Learn how to start with meal planning with some easy strategies to save time and money.

I believe that most households would agree that one of the most stressful times of the day is dinner time. When deciding what to make for dinner, think about whether you have all the ingredients and how long it is going to take to make it and have it on the table in a timely manner.

If you’ve never meal planned before, the thought can be a little overwhelming, but meal planning can be simple and easy and can be customized to your home and family. Once you have a few meals under your belt, you can decide if you want to plan a week or more at a time.

What is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is when you set aside time to plan your meals for the week or the month. Instead of trying to figure out what you are cooking from night to night, you will have a plan sketched out. Planning allows you to identify what ingredients and products you’ll need to prepare your meals.

Benefits of Meal Planning

  • It saves you money when you meal plan. You can save on your grocery budget because you are only buying what you need. You won’t be resorting to takeout because you have planned ahead.
  • Less Take-Out With planning your meals ahead, you never need to think about what you’re making for a meal; you only order takeout when you want to, not because you don’t have any idea what’s for dinner.
  • Healthy and balanced meals When you meal plan, you are more likely to make meals that are healthy and that your family will enjoy. You can create a variety of meals that you know everyone will enjoy; you’re in charge! You can have as much or as little variety as you’d like.
  • Frees up your time Even though there is a bit of time to plan your meals, you will save time knowing exactly what you will be cooking each night. This results in less stress surrounding dinner time because you already have a plan; all you have to do is look at your calendar and know what to do.
meal planning for the week
meal planning for the week

Meal Planning Tips for Beginners

Following these steps will ensure that you will be well on your way to having meals to make every day of the week without having to stress about what’s for dinner tonight. Even if you have a busy week, you will have something to help you accomplish having meals on your table and fewer takeout meals if you want takeout.

Step 1: make a list of the meals your family enjoys

For me, when I’m thinking of what my family enjoys for meals, it is easier to think of it in terms of categories like chicken meal, beef, fish, pork, pasta, salads, casseroles, etc.

Having a list will make it easier for you to stick to your meal plan; without a list, I find you get tired of the same meals week in and week out. So, I like to make a pretty substantial list to go by so that when it comes to weeks down the road, I can pick and choose the ones I want for that week.

This is sometimes the most time-consuming part of meal planning, so try to set a good amount of time aside.

Step 2: Make a Grocery Budget

There are two different meal plans weekly and monthly, you will want to decide how much you are wanting to spend or how much your budget will allow.

So for example, if you’re a family of four doing a monthly plan, you would spend between $100 and $150 per person (this can fluctuate depending on the current economy). So in the first week, you would spend around $220, and then the following weeks after that would be where you are maintaining your groceries (bread, milk, veggies, and fruits). These are generally groceries you just run out of weekly.

The goal of meal planning, whether it is monthly or weekly, is to get all of your ingredients at the beginning of the week, and if you are doing monthly shopping trips, make additional shopping trips at the beginning of every week to maintain. Pretty similar if you’re doing weekly; you plan out ingredients every week.

This step can be done by simply going to your favorite grocery store or big box store and grabbing a flyer, but I find most of them are readily available online or I like to use the Flipp app (all the store’s flyers are available for you to browse)

Looking through the sales on items, it can help you decide what to do for your weekly meal plan. Sometimes you can get a larger pack of chicken, pork, or ground beef that is on sale, and then you know that you will want to use that during the week.

Step 3: Look through your fridge, freezer, and pantry

Before you sit down and start your weekly menu, you want to take a quick inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezers to see what you have, take note of the foods you already have, and try to figure out a few meals that you already have ingredients for. This also helps when you go to create a grocery list, knowing that you’re not buying items you already have at home.

Step 4: Look through Sale flyers

This step can be done by simply going to your favorite grocery store or big box store and grabbing a flyer, but I find most of them are readily available online or I like to use the flip app (all the stores flyers are available for you to browse)

By looking through the sales on items, it can help you decide what to do for your weekly meal plan. Sometimes you can get a larger pack of chicken, pork, or ground beef that is on sale, and then you know that you will want to use that during the week.

Step 5: Theme Dinner Nights

One thing I have found that helps me with meal planning is having a certain night as a theme, for example.

  • Sunday: Slow Cooker Sundays
  • Monday: Pasta Night
  • Tuesday: Taco Tuesday
  • Wednesday: Quick and Easy Chicken
  • Thursday: Healthy Homemade Take Out
  • Friday: Fish and Seafood
  • Saturday: Leftovers or Dinner Out

It’s nice when you’re putting a monthly plan together because you can look at all the Mondays or Tuesdays and fill those days in right away. It works the same for a weekly schedule; you can have those filled in, and then you only have 4 or 5 other days to plan for.

Step 6: Grocery List

In this step you are wanting to create a grocery list based on your meal plan, look through what you will be making each day and make a list based on those meals. Don’t forget to include any snacks your family will want in the that plan as well.

shopping list
meal planning shopping list
Step 7: Put into practice

Now that you have created your plan and made your grocery list, it’s time to put it into action. When you’re new to meal planning, it can feel a little overwhelming, and sometimes life gets busy and we want to just forget the original plan and fall back into our habits. So try your best to stick with the plan and create a new habit.

As you go through your plan for the week, there are inevitably going to be a few bumps in the road. As you go, you will find ways to fix and adjust and will learn from the mistakes you might make. For example, you might have a really busy day and just not have the time to plan that meal, and that definitely will happen; it happens to us all. Just adjust next week, and it will get easier.

The top struggles and solutions

#1 Too much repetitiveness It can feel like you’re cooking the same thing day in and day out, even if you’re not following a meal plan. I can remember times when the kids would only eat maybe a handful of meals, which can be challenging and boring after having the same thing every night. Here are a few ways to keep variety in your meals without feeling repetitive:

Daily theme nights

  • Meatless
  • Taco
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Slow cooker
  • Rice
  • Try a new recipe
  • Pizza
  • leftover or take out
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Salad night
  • Casserole night

#2 Stick to the meal plan Sometimes when you make your plan, you may have more time to make a larger meal and other days you will be short on time. Other times, you might not like what you have on the plan, and I have been there in all of these instances. Here are a few solutions I hope will help you stick to your meal plan:

  • Meal plan in advance I like to choose a day in the week to try and prep the things I will need for the weekly meal plan, which is in the afternoon on a Sunday for us. I spend time cutting up the vegetables I might need, so all I need to do is pull them from the fridge and make my meal. This saves a lot of time in the end.
  • Be flexible Everyone has those days when they just don’t want to have the meal they have planned. Switch it up for one of the other days. If you planned a salad night later in the week, do it the night that you don’t feel like cooking the chicken and rice casserole. It’s nice If you plan to have a few extra staples in your kitchen for those nights you just don’t feel like cooking a full meal, I know when I was younger, my family loved it when my mom would make breakfast dinner. All it really required was pancakes, eggs, sausage, or whatever your favorite breakfast is.
Ready to Meal Plan

There is an abundance of information out there on meal planning, but really the best way is to just start meal planning. There might be a few hiccups along the way, but that’s just part of figuring out what will work best for you and your family. Keep trying, keep focused, and find a way that works for you and your family. That will look different for everyone. For me, I plan 4-5 meals and plan that there will be a night for takeout or a night where I make homemade takeout. I try to be flexible when it comes to my family because things come up.

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