Learn how to get started meal planning the SIMPLE way, even if you’re a total beginner with these 7 meal planning tips.
You’ve gotten all your house chores done for the day and 5’oclock rolls around. You realize you have NO idea what you’re cooking for dinner… and the fam is getting hangry. The pressure to decide on something is crippling (dramatic lol). Takeout it is? Popcorn for dinner? Is this the story of your life?
Girl, you need a meal plan! I’m sure you already think this since you’re here. Everyone can benefit from meal planning, especially the old-fashioned homemaker.
If you’ve never meal planned before, and you’re a little overwhelmed at the thought of it, don’t stress. Meal planning can be simple and easy and no-fuss. Guess what else?! It can be TOTALLY customizable to your home and family.
There are plenty of different strategies out there to try. I suggest starting right here with my 7 tips for the total beginner. THEN, once you get a few meal plans under your belt, make it your own! Find other strategies that you like and that work well for you. Figure out how many weeks at a time you want to plan for, etc.
You’re probably already set on finding a meal plan strategy that you love, but just in case you’re not, here are a few meal planning benefits to convince you.
Benefits of Meal Planning
- saves you money: when you meal plan you can be sure you are planning inexpensive meals AND you’ll eat out less.
- frees up your time: even though it’ll take up a small chunk of time to plan your meals, you’ll save time in the long run by knowing exactly what to cook each night.
- allows you to eat a variety of meals: when you plan your meals, you’re in charge! You can plan as much or as little variety as you’d like.
- reduces stress and anxiety: no more stress surrounding dinner time or meals to decide on.. you’ve already thought it through and all you have to do each day is refer to the meal plan.
- helps you and your family to eat healthier: when you meal plan, you’re more likely to eat healthy. You won’t be resorting to junk food when dinner isn’t ready and you don’t know what to cook. You can plan for healthy meals!
- reduces food waste: no more rotting food in your fridge. When you meal plan you’ll incorporate ingredients that are going bad into your recipes, everything can be used up.
- more help from your family: if there’s a clear plan in place, you can ask for more help from your family. Older kiddos and your husband can know ahead of time what’s for dinner and they can help you prepare and cook the meals.
Now that I hopefully have you convinced that meal planning is for you, let’s get into the 7 tips on meal planning for TOTAL beginners.
7 Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
Follow the 7 meal planning tips below, and you’ll be well on your way to having yummy dinners on the table all week!
Clean out your fridge and pantry first
We’ve all been there. Food rotting in the back of the fridge for weeks. Canned goods we bought years ago that never get used up.
Before you go to write anything down on paper for your meal plan, head over to the fridge and pantry and give it a good cleaning and organizing session. Obviously, throw out anything that’s totally bad, but if there’s something that you could use this week, write it down.
Its SO much easier to meal plan when you have a clean work space (fridge, pantry, and freezer) and you can see all of the things you have.
If you’re doing this every week, it won’t take long!
Use Up Ingredients You Already Have
Along that note, if you want to save money and not waste food, plan meals around ingredients you already have.
When you clean out your fridge and pantry you should have a pretty good idea of what food is going bad and what you have to work with.
Start FIRST by planning a couple meals that use up that wilting lettuce or the milk that’s expiring on friday. THEN, plan a couple more meals that use ingredients you already have (that aren’t necessarily going bad).
The point is, you don’t want to be wasteful. You want to do as little grocery shopping as possible. You’ll save a bunch of money this way! Plan your meals around what’s already in your fridge, pantry, and freezer.
Always look at your calendar first
When you sit down to meal plan, you should have a blank piece of paper, and a planner or calendar. If you don’t use a planner or calendar, I’m sure you have a good idea in your head of what’s on your schedule for the week.
Take a look at the calendar and see what your week looks like. Are you doing a date night on Friday with your husband so you won’t need to plan a dinner? Is Tuesday night hockey practice for the kids, so you’ll need something quick and easy to cook?
Or maybe there’s a birthday party you’re going to and all you need to bring is the side. No dinner this night, but be sure to add that side to your meal plan and grocery list!
