This guide to meal planning for beginners with a free meal planner template is what you need to get started the best way so you can save time and money!
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I knew the dreaded question was soon to come.
I crawled out of bed with one eye open. My vision was still blurred and I was trying to catch my balance from standing up after a full night’s rest.
I’ve yet to meet a mom who loves answering or even thinking about this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
”What’s for dinner?”
Grabbing a pizza solves the problem for today, but tomorrow I’ll be asked the same question again.
Master meal time so you’re no longer staring at an empty wall debating on what to serve your family with this meal planning method.
The common misconception about meal planning
When I thought about meal planning, I would rather listen to nails on a chalkboard than give it a try.
I figured my experience would go something like this…decide on all the meals, go grocery shopping and hope I don’t forget anything, prepare those meals even when I don’t feel like cooking, hoping I don’t chop off a finger.
Ugh, who has time for all of that?
But guess what?
It felt like a hassle because I had no idea how to meal plan.
When you have the proper information, you can save a ton of time and money with much less stress debating what’s for dinner every night.
This meal planning for beginner’s guide will help you get started the right way so you can stick with it!
What does meal planning even mean
Meal planning means deciding what’s for dinner once for the whole week, instead of every night, and then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking.
This saves you time and helps you stick to your budget.
You can plan your meals as far out in advance as you’d like.
Since you’re new to the process, it’s best to plan for one week at a time until you get a routine that works for you.
Here’s an example of an efficient meal planning weekend:
- Friday- plan out your meals and make your grocery list
- Saturday- go grocery shopping
- Sunday- chop and prep your ingredients for the week
This simple method will have all of your meals and ingredients ready to go for those days when you don’t feel like being in the kitchen forever.
The real reasons meal planning is amazing
When you’re running on fumes and a prayer is keeping you awake until bedtime, there’s no way your family is getting a healthy dinner.
Everyone either ends up eating potato chips or fast food.
With meal planning, you’ve already planned out quick and easy meals that’ll save you time and energy.
Start the crockpot when you get up in the morning and have an amazing dinner on the table with little to no effort.
Common meal planning mistakes you may make
Are you so excited about meal planning that you’re ready to hit the ground running?
I get it.
But without a clear plan in mind you may find yourself making a few common mistakes..
Here’s a few things to not do and what you should do instead when meal planning as a beginner.
Making it difficult
Start with a quick, simple method and build your way up to extreme organization.
You don’t need to print off a million meal planning sheets for an entire year or have a huge binder full of recipe ideas you’ll never try.
Take it one week at a time and get your process mastered.
Spending way too much time looking on Pinterest for new recipes and now you’re on Amazon buying a pair of shoes may happen more than you think.
Stick to recipes you know and love before trying to venture out and try new things.
Don’t give up when something goes wrong. You may realize you forgot to put corn on your grocery list.
Instead of scrapping the whole meal, try using something new or replace it with another side item.
Only home cooked meals
It’s normal to think that planning your meals means you’ll be cooking at home every night, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Plan days for your family to go out to eat or grab a pizza on those busy days when you know you won’t feel like cooking.
Also, don’t forget some days you’ll have leftovers which means you won’t be cooking that day either.
Things to consider when choosing your meals
Deciding what to make can get tricky. Here’s a few tips to make choosing your meals easier.
Think about what you can make that will give you plenty of leftovers. (More leftovers = less cooking, yay!)
Since we’re all about keeping it simple, stick to quick and easy recipes you know your family loves.
Each week throw in one new recipe to build up your collection of meals.
Mom tip: Have a list of recipes your family loves so you can keep them in rotation.
Think about what recipes you know use similar ingredients.
If one recipe uses half an onion, find another recipe where you use the other half.
Mom tip: Make sure it’s a recipe you want to eat or else you won’t cook it.
What’s the purpose
When you’re looking through your fridge and see that old jar of marinara sauce you think, “oh crap I need to use this before it goes bad.”
Each meal should serve a purpose.
Whether it’s to use something before it goes bad, a quick healthy meal for picky toddlers, or you’re in the mood for a peanut butter and ketchup sandwich, figure out the purpose of the meal so you’ll remember why you chose it.
