How to Create a Family Favorites List for Stress-Free Meal Planning

I used to have a weekly showdown with myself. I’d pull out my weekly meal plan template and stare blankly at the page. Sometimes I’d be surrounded by cookbooks and recipe pages I’d torn out of magazines. Other times, I’d hold it in my hand mindlessly as I peered into my pantry, fridge or freezer. Each time, although surrounded by food and recipes, I’d be overwhelmed at the thought of planning yet another week’s worth of meals for my family.


Can you relate? Although we cook hundreds of meals a year, why is it so hard to come up with a list of what to cook each week? For me, the root cause is recipe fatigue and boredom. I like variety in my menus and don’t like to eat the same thing over and over again (unless it’s leftovers for lunch!). With the constant pressure to keep everyone at the dinner table happy while navigating the busy lives we lead, it’s easy to fall into a rut of repetitive meals or to spend hours scouring the internet for something new and exciting.


I finally had enough of this tiresome routine and created a way to simplify my  meal planning process to ensure that every dinner was a hit with my family. (Well, at least 99.9% of the time!)  Meet the Family Favorites List—your secret weapon against mealtime monotony and stress. By compiling a go-to list of beloved recipes, you can eliminate the endless search for new dishes and enjoy a smoother, more enjoyable meal planning experience. Better yet, you have a rolodex of meal ideas and recipes that you can rotate into your weekly meal plan do dinner is always fresh


In this post, I’ll walk you through the steps of creating your very own Family Favorites List, show you how to integrate it into your weekly meal plans, and provide tips on keeping it fresh and balanced. Say goodbye to dinner-time stress and hello to more joy around the table with meals that everyone will love. Let’s get started!

What is a Family Favorites List?

A Family Favorites List is a curated collection of meals that your family loves and enjoys. It’s a personalized menu featuring tried-and-true dishes that you know will be a hit every time they’re served. This list serves as your go-to resource for meal planning, helping you quickly decide what to cook without the stress of searching for new recipes each week.

Benefits of a Family Favorites List

Reduces Decision Fatigue and Planning Time: One of the biggest challenges in meal planning is deciding what to cook. By having a pre-made list of family favorites, you eliminate the need to make last-minute decisions. This streamlined approach saves you time and mental energy, making meal planning a breeze.


Ensures Enjoyable and Well-Received Meals: Nothing is more disappointing than spending time and effort on a meal only to have it met with lukewarm reception. With a Family Favorites List, you’re guaranteed to serve meals that are already proven to be winners in your household. 


Maintains a Balanced, Plant-Based Diet: A well-crafted Family Favorites List can help you maintain a balanced diet by including a variety of plant-based meals that meet your nutritional needs. By regularly rotating through these favorite dishes, you ensure a diverse intake of nutrients while keeping meals interesting.


Fosters Family Connection and Joy: Meals are more than just food; they are opportunities for family bonding and connection. Serving familiar, loved dishes can create a warm, welcoming atmosphere at the dinner table, strengthening family relationships and making mealtime a cherished part of the day.

Steps to Create Your Family Favorites List

Follow these simple steps to curate your own round up of family favorites.

Step 1: Gather Input from Family Members

To create a Family Favorites List that truly satisfies everyone, start by involving the whole family. Set aside some time to sit down together and discuss your favorite dinners. Encourage each family member to share their top picks, including plant-based favorites and non-vegan dishes that can be adapted.


  • Family Meeting or Survey: Host a casual family meeting or simply survey your family over dinner. Ask questions like, “What’s your favorite dinner?” or “Is there a meal you wish we had more often?”
  • Inclusivity: Make sure everyone’s voice is heard, from the youngest to the oldest, to ensure the list reflects the preferences of the entire household. Leading questions such as “If you could only eat one meal every day for a month, what would it be?” or “What’s one meal you couldn’t live without” ensure that everyone gets their top choices included.
  • Take Note: After every dinner, I get a consensus of how much everyone enjoyed the meal. If it’s a winner, it goes on the list; if it’s a flop, I make a note not to prepare the same thing (or a similar meal).

Step 2: Organize and Categorize

Once you have a collection of favorite dinner ideas, it’s time to organize them. Categorizing your meals makes it easier to plan a balanced and varied weekly menu.


