What do you do when you need a healthy meal plan, but you barely have time to grocery shop? Use this simple method + wallet sized printable, of course!

Meal planning is such an awesome way to save money,  reduce stress, and eat healthier meals! 

But what do you do when you don’t have time to meal plan? When life is crazy it’s so easy to mindlessly throw things into your cart, or rely on take out – leaving you with an empty wallet and a pantry full of foods that don’t really make a healthy meal.

What if I told you that you could make a quick and healthy meal plan on the fly?

A simple formula to make sure that you pick up the right amounts of healthy and easy to prepare foods that your family like to eat? Something so quick and easy you could throw a plan together in the grocery store parking lot… or even while you shop. We’ve had some crazy seasons lately, and through it all I came up with a system that’s allowed me to do just that.

Here’s what I do to create a healthy meal plan when I barely have time to grocery shop:

 

I buy meat/protein for 3-5 main meals (with leftovers).

This depends on how much we’ll be out and about in the evening. But even when we eat dinner almost every night at home, 3-5 meal sized portions of meat is usually enough. For our family of 4, I plan on using 1-2 lbs of meat for each meal depending on whether or not it will work well for leftovers. I try to have at least 3 different types of meat per week, so I often buy in bulk when it’s on sale and freeze the extras for future weeks. Pinterest is a great resource for simple, healthy recipes – I love simple meat & veggie meals like these.

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • boneless skinless chicken breasts, enough for two meals + extra to freeze as they were on sale.
  • 16 ounces (4 servings) of frozen salmon filets
  • turkey kielbasa sausage (aka ring bologna)
  • I know I have premade taco meat and a meal’s worth of pork chops in the freezer at home.

Related: Follow Always an Adventure on Pinterest where you’ll find articles on Intentional Living | Parenting | Travel with Kids | Fun in Florida | Organization | Simplicity

I make sure we have sandwich and salad fixings.

We keep lunches pretty simple – salads, sandwiches or leftovers are our usual fare. Since leftovers vary, I’ve found it simplest to make sure we have a basic stock of deli meat, canned tuna, peanut butter, jelly, and our favorite salad fixings. That way we have everything on hand to pack a lunch or throw together a quick meal when we’re home.

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • peanut butter – we’re good on jelly
  • 2 loaves whole grain bread
  • corn tortillas
  • flour tortillas
  • 1 lb deli turkey
  • 8 oz sliced cheese
  • croutons
  • dressing
  • shredded cheese

I keep our pantry stocked with these 3 sides:

It’s so easy to throw a meal together if you always have rice, pasta and potatoes on hand. These are all relatively shelf stable, so I don’t have to buy them every week. But I do try to keep all three stocked at all times. For those who don’t eat carbs, try stocking up on frozen low carb veggies like cauliflower and green beans instead.

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • 1 lb pasta, I  already have rice and potatoes on hand.

I choose simple, easy-to-prep breakfast options.

My husband eats the same breakfast every day, and I have a protein shake and some fruit. Our kiddos rotate between cereal with almond milk, or toast or bagels and fruit. When I’m meal planning on the fly, I make sure to pick up bananas and almond milk, plus enough breakfast basics to get us through the week.

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • 2 boxes of cereal (I aim for simple versions with less sugar)
  • 2 quarts of almond milk
  • coffee creamer
  • I buy my favorite protein powder online.

I buy less fresh produce than I think we’ll use.

I really try to avoid having to make a mid-week produce run. My kids LOVE fruit (I do too!), so I aim for at least 2 pieces/servings of fruit per person, per day. I plan for a few fresh salads either for lunch or as a side for dinner, as well 1-2 meals worth of steamable fresh veggies if they’re in season. We love veggies and dip as well, so I’ll throw in baby carrots, grape tomatoes and cucumbers (which work great in salads too). But to avoid waste, I really try to err on the side of buying less fresh produce than I think I need. I keep a few bags of frozen veggies, and cups of applesauce on hand just in case we run out of fresh produce. Most of the time though, we don’t!

