Meal planning is definitely a buzz word we all keep hearing. You already know it could help make your life easier. And lower your grocery budget.
Maybe you’ve been meaning to give it a try, but think it just sounds too complicated. If you’ve been wanting to know how to get started meal planning, you’re in the right place!
Today I’m sharing 10 basic meal planning tips for beginners. Call it Meal Planning 101. The 5 Easy Meal Planning Strategies for Beginners post gets a lot of views, so I wanted to share some even more basic tips to help get you started.
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This post may contain affiliate links. You can view my full disclosure policy here.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning, or menu planning, as some call it, is simply the act of making an easy (and doable!) plan for what your household will eat this week. It is the plan you make for buying and making food.
How you meal plan depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The degree to which you like to cook and try new recipes
- How organized you want to be with it
- The frequency with which you grocery shop
- Your household’s taste, and how versatile you are in your eating style
The idea is to simply do what works best for you! It really does not need to be complicated or fancy.
How do I get started meal planning?
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to meal planning:
- Check your calendar for the week to see what you have going on and how many nights you’ll be eating at home.
- Take a quick inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have on hand that you can make meals out of.
- Check out the sales ad for where you shop, and see which sale-priced items you can turn into meals.
- Turn to cookbooks, Pinterest, or websites like All Recipes, for inspiration of what to add to your weekly menu.
- Write down your list of meals for the week.
- Create your grocery list based on your meal plan.
- Go to the store and buy what you need for the week.
UPDATE: I put together a list of 10 easy and cheap meals, plus step by step directions for how to make them. These super simple dinner ideas are both affordable and quick – even if you think you can’t cook!
How frequently should I meal plan?
Whether you meal plan for one week at a time, biweekly, or once a month is completely up to you. I find the idea of meal planning for an entire month to be very daunting, but if you’re that organized, go for it!
The simplest way to decide, is just to meal plan for as often as you grocery shop. If you’re a person who goes to the store once a week, then meal plan for a week at a time.
If you like to grocery shop every other week when you get paid, then a biweekly meal plan works best for you.
Ok, now we’ve laid the framework for what meal planning is, and how to get started meal planning. Let’s get on to the basic tips!
10 Super Easy Meal Planning Tips
1. Get your family involved
If you prepare meals for other people, it is important to get their input on what meals to make. Let them know that you plan to get started meal planning, and you’d like to hear some meal ideas they have.
You may not realize that your kids actually love your meatloaf, or that your husband doesn’t mind just having a salad for dinner sometimes.
In addition to getting feedback on what your family likes and doesn’t like, they may offer ideas you would never have thought of.
Maybe your son had a meal at his friend’s house that he absolutely loved. Try adding it to your meal plan. It could be a new family favorite.
You won’t waste your time, energy, or grocery budget making things that no one wants to eat. You’ll also be armed with new ideas. It takes some of the responsibility off of you.
Your family members may even surprise you and want to take on some of the planning, shopping, or cooking tasks.
Getting them invested in the process is a surefire way to make your new meal planning endeavor go more smoothly.
Get a cute little meal planning chalkboard to display your weekly meal plan. That way you won’t have to answer the ‘what’s for dinner?’ question 5 times a day.
2. Only prepare one dinner per night
If you have picky eaters in your home, stop feeling like you need to cook them a separate meal every night.
That is just too much to expect of you, and probably makes you feel overwhelmed at the idea of meal planning.
You can aim for the lowest common denominator and cook meals that the majority likes. Or you could tell your kids that they can make a peanut butter sandwich if they don’t like what’s being served.
If you can adjust the ingredients you’re already using to accommodate someone, then that’s up to you.
You could not add meat to a small portion of spaghetti sauce for your vegetarian daughter. Or mix butter and parmesan with your son’s noodles, if he doesn’t like red sauce.
The idea is just to not have to make 2 completely different meals on any given night.
3. Incorporate really basic meals
Don’t let Pinterest and fancy cookbooks fool you. You don’t have to make a complicated, glamorous meal every night.
If you have the time or desire to do that sometimes, feel free of course. But for the rest of us, be sure to include some very easy meals into your menu plan.
A leftovers night is a great way to use up what you already have, and take a night off from cooking. Breakfast for dinner is usually a quick and easy meal to make with ingredients you probably have on hand.
Never underestimate the convenience of keeping a couple frozen pizzas in your freezer. If you’re really tired, or sick, or have a headache, a frozen pizza can really save the day.
4. Keep a running list of meal ideas
Remember those meal ideas your family gave you? Write them down! Whether in a notebook, Word document, or in the Notes section of your phone, keeping a list of meal ideas makes meal planning SO much easier.
Periodically, take 20 minutes or so and do some research to add to your list. Scour Pinterest for meal ideas you’d like to try. Thumb through your cookbooks, or do some searching on All Recipes (sort by popularity to easily find their best ones), and jot down what intrigues you.