  • Meal Types: Divide the list into categories such as quick weeknight dinners, 30-minute meals, weekend feasts, and special occasion meals. 
  • Template: Further categorize by the categories in your meal plan template type (e.g. Taco Tuesday, Italian night, Main Dinner Salads, etc.) to make it easy to plug in the meals to your menu each week.
  • Adaptability: Make sure that all meals are easily adaptable for different dietary preferences, such as a stir-fry that can be made with tofu for the vegans / vegetarians, and chicken for non-vegans.

Step 3: Create a Master List

Compile your organized favorites into a master list that you can easily refer to when planning your weekly dinners.


  • Digital Document: Use a spreadsheet or a meal planning app to keep your list accessible and editable. I, personally, like to use the Notes app on my iPhone so I can keep a running list accessible. Other useful apps include Notion and Airtable.
  • Physical Copy: Alternatively, maintain a dedicated notebook or a printed list on the fridge for quick reference.

Integrating the Family Favorites List into Your Meal Plan

Weekly Planning

With your Family Favorites List in hand, planning your weekly dinners becomes a much simpler task. Here’s how to seamlessly integrate your favorites into a balanced weekly menu:


  • Choose Meals from the List: Select a variety of meals from your Family Favorites List that correspond to the categories in your meal plan template
  • Balance and Rotation: Make sure you are rotating the meals so that you’re not repeating meals for at least 2 weeks. Maintaining a list of at least 4 recipes per category ensures that you’ll never eat the same dinner in that particular category more than once a month.
  • Preparation Time: Consider your weekly schedule and select meals that fit your time constraints. Reserve quick and easy meals for busy nights and more time-intensive recipes for when you have extra time to cook.

Other Considerations

Allow for Flexibility

While your Family Favorites List provides a solid foundation, it’s important to leave room for spontaneity and new culinary adventures.


  • Flex Days: Include a category on your list that is specifically designated as “flex days” where you can try new recipes or use up leftovers.
  • Unexpected Changes: Be prepared to swap out meals if plans change or if you receive specific requests from family members. Keep a list of go-to meals that use ingredients you keep on hand in your pantry so you can improvise last-minute if needed.

Include Adaptations for Dietary Preferences

Creating meals that accommodate different dietary needs within the same family is so much simpler when you give yourself a roadmap to follow. I include notes in my favorites list to remind myself of meal specifics that made the meal a hit with my non-vegan family.


  • Base Meal with Add-ons: Include the optional add-ons for non-vegan members next to the meal idea. For example, if you have a vegetable stir-fry on the list, note that you included tofu and chicken for the protein options.
  • Store-Bought Components: Leave yourself a reference if you used store-bought marinades or other products that made the meal simpler or more enjoyable to family members. 
Woman holding a meal plan and pen at a table with a green tablecloth

Tips for Maintaining and Updating Your Favorites List

Regular Review

To keep your Family Favorites List relevant and exciting, it’s important to review and update it regularly.


  • Monthly or Quarterly Review: Set aside time each month or quarter to go through your list. Evaluate which meals are still hits and which might need a break.
  • Remove and Add: Remove any meals that are no longer enjoyed and add new favorites that have become popular.

Incorporate Feedback

Listening to your family’s feedback after meals is crucial for maintaining a successful list.


  • Post-Meal Discussions: Make it a habit to discuss the meal after dinner. Ask what everyone liked or didn’t like about the dish.
  • Feedback Notes: Keep notes on feedback directly on your list or in your meal planning app. This will help you remember which meals were particularly successful or need tweaking.

Stay Inspired

While a Family Favorites List helps streamline your meal planning, it’s still important to keep your culinary experiences fresh and inspired.


  • Explore New Recipes: Occasionally try out new recipes from cookbooks, food blogs, or cooking shows. If a new dish is well-received, add it to your list.
  • Seasonal Changes: Adjust your list to include seasonal ingredients. This keeps meals fresh and takes advantage of produce at its peak flavor and nutritional value.


Gather your family, discuss your favorite meals, and begin compiling your own Family Favorites List this week! You’ll soon discover that creating this list is a game-changer for simplifying your meal planning process and ensuring that dinner time is a joyful, stress-free experience. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll eliminate your weekly dinner decision fatigue and have a go-to list of beloved meals that cater to everyone’s tastes and dietary needs. I can’t wait to hear how you integrate this list into your weekly meal planning routine.

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