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Meal Planning for Beginners: A How To Guide

Are you ready to stop stressing over what to serve for dinner? In today’s guest post Pam from But First, Coffee is sharing super easy steps for simple meal planning for beginners.

How to get started with meal planning for beginners. A step-by-step guide so you can start saving money and avoid the stress of deciding what's for dinner.

What is meal planning?

Maybe you are:

  • tired of standing in front of the fridge wondering what to make for dinner
  • upset when you have to throw away unused food
  • eating unhealthy fast food and at expensive restaurants too much because you don’t have food in the house.

 One of the most effective ways to save time and money in your kitchen is to get into the habit of meal planning.

Meal planning is the process of planning what your family is going to eat in advance.

The process typically includes:

  1. Choosing the recipes
  2. Shopping for the necessary ingredients
  3. Prepping ingredients ahead of time

But, how do I make a meal plan? 

Here is the process I use to create our weekly meal plan.

I plan for one week at a time, as we have a large, busy family and I live very close to our grocery store.

You can easily extend your meal plan to two weeks after you have the basics down.

Below is my step by step process when I teach this process for others.

Let’s Get Started with Meal Planning for Beginners:

Family meal planning for beginners

1) Take an inventory:

At the beginning of your meal planning journey, sit down with your family and make a list of your favorite meals. You may be surprised at what the favorites are for various family members.

Break the list down by type of protein, length of prep time , and cooking technique (freezer meal, slow cooker, Instant Pot, etc.)

2) Look at your calendar:

Look at your schedule for the week. For example, we have soccer on Monday and Wednesday evenings–we have to have dinner first, but we only have about an hour to get everything done before we leave for practice–we need quick (but energy-filled) meals on these days. On Thursdays everyone is home and it is a great day for a more leisurely family meal.

This is another great reason to do a weely meal plan. Busy family schedules change so often.

Once you know what your family’s schedule is for the week ahead you will be better prepared to select meals that require the appropriate amount of prep time for each day.

3) Create a pattern:

Though I plan menus for seven days, I really only plan six meals as there is almost always one day we are busy, or get invited out, or we need to eat all the leftovers in the fridge.

In our family it looks something like this:

Monday: Salad Night
Tuesday: Tacos/Mexican
Wednesday: Kids in charge of cooking (I choose a recipe they know how to cook well, or that I want them to learn)
Thursday: Pasta Night
Friday: Soup or chili
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Eat dinner out

You can grab my simple weekly meal plan printable here:

Refer to your inventory and use the bulk of those meals in your plan, introducing one new recipe a week.

If you need ideas for quick and easy meals be sure to follow me on Pinterest!

4) Make a list, check it twice:

Once you have decided what meals you will be preparing for the week, make a list of the groceries you will need.

Check you freezer and pantry first!

I line up my list with the layout of my grocery store. With online grocery shopping options, I can sometimes skip a trip to the store altogether!

5) Post your meal plan:

I post our plan for the week on the fridge.

I know that we may re-arrange meals according to our schedule, but the posted plan helps your family know what to expect (and what to stay out of in the fridge!)

6) Prep ahead:

Every week when I get home from the grocery store, I immediately start cooking up a batch of eggs in my Instant Pot. By the time my groceries are done, I have boiled eggs ready for easy snacks and salad toppings for the week.

I also take time to chop vegetables and fruit for snacks and salads throughout the week.

If you planned any meals with browned ground beef for the week, you can brown that now and toss in in the freezer in a ziplock bag and save time later in the week.

I do the same with cooked, shredded chicken (I use my Instant Pot to cook frozen chicken breasts and my Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle attachment to shred it!)

7) Delegate:

When it comes to meal prep during the week, assign a different child as your “sous chef” each day.

It is great one on one time, and it teaches them valuable kitchen skills.

8) Enjoy meal time as a family:

Family dinner is one of my favorite times, and even our adult children make it a point to join us for family dinner as often as they can. It is one of the few constants in busy family life!

Check out this meal planning bundle that makes it SUPER EASY

Meal Planning Guide for Beginners

There you have it mama! Practical and simple steps to learn all about meal planning for beginners.

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Pam is a Lutheran pastor’s wife and mom to six kids, including young adult sons down to 8-year old twin daughters. My life is sometimes normal, and sometimes crazy; but through it all, I know that I am blessed! Some people say that I have my hands full, I prefer to call it living life with both hands full, and I love it!

2 Comments

  1. Hey,

    I’m obsessed with meal planning! Thank you for this helpful post – I love your idea of patterns. That makes meal planning much easier! My dream is to plan meals a month in advance, but funnily it never quite works out!

    Lois

    1. The most I have ever done is two weeks at a time. I find that if I plan for longer than that, life gets in the way and I end up with leftover food or needing more groceries. Meal planning for one week worsts best for me because it allows me to plan precisely for the week ahead. I would love to get to the point where I plan meals a month in advance….maybe when the kids are grown. LOL!

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