On your running list of meal ideas, be sure to include where you saw the recipe so you can refer back to it.
Organizing your list by main ingredient is also very handy. (Keep all the chicken meal ideas together, etc.)
If you haven’t downloaded it yet, don’t forget to request the free Meal Planning Kit above. It includes over 100 dinner ideas, and 50 side dish ideas for you to refer to.
5. Be realistic
It is important to be practical in your meal plan. If you know you’ll be gone for the evening, running kids from activity to activity on Wednesdays, don’t plan a home-cooked meal.
If you want to take Saturday nights off from cooking, write ‘dinner out’ on your plan for that night.
It doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal to be on the meal plan.
Setting yourself up for meal planning success means being realistic about your actual, real life.
6. Prepare ahead
Prep as much of your meal plan in advance as you can. You’ll really thank yourself for it.
Wash and chop your veggies on your day off. Brown several pounds of ground beef at once, and store it in one pound portions in the freezer.
Slow cook or roast a bunch of chicken breasts on Sunday, and chop or shred it to be used for a couple dinners throughout the week. Or freeze it and use it in future weeks.
Do your future self this favor! You will be so happy that you did.
7. Use time-saving kitchen gadgets
There’s no sense in wasting time doing tasks that aren’t necessary. No need to be a hero.
My #1 favorite time-saving kitchen gadget is the slow cooker. It cooks the meal for you! Toss in the ingredients, turn it on, and come home to dinner ready to eat.
Other awesome time-saving kitchen gadgets I use include:
- Vegetable chopper – Chop half an onion with one press! It also includes a spiralizer.
- Egg cooker – Hard, medium, or soft boil eggs perfectly every time. It also cooks mini-omelettes and poaches eggs for you.
- Meat claws – Shred cooked meat with fantastic ease, and have fun doing it.
- Foodsaver – Preserve a wide variety of foods for your freezer, without any freezer burn!
- Bread machine – There is nothing like the smell of hot, fresh bread in your home.
- Salad spinner – Wash your lettuce quickly and easily, and have it ready to eat.
I’ve heard such great things about the Instant-Pot, but haven’t tried it yet. Let me know if you have one and love it!
8. Keep past meal plans
Don’t throw away your weekly meal plans when you’re done with them. Hang onto them in a folder, binder, notebook, or drawer.
When you’re stuck for ideas, referring back to past meal plans will remind you of quick and easy meals you’ve made in the past.
You could even make 12 weekly meal plans, and rotate through them time and again.
9. Incorporate theme nights
One of the easiest ways to meal plan is to use theme nights. You could do Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast Wednesdays, and so on.
Or just incorporate a Mexican meal once a week, an Italian meal once a week, etc. Breaking it down like this just helps you quickly fulfill your ‘quota’ of theme nights.
It makes planning your weekly menu so much quicker!
Here are some theme night ideas to get you started:
- Sandwich Night
- Breakfast for dinner
- Pizza Night
- Slow cooker
- Kids choice/Kids cook
- Sheet Pan Supper
- Take Out
- Potluck with friends or family
10. $5 Meal Plan
If you just wish someone would do your meal planning for you, try the $5 Meal Plan!
For $5 a MONTH, they will send you a weekly meal plan AND the shopping list to make it! I’m not even kidding.
Every Friday, you’ll receive a meal plan with five affordable dinner entrees with sides, one lunch, one breakfast, and one random goodie (like a dessert, beverage or snack).
Your weekly menu will include one freezer friendly, one slow-cooker, and one 20 minute meal. They also have a gluten-free option, if that’s best for you.
It also includes a full shopping list! You can just print it all out (or have it on your phone), take it with you to the store, and follow the easy recipe steps.
They also have a drag and drop recipe builder where you can customize your weekly meal plan based on your family’s tastes and preferences.
There are other specialty meal plans to choose from, including 6 weeks of 30-minute, slow cooker, Paleo, or vegetarian meals. There’s something for everyone.
The best part is that $5 Meal Plan is currently offering a 14-day free trial. Check it out here!
I really hope these super easy tips gave you some great ideas on how to get started meal planning.
Check out my Pinterest profile for lots of other meal planning ideas, including budget meals, and slow cooker and few-ingredient recipes. I’d love to have you follow me!
You may also like:
- 5 Easy Meal Planning Strategies for Beginners
- How to Create Your Own Meal Planning Kit
- Foodsaver Review and Tutorial: How to Save Money on Meat and Produce
- Create Quick & Cheap Meals with these 30 Pantry Staples
- The Quickest & Easiest Way to Create a Grocery Budget (and stick to it!)
- How Does Ibotta Work? A Review and Tutorial of My Favorite Cash Back App
P.S. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download the list of super easy meal ideas!