How to Meal Plan: Beginners Guide to Meal Planning
How to Meal Plan 101: The Basics for Beginners
Meal Plan for the Week
Before You Start Meal Planning or Create your Meal Plan, here’s what you’ll need:
Something to take notes with: a pen and paper or a note taking app on a device.
How Long you should Plan: No more than 45 minutes. Set a timer. Research first, then plan. Try not to go over 45 minutes, otherwise you might get frustrated. Don’t overthink your meals, use the tips below to help you keep it simple and trust your instincts!
Choose a day for grocery shopping, a day for meal planning, and a day for prep.
Everything could be done on the same day, you could meal plan/grocery shop on one day and prep the next or you could meal plan one day and grocery shop and prep on the next day. It’s up to you, there is no perfect combination. Try a few different day/task combinations and settle on one that fits your current lifestyle.
Feel free to plan to Eat out on certain days or have themed nights like Taco Night or Homemade Pizza night. Theme nights can be done weekly and makes meal planning and grocery shopping so much easier!
Meal planning can be kept simple and is what you make it. Your meals don’t have to be super fancy, gourmet, or restaurant quality unless you want it to be. For your family, you can meal plan a simple tossed salad, warm baked bread, and soup if you want or even switch things up and have breakfast for dinner – it’s completely up to you!
Choose Your Meals
Things to take into consideration:
- If you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight
- Special diets
- Your schedule (What events do you have coming up? Will you need to have leftovers for the next day? Planning on working late and won’t be home early enough to cook for the family?)
Take your circumstances into consideration as you plan; remember, some recipes are more forgiving as leftovers than others. Some foods dry out or just don’t taste very good re-heated.
Start off with things you already know how to make and that your family enjoys. Add new recipes in slowly so if you do have a “failed” meal – it won’t be too frequently to cause discouragement and stop your meal planning streak.
If you have never cooked or just don’t believe you’re good at it, take the time to learn some family favorite recipes. Before you begin, remember to follow recipes exactly and have a plan B in case your meal doesn’t turn out as planned. An actionable step for now (until you learn your family’s favorites) is to start preparing regular/consistent meals for your family with semi-healthy and affordable pre-made items like rotisserie chickens (they sell an organic naked rotisserie chicken at whole foods), Frozen Organic Cooked Rice from Whole Foods with ingredients of just water and rice, and frozen vegetables that you can easily steam. Consider serving a family sized salad (with all the toppings of course: dried fruit, nuts, etc.) with warm baked bread and your favorite lemonade or tea, that’s filling and super easy!
Shop for Ingredients
Make a grocery list. As you go through each meal you’d like to make, write down the ingredients you’ll need for each meal and try to keep them in categories so that as you shop you can be as efficient as possible. Aside from keeping the ingredients sorted by aisle you can also document where in the grocery store the item is located. Writing a grocery list by aisle will help you to:
- Save time by skipping aisles that don’t have items you’re looking for
- Save money by helping you avoid unnecessary items
- Help your health avoiding unhealthy items sections
- Become a pro-shopper in case you want to pick up some extra cash and become a personal grocery shopper for Instacart or Shipt!
Download this grocery shopping template to help you keep your list organized! Or better yet, get your LIFE HAPPENS notebook to use as your daily planner and meal planner. Link to how to make a grocery list article.
Shop. Know where items are in the grocery store. Stick to your budget and choose a grocery store location that you feel comfortable in and that isn’t too far from home if you’re getting frozen or cold items. LINK TO HOW TO MAKE A GROCERY SHOPPING BUDGET ARTICLE
Prepare the Ingredients or Prepare the Meal.
Prep the food: you can prep all your vegetables by washing and cutting them how you like or as needed for the recipe. This would also be the perfect time to wash your fruits so they can be readily available for a quick and healthy snack. If you’d like, you can prepare (cook/bake) your meals, measure the quantity needed for one meal, and store them by refrigerating or freezing and re-heating as needed.
- If you don’t like being in the kitchen, don’t plan to spend too much time in there – don’t choose to make elaborate recipes just yet! Start out with some slow cooker recipes, where you can just “set it and forget it” or maybe pick up some pre-packaged items to help your cooking process progress more quickly; things like pre-chopped vegetables can be a lifesaver when you don’t have a lot of time.
- Try to get everyone involved. If you have a partner or a family, try to get their input so that everyone’s tastes and favorite dishes are kept in consideration as you plan. This will help especially if you can’t find meals that everyone will like.
- Make foods you enjoy – as you get in the habit of making your meals on a more consistent basis you’ll want to enjoy the food you eat at home to keep the “eating at home” or “eating healthy” momentum going. If your favorites are not very healthy, have them in moderation, but do make them and if possible, keep them in your meal plan rotation.
- BONUS TIP: Meal Planning and Prepping really is worth your time and effort. Meal planning helps you to save money, time, and energy and Meal prepping food will make your cooking time shorter. Read here on why I think Meal planning is worth your time and effort. LINK TO THAT ARTICLE.