15 Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
Meal planning is a great way to save money and time. It’s also a fabulous way to stay healthy, because you will be less likely to eat fast food or highly processed food when you have a plan in place!
I was actually a little late to the meal planning game and didn’t get super serious about it until my oldest children were middle-school aged. Meal planning became a necessity because they were busy with activities that kept us away from the house for long hours. Those days have come and gone, but I find it easier to at least have a list of meals that I can pull from than to try to wing it every day. (Although, full disclosure, sometimes I do just “wing it”!!)
Here are my favorite meal planning tips to get you started!
- Keep a running list of meals you’ve eaten in the past that you would definitely eat again. Start with the basics…grilled cheese and soup, bacon and eggs, or homemade pizza and salad. I love new recipes and complex seasonings/sauces, but we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel! Also, if you have Pinterest, create a board with your favorite recipe links to pull from. And definitely invest in at least one really good cookbook.
- Make a list of everyone’s favorite dishes/recipes. Whatever your family loves, work that in somewhere! Also have an idea of foods that your family just won’t eat. It doesn’t matter how great of a sale it was or how healthy you think it is going to be, it’s a waste if no one eats it. I promise I’m not telling you to give up trying to feed your family healthy meals! However, you may have to get really creative and find ways to incorporate the things they don’t like. There are definitely ways to hide ingredients!
- Grab a calendar, piece of paper, or open a word document and start filling in the dates with possible menu items. Don’t forget to mark off the days you won’t be home or have events scheduled. For example, I know on the days that I have hematology appointments that I will be eating out or picking up something to bring home. The nights that I am here alone, I eat leftovers or something simple. Planning for days like that keeps your from exhausting yourself or winding up with excess food!
- Make a list of all the groceries you will need to cook your recipes.
- Go to the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before you go to the grocery. A lot of what I cook is determined by what I have on hand. I do pick out a couple of new recipes to try each month, but sometimes have to buy extra ingredients for those. It saves soooo much money when we use what we have though!
- Check sales to see if there are groceries that you can plan a meal around.
- Browse the internet for other people’s meal plans. There are tons of articles on Pinterest about meal planning.
- Make it a goal to try at least one new recipe each month. While meal planning can save money, it can also get boring if you eat the same things over and over. (It’s like the school lunch calendar…we always knew when pizza day was because there wasn’t much variety. Don’t be the school lunch calendar!)
- Give yourself at least one day off from cooking. We have a “Leftover Night” once a week (usually Thursday). I pull all of the leftovers out of the fridge, and everyone gets to choose what they want. If there is any left after that, I save it for my lunch or freeze if possible. If there is a small amount that can’t be repurposed, I will throw it away if it’s been in the fridge for more than five days.
- Try planning theme nights to make things a little easier. Pick certain days for menu categories or have a different theme for every day. I sometimes do Taco Tuesday, but other than that, I do Pizza Night, Breakfast for Supper, and Appetizer Night. Other suggestions I have seen are: Meatless Monday, Sandwich Saturday, and Friday Favorites. This is a chance to really shine with your creativity!
- It’s possible to meal plan for all the meals, but make sure to keep breakfast and lunch simple. It’s okay to do those on repeat! Keep a list of easy grab-and-go breakfasts and add it to your menu plan if you’re going to cook something special (on the weekends, for example). We pre-cook biscuits, sausage, and muffins early in the week so that everyone can have a quick meal the rest of the week.
- If your main dish is complicated, expensive, or requires extra prep work, choose side dishes that are simple and vice versa.
- Keep something in the freezer, fridge, or pantry to heat up on days when you are tired or in a rush. Emergency dinners come in really handy when that ballgame lasts longer than you thought, or you’ve had a rough day at work!
- Check your monthly meal plan at least weekly to make sure you have the ingredients you need for each dish. Check the menu plan when you get up in the morning in case anything needs to be thawed out or put in the crockpot.
- Be flexible! Sometimes you have to switch out what you’re going to cook that day or even grab a bite somewhere else. Sometimes you make new plans or forget that you had old ones. It’s okay if you don’t follow your meal plan to the letter. That’s why it’s extra important to keep a running list of recipes/meals to pull from.
These are just a few of the tips I have learned through several years of trial and error in meal planning. Hopefully, they will help keep you on the right track for saving time, money, and having less stress! You can find this free Monthly Meal Planner printable in the That One Mom Subscriber Library!