The meal planning hack you’ll love
I’m a huge fan of saving time with batching! You can read all about how I save a ton of time batching housework HERE.
With meal planning, I prep all of my ingredients on Sunday so I don’t have to worry about chopping veggies before I start cooking.
This can be done in one hour or less so it’s worth the small amount of effort.
Go through your ingredients and see what you can do in advance to speed up the cooking process.
The most important tips for meal planning success
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of meal planning as a beginner.
These simple tips will have you feeling like a pro in no time!
1. Buy in bulk
This will save you a lot of time and money. You won’t have to run to the store every day for multiple cans of corn or a bag of flour.
Take advantage of coupons and cashback apps so you can save even more money.
Go to Sam’s Club or Costco to check out their selection. You may even find items you’ve never heard of that you can incorporate into your meals.
2. Use fresh produce first
When you buy fresh veggies or any other fresh ingredients, plan to use those at the beginning of the week before they go bad.
3. Mix it up
Theme nights are a blast for the whole family!
Here’s an example of theme night ideas:
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Whatever Wednesday
- Turkey Thursday
- Fish Friday
Make it exciting so everyone doesn’t feel like they’re eating the same things over and over.
Even though the meals are still simple, when you add variety they become fun and can take you less than 30 minutes to make.
4. Staple foods
You want to start with meals you know your family loves.
These are your staple items that always need to be on your list and in your pantry.
If you’re supposed to go grocery shopping on Saturday and one of your kiddos gets sick, you’ll still have all the ingredients for a quick meal.
5. Keep an inventory
Always keep an inventory of the food you have on hand and the expiration dates.
When you grab that jar of alfredo sauce and realize it expired 6 months ago, that could discourage you and throw off your entire meal plan.
Update your inventory every month so you won’t be surprised with outdated food.
6. Have a plan B (and C)
Have a back-up plan for those times when something doesn’t go as planned which may be often as a busy mom.
Have a list of simple and quick go-to recipes with ingredients you always have.
7. Keep a master recipe list
Since most of your meals won’t be new recipes it’s a great idea to keep a list.
Write down all the meals you already know are family favorites and add new recipes to the list that you try and they enjoy.
If you have a bullet journal, add a meal planning category to keep track of recipes all in one place.
This will help keep it simple so you’re not trying to remember if your family liked that hashbrown casserole from 3 months ago.
8. Double-check your grocery list
Always double check your grocery list to make sure it has all the ingredients you need.
And if you think you already have an ingredient at home, double check to make sure you have it and it’s not expired.
9. Write it down
Don’t try to keep your entire meal plan in your head.
Writing down your meals will keep you organized and you can go back to those meal plans so you’re not recreating the wheel every week.
Use a whiteboard, a piece of paper, the back of your hand or whatever works best for you to stick with your meal plan.
10. Make it visible
It’s easier to forget about your meal plan if it’s sitting in your planner on your desk in the office you use once every 3 months.
Put it on your fridge or hang a whiteboard on your kitchen wall so you’ll see it every day.
Making your meal plan visible also cuts down on how much you’re being asked what’s for dinner.
11. Include the family
Since kids love helping, grab a family menu and plan out your meals together.
Don’t forget to include birthday parties or nights you’ll go out for dinner.
Planning meals in advance doesn’t mean you have to eat at home every day.
If your kids are used to eating the occasional happy meal, schedule that on the meal plan so they’ll have something to look forward to.
How to start meal planning
- Grab a free meal planning template (inside the Productivity Power Pack
- Decide on your meals for the week
- Will there be leftovers?
- Are the ingredients similar?
- What’s the purpose?
- Do you plan on eating out?
- Will you have any theme nights?
- Create your grocery list
- What ingredients do you already have?
- Are they expired?
- What can you buy in bulk?
- Go grocery shopping
- Batch prep your meals
- What veggies can be chopped?
- What can be cooked in advance?
- Keep a list of what meals your family enjoyed
Finding a meal planning method that works for you will make you even more successful.
And if you’re a stay at home mom like me, you can cook dinner in the morning and warm it up at dinner time.
My daughter is the happiest and most content playing alone in the morning so that’s when I cook dinner.
If you’re tired of crawling out of bed with one eye open and thinking about what’s for dinner, give this meal planning for beginner’s guide a try!