A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning teaches you the basics of meal planning. Learn how to plan your weekly family dinners easy and simply with these tips and tricks. These strategies make meal planning easy!
Meal planning can seem daunting, especially for a family that’s always busy and running in different directions. If you have never done a meal plan before it can be even more overwhelming.
Where do you start? I have a few tips and tricks that will get you meal planning without hassle.
Why a Meal Plan?
The main reason to meal plan (for me) is it makes the daily grind a little easier.
You can have all of the decision making done, and also have all the ingredients at hand.
This will also limit the time you use running out to the store for groceries and also help save money by not getting last-minute take-out food.
Simply: Save Time. Save Money.
Have the Planning Tools to Make it Streamlined and Efficient
Meal planning can be even easier if you have the right tools at your fingertips. I always use a calendar and planner to help me plan efficiently.
My planner/calendar of choice is the Erin Condren Life Planner. I love the way it is laid out – you can see a review of the planner here and see inside the planner.
I also use the Erin Condren meal planner dashboard. I love that thing! I have an older version, but it’s still the same layout. The dashboards are obviously durable as I’ve had mine several years.
However, if you don’t have a planner or calendar, don’t worry – you can download my free meal planning sheet when you subscribe to the newsletter.
Start with a Simple Meal Plan
If you haven’t meal planned before, start simple and only plan dinners. (I actually only plan dinners typically because I tend to eat the same lunches and breakfast foods routinely. Very rarely do I plan out lunch and breakfast.)
Some people plan for a month at a time. Don’t start there! Start with one week at a time. I only plan one week at a time because that’s better for my family as we have a lot of unexpected or last-minute meetings or schedule changes that aren’t conducive to a month at a time.
→ Tip: You can even buy meal plans that are done for you, like the meal planning service at $5 Meal Plan.
Look at the Week Ahead
Use your planner to look at your week ahead. I religiously use my Erin Condren Life Planner. I look ahead at any meetings, practices, and other events so I know which nights will be busy. If it’s a busy night, I’ll use it as the takeout night or an easy night like a crockpot meal.
Make Your Menu
Once you have looked at the week ahead, go ahead and write out your menu. I use a food log to help me decide on foods to eat.
Utilize your food log to avoid
Take a Night Off
Don’t try to make yourself cook every single night. Especially if you are a beginner! I always have a night off, whether it’s takeout or pulling something from the freezer to reheat.
Don’t Try New Recipes Every Night
The kiss of death to a meal plan is trying a new recipe every night. I promise you that will get old quickly and you will burn yourself out. I have a rule that I try no more than one new recipe a week (and some weeks, I don’t try anything new.)
On a busy weeknight, you want something easy, and that you know will turn out as expected.
→ Tip: If you are planning a new recipe, be sure to write down where the recipe is stored or go ahead and print it out and place it somewhere accessible. You don’t want to waste time trying to remember where the recipe is.
Use Theme Nights
It’s cliche, but it works. Themed nights are certainly good for taking any brainstorming or guesswork out of your meal plan.
Taco Tuesday works!
When I mention theme nights, it doesn’t have to be food-specific. You can always have theme nights revolving around your kitchen gadgets and equipment. For example, you can have a crockpot night or an instant pot night.
Write Down the Grocery List
Once your menu is written out, start your grocery list. Then, take an inventory of what you already have in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Finally, write out your grocery plan accordingly.
→ Tip: If you keep a well-stocked pantry full of staple items, the grocery list becomes a lot easier.
Family Meal Planning Examples
Here’s a quick YouTube video I made while doing a meal plan for my family using my Erin Condren dashboard:
Sample Meal Plan
Here is a sample meal plan for a week – this is our actual meal plan from last week!
Tuesday: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Wednesday: Instant Pot Gumbo (This was my new recipe for the week. I had never made it before. It is a LOT of work. So, I’ll probably make it again, but it would be for a special occasion.)
Friday: Pizza (takeout)
Saturday: Chicken Cheesesteak Sandwiches served with Chips/Dip
Sunday: Crab Cakes, Corn on the Cob, Sliced Cucumbers
Are You Ready To Meal Plan?
Once you’ve made your meal plan for the week, and have been grocery shopping, you can make things even easier with my DIY Meal Kit idea.
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