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Meal planning for beginners

This meal planning for beginner’s guide is the answer to the daily dilemma of “what’s for dinner” that we as moms are asked or think to ourselves just about every single day.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably heard that meal planning is a great way to save time, money, and stress at dinnertime.

And you may be thinking that it sounds too good to be true…

How can planning meals ahead of time help save me so much frustration???

I get it…that was my first reaction too when I started to learn how to plan meals, but everything you’ve heard is true and I’ll show the exact step by step process in this meal planning for beginners guide.

Now, to be clear, just listing the meals you plan to make in itself isn’t where the magic happens, but before we get into the details, here’s a quick glance at how meal planning works.

Meal Planning for Beginners

  • Create a list of family favorites

  • Plan your meals for the week or month

  • Check your pantry to see what you have on hand

  • Make a grocery list of items you need to buy 

  • Go grocery shopping

  • Enjoy a stress-free meal with your family



Meal planning sounds simple enough, right? Or you may even be thinking it’s a waste of time…

Before you just blow off the idea of planning your meals, you need to know what all the awesome benefits that creating a meal plan are so you understand why it’s so helpful.


Benefits of meal planning

>> No more trying to figure out that age-old question, “what’s for dinner?”.

>> You’ll never have to run to the grocery store to pick up a few things.

>> Grocery shopping will be quicker since you know exactly what to buy.

>> No more wasting money filling your cart with random items that you don’t need.

>> You’ll avoid food waste because you always have a plan for what you buy.

>> No more money spent on expensive takeout because you have a plan.

>> Allows you to eat healthier by being intentional.

>> You can meal plan around what’s on sale, saving you even more money.

>> Meal planning allows you to make smarter meal choices

>> Helps reduce your grocery bill if you are meal planning on a budget.

>> Saves your sanity on those crazy busy days.


Meal Planning for Beginners

1. Create a list of family favorites

Before you start meal planning one of the first things you should do is create a list of family favorite meals. 

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel or make things more difficult than they need to be when starting out.

Stick to the recipes that have been tried and tested by your family. If you typically make tacos on Tuesdays and your family loves it, then stick with it.

Once you get your feet wet and have a few weeks of meal planning under your belt, you can start testing new recipes and expanding your list of dinner ideas

2. Plan your meals for the week or month

The next step to meal planning is to decide if you are going to meal plan for a week at a time or for the entire month.

I suggest you focus on just one week at a time to start off but that doesn’t mean you have to start with a weekly meal plan. 

You can plan your meals for an entire month right off the bat if you’d like to but you’ll want to keep it simple and shop for a week at a time to avoid overwhelm.

Over time, you can get more strategic with your grocery shopping to save more money on food and prep meals ahead of time. 

Tips for planning your meals 

  • Use a meal planning template

Download a meal planning template or you can use a calendar if you prefer to jot down your meal ideas and post it on the fridge or where everyone can see it.

This will not only help you keep your meal plan top of mind, but it’ll also help to not have to constantly answer the daily “what’s for dinner” question.

Grab these free meal planning templates to get started!

  • Keep your schedule in mind

Take note of the days of the week where you’ll be busy and what activities are going on.

Make sure to add some quick meal ideas to these days so you can still get a healthy dinner on the table without having to hit the drive-thru lane or order take out. 

  • Plan your meals around food you already have on hand

Before you create your meal plan, take note of the food you already have on hand in your pantry, fridge, and freezer.

Do you have ingredients to make entire meals on hand? If so great! Add that meal to your list.

Do you have produce or meat sitting in your refrigerator that’ll go bad if it’s not eaten soon? If so, make sure you add recipes that will utilize them to avoid food waste.


  • Consult your list of family favorites

To finish filling in your meal plan, consult the list of family favorites that you created earlier.

These are tried and true recipes that you’ve probably made many times and you know everyone will eat without complaints.

  • Make a plan for leftovers

Check to see if you have any leftovers in the fridge that you can serve for dinner to add to your meal plan. These would be perfect to pencil in on your busy days.

If you don’t have enough to feed the entire family, consider using them to take to work for lunch or for school lunch.

You can even repurpose food to create entirely different meals. For example, you may have leftover chicken sitting in your fridge that can be used to make chicken alfredo or an easy casserole dish.

  • Try one or two new recipes a month

For the most part, when you are first starting to meal plan, you’ll want to stick to your list of tried and tested family favorites to make things easier. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t sample some new recipes to add to that list.

But instead of going overboard and making things more complicated than they need to be, start off slow and maybe add one or two new recipes to your meal plan to test the waters.

You can find some great recipes on Pinterest or by doing a simple Google search for meal ideas.

  • Rotate your meal plans

One of the easiest ways to meal plan without having to come up with a completely new menu every week is to rotate your weekly meal plans.

For instance, you can create different meal plans and shopping lists for anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks and simply rotate through them which will save you so much time in the long run. 

You can even sign up for a meal planning service like PlateJoy for a few weeks or a month to get some done for you meal plans with shopping lists to use.

And hey, if meal planning is not your thing, it’s an inexpensive done for your alternative.

  • Remember, your meal plan is not set in stone

Just because you have all your meals written down and planned, it doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone.

Things happen all the time, maybe you have to work late one night or you forgot that you have to taxi your kids to sports practice.

This is no reason to give up and order pizza, instead simply swap your meals around to fit your schedule. 


3. Check your pantry to see what you have on hand

Once you know what meals you are going to make, you’ll want to take note of what you already have on hand to make your planned meals.

One of the main reasons that meal planning saves you money is that you don’t spend more money than you have to at the grocery store. 

Not only that but it also helps to save unnecessary trips to pick up a few ingredients that you might have forgotten to buy when you grocery shop for the week.

Grocery list

4. Make a grocery list of items you need to buy 

Now that you have your meal plan in place and know what items you don’t need to buy because you already have them on hand, it’s time to create your grocery list.

Make sure you list every single ingredient you’ll need to make your meals so you have it when you need it.

To save time grocery shopping you could create your list based on the type of food and your grocery store layout. 

5. Go grocery shopping

Time to go shopping!

One of the major benefits of meal planning is to buy all the items you need to make your meals while not buying food that you don’t need.

This will help you avoid spending more money than you intend to as well as help to avoid throwing food int he trash because it went bad.

These are the very reasons you need to shop with a grocery list and stick to it!

Grocery Shopping

6. Enjoy a stress-free meal with your family

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many benefits to meal planning, but the biggest one is that you get to actually enjoy some stress-free meals with your family!

That in itself is the best reason to learn how to meal plan, don’t you agree?


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