So you know that choosing a few recipes in advance and writing out your shopping lists before you get to the store would probably make your life easier and save you money… but where do you start?
There are so many different ideas and suggestions out there that trying to figure out just how you should meal plan can be overwhelming… and that’s before you even get started deciding what to make.
Even if you do manage to narrow down which method you want to use for planning your meals, how are you supposed to decide which meals you are going to make.
With so many options for every aspect of meal planning, it can be a little… stressful.
But more stress is the last thing moms need in their lives!
Meal planning isn’t supposed to be complicated or confusing, it is supposed to make our lives easier and less complicated.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to create a simple meal plan that will help you save time, save money, and help you eat healthier.
And, just because I like you, I’ll even include the secret that helps me meal plan for my entire year in just a couple of hours!
(If you don’t like to wait, the big secret is in #8!)
If you prefer to watch instead of read, here is the video that goes with this post!)
How to Begin Meal Planning
1) Have a Realistic Goal
It can be tempting to decide to try a new diet and only eat non-processed, organically- grown, sugar-free food as you are scrolling through Pinterest for recipe ideas. But I would recommend starting with how you currently eat.
If you want to start eating healthier, that’s awesome! But maybe just choose just one area to improve on to start with. Your goal for your first menu plan could just be to eat less processed food.
Once you get comfortable with meal planning, you can add more dietary enhancements if you would like. But go slowly. Your family will thank you for not trying too many things at once… and you’ll be less likely to stick with the plan!
2) Get Your Gear Ready
Before I get to work, I grab my Set-It-And-Forget-It Google Spreadsheet, my Set-It-And-Forget-It Printable Workbook and Meal Planning Calendar (or if you aren’t a fan of my calendar, this was my favorite meal planning calendar before I created my own), My Favorite Cookbooks, and some Fun Pens.
If you are new to meal planning and you have a hard time coming up with ideas for your meals, theme nights, or rotations (that will make more sense as you continue through this post :), check out Meal Planning Magic where you get
EVERYTHING from the Set It and Forget It Spreadsheet PLUS…
- 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Breakfast Rotations
- 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Lunch Rotations
- 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Snack Rotations
- 40+ Dinner Theme Night Ideas
- 40+ Plug and Play Dinner Rotations
- 700+ Links to Amazing Recipes
Or if you just need a little help getting started, this free meal planning checklist will do just that!
3) Choose the Duration of Your Plan
If this is your first time meal planning, I recommend trying a two-week plan.
It is fairly easy to come up with meals for two weeks, and it is a short enough time that it is easy to stick with!
Plus, if you don’t have time to meal plan at the end of your two weeks, just start over at the beginning, and no one will know the difference. Your secret is safe with me!
You can choose any time frame you like, from one week to one year!
4) Choose One Breakfast
Pick your favorite easy breakfast and eat it every day.
In our house we eat oatmeal every day of the week, except for Sunday.
We mix it up with different fruits, seeds, and nuts mixed in; and sometimes we have a piece of toast or an egg with it, but the main component of our breakfast is reliable.
Why keep it simple in the mornings?
Mornings are usually when people have the least amount of time to cook, the least energy to make decisions, and kids are the most anxious to eat.
Plus it’s one less decision I am required to make for my menu plan.
If you feel like mixing it up on the weekends with something more fancy or fun, go for it! But if not, there is no shame in doing the same breakfast every day of the week.
Sunday morning is our special brunch day where we make something a little more elaborate. The best part is that Ross makes it with the girls!
Pro Tip: If your spouse likes to cook (or even if they don’t :), see if they would be willing to get involved with the cooking at least one meal on the weekends.
If you need some help coming up with quick, healthy breakfast ideas, check out my post, Weekly Meal Planning for Beginners: How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.
5) Make Lunch Easy
In our house, we eat the previous evening’s leftovers for lunch.
Each night when I’m saving the leftovers, I put them into two containers: one for my husband to take to work, and one for the kids and me to eat the next day for lunch.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that! To ensure that I have leftovers, I usually double or one-and-a-half each recipe to be sure that I have enough for two full meals.
While I love the ease of leftovers, there are also many great salad and sandwich options that are easy to make and take wherever you are heading.
Just make it easy on yourself!
This video has easy Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner ideas that you can prep the night before!
6) Plan for Afternoon Snacks
If you have kids in your house, you may want to plan out what the afternoon snack will be.
This could easily be the same thing every day just like we talked about with Breakfast and Lunch, just be sure it isn’t too filling or too late in the day or you will struggle getting them to eat supper.
We do our afternoon snack around 3:30 pm.
