning

SIMPLE TIPS for Stress-free, Budget-friendly,

1. Have a list of family favorite meals that you choose from to cook every week.

2. Make a shopping list according to your grocery store’s layout to keep your pantry, fridge & freezer stocked.

3. Buy fresh ingredients weekly according to that week’s chosen meals.

4. Buy certain items in bulk and online for cost savings.


Have a list of family favorite meals that you choose from to cook every week. This list should be the main entree for dinners. Sides can vary, but on my list below I also included salads, sides and dips we eat on a regular basis. These meals are prepped quickly—in about 30 minutes—or easily come together with little hands-on time, like a slow cooked oven rib or one-dish beef stroganoff. Everyone in the family enjoys these meals; hence, they are called favorites!

I keep breakfast and lunch simple too and I don’t really plan those unless it’s a special occasion. They come from stocked ingredients that are on my weekly grocery list. Breakfast is eggs, toast, or cereal, but I’ll also make muffins, pancakes or sausage & biscuits on the weekends. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinners, a sandwich or quick burrito (I keep frozen flour tortillas stocked).

I will occasionally cook a special meal; for example, shrimp marinara or a new recipe. But, for the most part, I stick to the favorites list that use what I already keep stocked. Some of these get made every week; such as, cheeseburgers and pizza. As long as I keep my kitchen stocked with my list, I can prepare almost any of these favorite recipes at any time.

These are the go-to meals that I will regularly cook for my family on a semi-rotating basis depending on schedules and season. I keep the pantry and fridge stocked with all the necessary canned/packaged ingredients, bottled sauces/condiments, cheeses, add-ins, frozen veggies, and spices, etc. that make these meals complete. Hopefully this helps you picture the fairly long favorites list with its simplicity and options for my family. (some of these I’ve posted recipes for—bold/colored names are linked—and hope to keep adding more as our blog grows)

TACOS (crispy corn or soft flour): roast chicken, ground beef, egg, chicken or beef fajitas

PIZZA: pepperoni, sausage, BBQ chicken

CHICKEN: oven wings, grilled lemon breasts, sour cream mushroom chicken, pot pie, spatchcock, fried tenders

BEEF: cheeseburgers, stroganoff, roast, hot dogs, steak

PORK: BBQ oven ribs

SOUP/STEW: Mexican chicken, beef vegetable, baked potato, chicken noodle, gumbo, chili

PASTA: tomato basil sauce, cherry tomato marinara, alfredo

SEAFOOD: tilapia, salmon, shrimp

SALAD: romaine, ranch dressing, italian dressing, spinach

SIDES: green beans, potatoes (baked, fried, mashed, roasted), brown rice, macaroni & cheese, corn

DIPS: guacamole, salsa, spinach, queso

lemon meringue pie
lemon meringue pie

Oh…I do bake desserts fairly often too!—those ingredients would be added on the weekly list as needed. I do stock flour, sugar, chocolate chips etc… for baking, so I’ve always got them on hand if I decide to bake on a whim. 

how to use a digital grocery list


Make a shopping list according to YOUR grocery store’s layout to keep your pantry, fridge & freezer stocked. Creating a grocery list that follows your store’s layout makes shopping so much faster! These items are listed on my weekly grocery list that can be printed on paper or used from my digital planner shopping list template on my iPad/iPhone. As I shop, I’ll mark through the items that I’ve added to the shopping basket—using a pen on paper or my finger on my iPhone in the GoodNotes app. (Android users can use the Xodo app)

I follow this list every week. I keep a copy in the kitchen (or on my digital planner). If I use up a staple item from my list during the week, I’ll go ahead and circle it on my list. On grocery shopping day, I go through the list as I walk through the kitchen and mark what I need to restock from the pantry and fridge. I will also write down the 5 – 6 family favorite dinners that I will cook that week and mark or write-in any fresh/additional ingredients that I will need for those meals.

grocery shopping with iPhone grocery list
My iPad digital planner syncs to my iPhone that I take to the store.

I organize this list according to the layout of my grocery store. I always walk the same path and my list corresponds to that path. For example, I start with the produce section, then the deli and meat….so my list has those 3 categories first and in that order. Your list may vary if your store is different from mine.

On my list, I circle the item name that I need to buy. If it’s more than one needed, I’ll sometimes write in how many I want on the line beside it. I also have created options for items that may need a circle to indicate which type. If I plan on making a special meal or dessert for the week, I’ll add those necessary ingredients to my list, either on the blank space for the category, or to the side of a category section.   

mark items off your digital planner grocery list
I use my finger in the GoodNotes app to mark off my grocery list.

For fresh items that can change from week to week, I mark which ones depending on season and sales. Also, depending on if I used up an item the previous week, I’ll mark accordingly. For instance, sometimes we eat all the avocadoes and some weeks I might still have 1 – 2 leftover. You can’t predict everything—so relax about it!

stock pantry with spices
Stock your pantry with inexpensive spices.


I keep lots of spices in my kitchen but I don’t have them all listed on my weekly list. For those, I usually write it in when I use up one, or I see it’s near empty and should buy one. I buy store brand spices at Big Lots or Walmart. I don’t think the extra cost for name brand spices is worth it. I usually buy several at once for the most common ones—onion powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, dried parsley, dried chives, etc.—to keep them stocked in my pantry.

Last on my list, there are categories for other non-food items that I purchase at the grocery store. Cleaners, paper products, personal care items, etc. are in the final column of my list and I mark those as well.


I also put the meals planned for the week, or recipe names that I’m making for that week on the grocery list in the bottom right corner as a reminder for while I’m shopping.

I hope these tips help you plan your family meals! Please comment and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions from your own experience.

Be blessed,

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