This post may include affiliate links. We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Last Updated on
Want to try meal planning but don’t know where to start?
Having a go-to plan for your family’s daily meals can be a lifesaver in a lot of ways. If you’re a complete beginner to the process, then you might be looking for some meal planning tips to help you get going.
Learning how to meal plan can take a little practice. And like anything else, you’ll need to find a system that works best for you and your family.
This handy guide can help if you’re ready to learn the basics of meal planning.
What Are the Benefits of Meal Planning?
You might be wondering, why should I even bother with meal planning?
And the answer is, there are so many benefits that go along with being organized when it comes to meals.
Here’s what I love about meal planning as a busy mom:
1. It saves time.
Once you get into a meal planning routine, you can stop wasting time trying to decide what to make and just make it. Less time in the kitchen = more time for other things.
2. You can save money.
Meal planning can be a godsend if you’re living on a tight budget. It requires you to be smart about what you buy, which can save money on grocery store trips.
3. There’s less hassle.
As a busy work at home mom, I need things to be as simple as possible. Meal planning lets me do that because I don’t have to scramble to pull meals together at the last minute.
4. It’s a chance to eat healthier.
Grabbing take-out meals is convenient but expensive, not to mention a lot of take-out food is not great for your body. When you learn how to meal plan, you can introduce healthier options into your family’s diet.
5. Cut down on food waste.
Have you ever thought about how much food you throw away? In the U.S. alone, an estimated 30% to 40% of food goes right into the trash.
Not only is that bad for your wallet but it’s bad for the earth, too. Putting meal planning tips to work can help cut down on unnecessary food waste.
6. You can be creative.
If your family’s gotten stuck in a dinnertime rut, meal planning can be a great way to pull out of it. You can try new dishes, take turns cooking as a family and make cooking something fun instead of a chore.
10 Easy Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
Now that you’re sold on the idea of meal planning, it’s time to put it into action. These tips can help you lay a solid foundation for a consistent meal planning habit.
1. Start with a simple menu
If you’re brand-new to meal planning, it helps to keep things simple in the beginning. For example, instead of trying to plan out a month’s worth of meals, you could start with one week.
You’ll need to come up with a daily menu for the week that includes breakfast, lunches, dinners and snacks.
Remember, the key is keeping it simple. So that means things like:
- Building your menu plan around the go-to recipes that are your family’s staples
- Limiting the number of new dishes you try each week (1-2 per week is a good number to aim for)
- Incorporating leftovers into your meal planning to cut down on food waste
And here’s another tip to know about how to meal plan as a beginner: you don’t have to make everything from scratch.
I know, I can hear you gasping. But the reality is that being a busy mom means that sometimes dinner has to be ready in a hurry.
So if you’re penciling in a frozen chicken nugget night on your meal plan once in a while, don’t sweat it.
2. Organize your grocery list
I’ve learned from experience that going to the grocery store without a list will come back to bite you every time.
Either you’ll forget something and have to go back or you’ll end up buying things you hadn’t planned to and blowing your grocery budget.
So having a shopping list is one of the meal planning tips you can’t skip.
It helps to organize your list by category. So for example, you might build your list around these categories:
You can then check your meal plan and write down what you need to make each meal from each category. This is a handy trick for staying organized when meal planning and it can also help you get through the grocery store faster.
3. Get to know your grocery store’s sale cycles
Did you know that grocery stores have a system for deciding what goes on sale and when?
I didn’t for the longest time until I started meal planning. And once you start paying attention, it’s easier to time your purchases around what’s on your meal plan for the week.
Most grocery stores follow a six-week sales cycle. So it usually doesn’t take long to figure out how your store operates if you’re checking the sale ads each week.
Also, get to know when your grocery store does markdowns on meat if that’s part of your meal plan.
For example, where we shop, the meat department usually does markdowns on Tuesdays.
4. Shop your pantry first
Shopping grocery store sales is a smart move for saving money. But before you head off to the grocery store, check to see what you already have on hand.
This can save money since you’re not buying things unnecessarily. And it can cut down on waste if you’re using up what you have.
Creating a pantry inventory can be a big help.
It takes a little time to do this initially but once you have it, you can keep a running tally each week of what you have and what you’re running low on. And it makes it easier to fill out your grocery list for the week.
5. Build meals around staple ingredients
If you’re sticking with the keep-it-simple rule then including staple ingredients in your meal plan is a must. Staples are things like:
- Fresh, canned or frozen produce
- Pasta and sauces (homemade or store-bought)
- Oil and vinegar
- Marinades or sweeteners (like honey)
- Beans and lentils
These are the core ingredients that you can build your meal plans around. For example, rice, frozen vegetables, soy sauce and honey can turn into a quick stir fry. Pasta with sauce is a go-to favorite at my house for nights when I need to make dinner fast.
And the best part is that stocking up your pantry inventory with these kinds of staples doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. This is where knowing your grocery store’s sales cycles can pay off since you can stock up on core ingredients for cheap.
6. Try make-ahead and freezer meals
Make-ahead and freezer meals are one of the best meal planning tips to incorporate if you want to get dinner done quickly.
The idea is you make meals ahead of time, pop them in the freezer, then pull them out as needed. You don’t have to use complex recipes either; there are plenty of easy make-ahead meals you can try that don’t take hours to make.
7. Use kitchen tools that make cooking easier
Having the right gadgets can make meal planning and dinner prep less of a hassle. The key is choosing tools that save you time.
Here are some of my favorite kitchen tools to speed things along when time is short:
8. Keep side dishes simple
When planning out lunches or dinners, don’t feel the need to overdo it with side dishes.
If you’re making two or three sides on top of the entree, you’re just going to wear yourself out. Not to mention, that adds to your grocery budget.
Stick with simple and filling favorites, like:
- Tossed salad
- Steamed or grilled veggies
- Roasted potatoes
Bonus meal planning tips: Save the fancy side dishes for special family dinners or holidays and choose recipes that let you repurpose sides into main dishes for the next night.
9. Organize your favorite recipes
Meal planning is all about being organized, right? So it helps to have a system for keeping track of favorite recipes or recipes you want to try.
The easiest way to do that is Pinterest. You can set up different boards for different types of recipes, then spend a few minutes each day scrolling the feed and pinning whatever looks good to you.
This way, you have all your recipes in one place so you can come back to them when you have time. But if you like doing things the old school way, you can also jot down meal ideas in a recipe binder.
10. Consider a low-cost meal planning service
If you’re still struggling to pull your meal plan together, one of the tried-and-true meal planning tips is getting someone else to do it for you.
That’s what $5 Meal Plan does. For $5 a week, you get a complete meal plan that includes:
- 5 dinner entrees, with sides
- One lunch and one breakfast
- A surprise treat, such as a snack or dessert
You get your weekly meal plans delivered to your inbox. Each meal plan includes at least one freezer-friendly meal, one slow cooker meal and one 20-minute meal.
The total cost of each meal works out to about $2 per person but some are even less. So making dinner for a family of four would cost $8.
That’s about what you’d pay for a single dinner out so the potential to save money while eating healthy as a family is huge.
If you want to try out $5 Meal Plan, sign up now to get a free 14-day trial!
Do you have any meal planning tips to share? Drop me a line in the comments and tell me about it!