I don’t plan exactly what they will eat each day. Instead I have an array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts on hand and let the kids choose what they are in the mood for. I just have to pick up the options for them when I am grocery shopping.
They enjoy making this decision since I choose what we have for dinner each evening.
7) Start With Your Favorites
You are more likely to stick with your menu plan if you (and your family) enjoy the meals you are going to create. Choose a “Family Favorites” day each week.
You can always do Family Favorites on Friday evenings as a fun way to start of the weekend.
Now take your family’s favorite meals and plug it into the calendar (it’s ok to use the same one every week, kids love family traditions!)
8) Pick Your Weeknight Meals
Think of meals that are quick, tasty, and are easy to clean up. Grab your go-to cookbook (I like The Revive Cafe cookbooks) and start plugging in recipes.
I recommend choosing dishes that you already know for most weeknight meals. (I don’t know about you, but it always takes me a little longer to make a new dish when I need to keep checking a recipe.)
I find it helpful to have a theme assigned to each night of the week. Then I know what I am looking for as I go through my cookbooks and Pinterest Board.
Having theme nights saves me SO. MUCH. TIME.
Check out 50 Theme Night Ideas for your Meal Plan if you want some ideas for which theme nights you should choose for your family!
Our Weekly Themes Are:
Sunday: Family Favorites: Time-Intensive
Monday: Family Favorites: Quick and Easy
Tuesday: Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
Wednesday: Try a New Meal Night
Friday: Build-It Meals
I love having at least one night every week dedicated to leftovers. It’s Thursday night in our house because I like to have room in my fridge before I start the weekend (we make a lot of fun food on the weekends!).
Since my oldest has swimming lessons every Tuesday and Thursday, I put my easiest meals on those days because I don’t have much time to cook.
Pro Tip: Keep your weekly schedule in mind when you are picking your Theme Nights and/or Meals.
9) Decide if You Want to Try New Recipes
If you don’t enjoy trying new meals, you can skip to #10. But my favorite part of meal planning is deciding what new meals I want to try.
If you enjoy trying new meals too, I recommend choosing one day each week to be your “Try a New Recipe Day.”
In my house this is Wednesday evening because it tends to be the day that I have the most time to prepare dinner during the week. You may want to do this on Saturday or Sunday if your weekdays are too busy.
Now grab your cookbooks or look on Pinterest and find a new recipe to try. If you have too many recipes that you want try… close your eyes, open the book, and point! What’s the worst thing that could happen?
I usually just go to the beginning of my cookbook and choose the first recipe that I haven’t tried yet if I’m stuck.
10) Choose Your Weekend Meals
Next look at your typical weekend. What’s it like? Do you typically relax at home with plenty of time to do a special meal? Or do you run from one activity to another?
If you have lazy weekends, plan some fun family favorites for your meals that may take a little bit more time to make. We love making pasta from scratch on lazy Sundays.
If you have busy weekends, choose a few fun sack lunches that you can easily prepare on Friday evenings.
Do some looking on Pinterest, or ask a friend; try to think outside the sandwich!
Last year we had a picnic at a park for my my oldest daughter’s birthday. One of our friends brought homemade burritos. I had never thought of burritos as a sack lunch before, but it was a great mess-free idea.
11) Write Your List and Go Shopping
Before you leave for the grocery store excited to get ingredients for your new meal plan, take inventory and make a list. Go through each recipe and check your pantry and fridge for the ingredients first.
While it will take a little longer to get out the door, it will be worth the time you spent when you aren’t playing a guessing game at the store or spending money you don’t have on ingredients you don’t need.
Now that you have your list, don’t forget to take it out of your purse at the store and use it. I always take a pen with me to cross things off and stay organized.
If you organize your list by sections, you will save even more time when you are shopping!
12) Have Fun!
Don’t stress out if things don’t go perfectly the first couple of weeks. It takes time to find your groove. Learning is half the fun!
You May Also Like…
If you want a more in-depth walkthrough of how I meal plan, check out this 6-part Youtube Series I did on Meal Planning!
Want a different way to Meal Plan? Here’s The Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning.
Want to take saving money with meal planning even further? Check out 37 Ways to Save Money on Groceries.
Not sure if Meal Planning will work for you? Read The Pro’s and Con’s of Meal Planning for Moms: How to Know if Meal Planning is Right for You!
Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?
Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!
In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to
- Create a Breakfast Rotation
- Create a Lunch Rotation
- Create a Snack Rotation
- Choose Theme Nights
- Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
- Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar
Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!
Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.
I hope to see you inside the course!
(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)