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • 3 lbs apples (approx 12 small apples)
  • 3 lbs oranges (approx 7 oranges)
  • 8-12 bananas
  • 3 pack of romaine hearts
  • 8 roma tomatoes
  • 2 lbs baby carrots
  • onions or potatoes if we need them
  • green beans or broccoli for steaming (if in season, otherwise I buy frozen)
  • applesauce cups

I always stock up on snacks.

I have found that you can never go wrong with having somewhat healthy, easy to eat food on hand. Especially with kids. Sometimes I’ll be tempted to cut back on snacks, and I always regret it. When I have cheese sticks, Greek yogurt, cheese slices, deli meat, hummus, veggies and dip, wholegrain crackers, popcorn and fresh fruit on hand everyone is happier. Keeping the snack drawer full is my best secret for a healthy meal plan, especially when life is crazy.

REAL CART EXAMPLE:

  • 1 pack cheese sticks
  • 1 pack greek yogurt tubes
  • 1 tub hummus
  • we already have the fruit & veggies above, plus popcorn and crackers at home.

Related: 30+ Frugal + Healthy Road Trip Snacks

Other than breakfast, I plan for 3-5 of each meal type (lunches/dinners) per week. 

We eat at home a lot these days, and this still holds true. On weeks we’re on the go more, I can shop for even less. Shopping for 3-5 days (instead of 7) has really helped us to save money and avoid food waste. The groceries I get last us a full week (or more!) and if I do run out of  complete ‘meals’ there’s always enough healthy snack food on hand to fill the gap.

REAL LIFE EXAMPLE (USING ABOVE FOOD, AND A BASIC ARRAY OF SPICES/CONDIMENTS:

Dinners –

  • Grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, salad.
  • Pan fried salmon, steamed green beans, seasoned rice.
  • Garlic chicken, pasta with browned butter, salad.
  • Tacos (using taco meat that I made in bulk and froze), corn & flour tortillas, refried beans from the pantry, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, sour cream.
  • Kielbasa grilled or pan fried, steamed potatoes with dried herbs, salad.

Lunches –

  • Leftovers.
  • Sandwiches – deli meat & cheese, peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad.
  • Salads with leftover grilled chicken or canned tuna, shredded cheese, chopped veggies, croutons, etc.

Breakfasts –

  • Cereal and almond milk.
  • Protein shake with almond milk, banana.
  • Toast w/ toppings.
  • Coffee and cream.

(We’re not big juice drinkers, and our kids get several servings of milk at school.)

How to pull it all together into a healthy meal plan for your family:

While you’re making your list, or even as you’re shopping on the fly, think through what your family likes to eat. Think of the basics you’ll need for 3-5 dinners, 3-5 lunches, a few breakfast options, and loads of healthy snacks. Lean towards simple ingredients that can be used more than one way if possible. Once you get used to doing so,  you’ll start to ‘see’ your basic ingredients as meals while they are still in your cart.

Take a moment while you’re planning or shopping to think through each meal and make sure you have all the main ingredients and condiments. The pocket guide below will really help with that – it’s small enough to keep in your purse or wallet, and it’s perfect for those times when you have to grocery shop and meal plan on the fly.

Click Here to download your FREE Meal Plan on the Fly pocket guide.

So, there you have it! This is how I hit the grocery store without a plan, and come out with a week’s worth of balanced meals and snacks. It really is pretty simple! This system has helped us to eat relatively well, even on weeks when I’m almost too busy to grocery shop, let alone meal plan. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Do you meal plan regularly, or wing it at the grocery store? Any secrets for planning healthy meals on the fly? Please share in the comments below!

What do you do when you need a healthy meal plan, but you barely have time to grocery shop? Use this simple method + wallet sized printable, of course!

How to Make a Quick and Healthy Meal Plan on the Fly + Free Printable!
Jamie Siebens

Jamie writes about living intentionally and finding beauty and perspective in the adventures of everyday life. When she’s not writing, she’s living her own adventures – working full time at an ER registration desk, parenting two spicy girls, and collaborating with her husband on the remodel of a former one-room schoolhouse on their homestead in rural Wisconsin.

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