How to Meal Plan with Your Partner Without Fighting, According to Relationship Experts

updated Feb 7, 2020
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We all know the benefits of meal planning. Whether you’ve read about them on your favorite food site (hi!) or heard about them from your friends, you’ve gotten the gist —planning your meals ahead of time can streamline your budget, make grocery shopping more efficient, save you hassle on chaotic weekdays, and help you eat healthier. There are a lot of upsides.

Meal planning isn’t without its stresses, though, especially if you’re doing it with a partner. You and your significant other may not agree on the foods you should be eating, the amount of money you should be spending on them, or how often you should be eating in versus going out. It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that meal planning can cause tension in a relationship. 

To save you arguments and keep you on track with those meal plans, we asked relationship experts for their best advice on meal planning with a partner. Consider it our Valentine’s Day gift to you!

1. Make a master list of meals to choose from. 

If you and your partner find the prospect of meal planning totally overwhelming, you probably just avoid it. Sometimes, all you need is a good (and easy) place to start.

Marriage coaches and authors Ashley and Marcus Kusi have a master list that they go back to over and over again. The list includes all of their staple and favorite meals, as well as special things they like to eat for big occasions or holidays. “We can then recycle this list and adjust accordingly every month, saving us time,” they say. 

Here’s how to do it: Create a shared Google doc and brain dump all of the meals that you and/or your partner can make, like to eat, or want to try. If you want to be an overachiever, you can even break the list down into categories based on main ingredients or level of difficulty! Add to the list as you build on your cooking repertoire.

Making the list should be fun and, once you have the list, it will give you starting place to talk through potential menu options together, instead of struggling to remember what your options even are. 

2. Be prepared to split the budget.

In your relationship, the stress of meal planning may come down to the bottom line. As you and your partner begin plotting out a weekly menu and building a grocery list, one or both of you might get panicky about the budget, especially if you come at finances with very different perspectives. If that’s the case, you may need to get creative with your finances.

“If meal planning and eating specific or more expensive types of food is very important to you, you should personally set aside a larger part of your own budget to cover your special meal plan or — even better! — both your special plan and your partner’s plan,” life coach and relationship expert Stacy Caprio advises. “It makes [your partner] feel safe and allows you to choose exactly what you want to eat without worrying about the costs.”

Here’s how to do it: Let’s say your partner wants (expensive!) sushi more often than you’re willing to splurge on it? Tell him you’re in — but it’s gotta come from his budget for the week. If you you and your partner share all your finances, this is obviously a bit harder to put into action, but you can sit down to look at your budget and talk about how much you each believe can/should be going toward food. That conversation alone might help you see each other with a better understanding.

3. Respect each other’s food stories.

Food is about more than just ingredients on a plate — it’s also related to memories, culture, family, body image, health, and so many other things. If you and your partner struggle to get on the same page while you meal plan, it might not actually be about the food at all! There could be more than you realize happening under the surface.

To minimize stress and fighting during meal planning, Caprio emphasizes the importance of respecting your significant other’s history with food. Remember that you guys may think about and relate to food differently. “This is a great way to help the other person feel understood, as well as to expand your own food horizons,” she says.

Here’s how to do it: Take time to talk about why you love taco night so much and why your husband says sandwiches aren’t an appropriate dinner. In this way, meal planning can even create opportunities for you and your partner to learn more about each other. 

4. Use meal planning as an act of love.

If you’re familiar with Gary Chapman’s five love languages, you may already be aware that some people receive and express love best through quality time or acts of service. According to marriage and family therapist Amy Rollo, meal planning is as good a time as any for either of those things.

Here’s how to do it: Turn a meal planning session into real quality time by turning on your favorite playlist and opening a bottle of wine. Ease your way into the nitty gritty of meal planning by chatting about your other plans for the week first. And then plan to do the cooking part together, too. Are acts of service more your thing? Volunteer to do the grocery shopping and the cooking once you guys settle on a meal plan.

5. Try new recipes. 

The Kusis are big believers in the importance of keeping things fresh — both in your relationship and in your joint meal plan. One of their monthly meal planning practices is to have each person choose a new recipe to try. 

Making it a habit to experiment with new recipes will keep the meal planning conversation from getting stale and will keep the process interesting so that you’ll actually look forward to it. It will also ensure that you have plenty of options to add to your ongoing master list of go-to meals. 

Here’s how to do it: Sign up for any and all of our newsletters! You’ll get tons of great recipe ideas sent right to your inbox. Another Valentine’s Day present from us to you!

Got any other tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!