Don’t just plan 7 gourmet meals if you’re not going to use them all up or if they don’t work with your lifestyle and schedule.
Take a cue from the weather report
Another one of my favorite things to do before I write out my meal plan, is to take a look at the weather.
We live in an area with a solid four seasons, so we get a variety of weather throughout the year!
If I look at my calendar and see that its suppose to be snowy on Thursday, then I’ll plan a cozy soup and homemade bread for that day. Maybe its summertime and Tuesday is suppose to be record hot. Chilled salads with ice cream for dessert might be the best option.
Its a lot of fun to cook seasonally and take cues from the weather, and it can make you look like a meal planning pro;) your fam will love it!
Follow Theme Days for More Inspiration
As you get started meal planning, you might draw blanks when trying to think of what meals to add to the rotation. After all, there’s about a bajillion different meals and recipes out there in internet-land.
My favorite thing to do to get one step closer to deciding what to cook, is to have ‘theme’ days. Basically, each day of the week has a theme, and you’re just picking recipe ideas that fit those themes.
This will narrow down your options a bit and give you somethnig to work with!
Theme days can include pizza night, sandwich night (think cheeseburgers, reuben sandwiches, grilled cheese and soup, etc.), mexican night, comfort food night, Italian, so and so forth.
Make one meal each week that’s a family favorite
Awww this is one of my favorite tips, and only one I started doing just recently! Not too long ago, my husband said to me sweetly but very serious “why don’t you every make me a good steak dinner?”
It was an AHA moment for me. Steak is definitely one of my husband’s favorite dinners.. something he orders any time we eat out. And I make it maybe a handful of times a year!
Now I try to rotate in that, and three other meals I know are his favorites, into my meal plans for the month.
Have a small list, maybe four meals, that you know your family LOVES. Add them in to your schedule each week, one at a time. So you’ll go through the the whole list in about a month. That way you’ll make it through all of your favorites over the course of a month, but there’s still some other variety each week.
Keep a master list of meal ideas
Last but not least, keep a master list in your phone, planner, or scrap paper, of different meal ideas. You can categorize them by theme if that’s helpful for you.
This step isn’t necessary, but can be helpful in the beginning when you’re just learning how to meal plan and getting used to it.
First, write down all of the recipes that you already know how to cook, know that your family likes, etc. Its okay if its a short list! Everyone starts with a short list. You’ll build it up over time.
Refer to your list any time you meal plan to have ideas to pull from. Add to the list as you find new recipes and try different things! You can also have a list of meals and recipes that you’ve never made but you’d like to try.
I hope that was helpful and you have a newfound confidence and inspiration to start your meal plan today. Remember, everybody was a beginner with this at one point. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get.
You’ll also learn over time what works best for you and your family. Make it your own! Happy meal planning, friend:)
More inspiring ideas for the old-fashioned homemaker:
Homemaking Checklist: So You Can Get it all Done
Old-Fashioned Homemaking Routines
You’ve inspired me to start a meal planning notebook! An easy place to plan meals and other fun food needs. I love your tip of taking note to include food that’s going to go bad – potato leek soup this week that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise! And the ideas/favorites running lists to incorporate each month. Thanks!
Jayden Copeland says
Hi Kate, that’s amazing! I think you’ll feel so much better with a meal plan. I love the idea of a designated notebook. Good job!!
Jayden, you are a gem to behold. I have my clock set to begin dinner at 5:00 pm each night now that my husband and I are retired, so that we can eat no later than 6:30. However, that never happens. Much like you indicated invariably something crops up and my schedule is thrown off as well as the evening meal. Not only makes the dinner a chore now instead of a pleasure to do, but puts me way behind to enjoy the rest of the evening with my family. No one likes to be in the kitchen doing dishes at 8 or 9 pm.
Thank you for all your wonderful ideas…….look forward to more of your insights this year!!!
Jayden Copeland says
Hi Donna, thanks so much for the sweet words. I know exactly what you mean about dinner feeling like a chore! I used to have that feeling so much, so I’ve tried really hard to make dinner time (prep, eating, and clean up LOL) more enjoyable. I’m so happy to have you here!!!