Plan + Prep

My Simple Meal Planning Tips for Beginners

Tired of wondering what your family will eat for dinner every night? That was exactly how I felt a few years ago.

We were blowing all of our money eating takeout because I was so disorganized and stressed about meals. Literally deciding on dinner on the spot almost every night.

It made me hate cooking. Plus, our grocery bill was so out of control I hated to even think about how it much we were spending each month on food.

So I knew that if I was going to stick to a food budget, I needed to get ALL of our meals under control.

I used these simple meal planning tips, in the beginning, to cut our grocery bill in HALF, stay on a budget, and finally stop overspending.

1. Plan around your schedule.

Before you sit down to start meal planning, it’s a good idea to pull out your calendar and check your schedule so that you can plan your meals around your life.

Do you have an evening appointment coming up or kids’ little league practices twice a week?

You’re simply looking for long or busy days that may mess up your meal plan. Maybe you’ll need to meal prep ahead or eat leftovers. Use your schedule to guide what you put on your menu.

After you’ve reviewed your schedule, you can move on to Step #2.

2. Choose meals you already eat.

For some reason, most beginners start meal planning by spending hours on Pinterest to find new recipes to try. Big mistake.

Filling up your weekly menu with meals you’ve never made before isn’t going to keep you motivated to stay in your kitchen (and away from the drive-thru) if you’re not used to cooking.

Trust me on this. Going from eating fast-food 3-4 times a week to actually being in the kitchen and cooking 3-4 times a week is HARD. So you don’t need to go full throttle and become a home chef overnight.

The best thing you can do in the beginning is to eat meals you’re already making for the next few weeks until you get used to meal planning.

So grab a pen and paper write down as many easy meals you can have for dinner (even if you only know how to make sloppy joe and spaghetti—we all have to start somewhere!) and add 5-7 of your ideas to your menu.

READ: How to Simplify Dinner Planning: The NFL Strategy Every Busy Mom Needs

3. Limit your side dishes.

There’s no need to prepare a feast for dinner every night. If you keep your sides simple, you’ll save a lot of time in the kitchen and money on your grocery bill.

I like to serve one or two with dinner every night. Some of our favorite super-simple side dishes include:

  • Baked Beans
  • Fresh or Frozen Veggies
  • Steamed Rice
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Salad
  • Dinner Rolls
  • Cornbread
  • French Fries

Now, it’s your turn to come up with your own (or use mine!). Then you can pair your side dish ideas with the simple dinner ideas that you’ve chosen for your menu from Step #2.

4. Put your breakfast and lunch on autopilot.

Now that we got dinner out the way, you’re probably wondering what we should do about breakfast and lunch! And to be honest, it is SO much easier just to put your breakfast and lunch on autopilot when you’re a beginner at this.

What I mean is, you want to plan to eat the same things until you get used to meal planning for a few weeks.

For instance, you can choose to eat ready-to-go meals like cereal and bagels or make eggs & toast for breakfast. And for lunch, you can plan to eat leftovers from the night before or pack sandwiches and fresh fruit.

So choose 2 to 3 options for easy breakfast and lunch meals for now—that way you can completely focus all of your energy on planning for dinner each week and avoid getting overwhelmed.

5. Make a grocery list.

Now that you know what meals your family is going to eat, it’s time to turn your menu into a grocery list. It’s a good idea to make a grocery list and meal plan at the same time so you’ll know what you need to buy from the store.

And as you’re making your grocery list, don’t forget to check your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make sure you’re not buying items you already have.

Take it from me, doing this now will save you a TON of time, money, and frustration trying to figure out if you have ketchup or not at home when you’re all the way at the store.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?!

I hope you see just how easy meal planning can actually be each week! When you stick to planning meals your family already loves, there’s no need to drive yourself crazy trying to find new recipes to serve every night—you can actually do this one meal at a time!

I also recommend that you schedule any meals requiring fresh ingredients (like produce or herbs) earlier in the week—so they don’t go bad before you get a chance to eat them—and plan to eat leftovers towards the middle or end of the week.

The only thing left to do now is to go shopping for your groceries! Choose one day to buy all of your groceries so you’re not spending more time (and money) shopping than you have to.

And I do NOT suggest meal planning and grocery shopping on the same day. It’s way easier if you can keep these days separate until you find your routine!

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