Multiple Choice Meal Plan: An Easy, Flexible Plan that Works

“Do you meal plan?”

Multiple Choice Meal PlanningI’ve been asked this question a few times, and I always pause before answering. Does the person asking already have binders full of menus and pre-made grocery lists? Or is she just interested in meal planning or think that she should be and making conversation? Because I’m somewhere in between.

Most weeks, I meal plan the same way my mother does. I sit at the kitchen table with a spiral-bound notebook open to an empty page. She jots down one letter for each day of the week, then brainstorms a list of meals and makes her grocery list from that. But no matter how many times I do it this way, it still takes me a half-hour or more and a lot of unnecessary stress. Didn’t we just eat that last week? The kids won’t eat much of that. What do I know how to cook again? At least once a month, I’m tempted to meal plan the way my grandmother did: the same meals each week, in order.

I’ve tried several different methods. I’ve written down meals on index cards and pulled them from the stack until it’s time to reshuffle. I’ve made a list of 14 meals and rotated through them. I’ve pre-planned for the entire month (once, I did that). And I’ve even borrowed the sample plans from meal delivery services.

Nothing has worked for me long-term. Until this year. I finally stumbled upon a method that works for me every week. I have less stress, spend less time planning, waste less food, and still have flexibility if I need to change things up.

And the beauty of this method? It’s flexible enough to work for just about any family. If you cook every day, do weekend prep for the whole week, or rarely cook at all, this strategy can work for you, too. Spend ONE-half hour making a single list of meals, and then you’ll be able to meal plan in 10 minutes whenever it suits you.

I call it the Multiple Choice Meal Plan. Here’s how it works:

  1. Think about how your family eats. Maybe you’re a Taco Tuesday/Pizza Friday family. Do you order takeout on Wednesdays? Are you a big fan of your Instant Pot? Make a list of 4-5 categories based on your family’s eating habits.
  2. Within each category, list 3-4 of your go-to meals. That’s it! The hard part is over!
  3. Whenever you sit down to meal-plan, cross off anything you’ve had recently or that won’t work for you this week. Then, circle one meal from each category (or ask each member of your family to circle a meal). You’re done! 

If your week gets thrown off, just pick up where you left off or start with a fresh page. If you get bored or want to cook more seasonally, swap out some of your go-to meals. Want to try out a new recipe? Just write it in!

This is what my meal plan looks like:

Sample Multiple Choice Meal Plan

Want to give it a try? Download one of the templates below to get started.

Multiple Choice Meal Plans:

  • Traditional Meal Plan – Categories are similar to chapters in a cookbook or sections of a menu. This version is best for families who cook often.
  • Busy Family Meal Plan – Categories are different ways to get meals on the table quickly. My Sample Meal Plan (Pictured above)
  • No Waste Meal Plan – This version works well for families who buy in bulk, who meal prep on the weekends, or who often order food/buy ready-made food from the grocery store.
  • Budget Meal Plan – Categories correspond to budget-friendly entree ingredients. This version is compatible with most food assistance program guidelines. Sample Budget Meal Plan


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