Years ago, not when we were first married but shortly after, I started planning out meals for the week. It’s second nature to me know, and something that comes so easy. It’s a habit and routine that most weeks I accomplish, but if I happen to miss a few weeks, it is simple enough to hop back into it. 12 years of meal planning. I don’t really even have to think about how to do it, or know how to explain to others how I make it happen.
It’s a question I get again and again. HOW DO I MEAL PLAN, WHERE DO I START? So today I am going to share some very basic and simple steps to not only make a meal plan, but also how to build on that one meal plan and make it happen again and again.
1. WRITE IT DOWN
I don’t care if you use a used up napkin each week, but have a place to write out your plan. I will say that using the same notebook each week, or writing it in a planner, or using a color on your digital calendar is helpful. It gives you a track record of what you have done in the past, which helps in the future when you are in a rut.
I personally change it up. I am currently meal planning and making a grocery list in my Erin Condren Meal Planner which is from the Petite Planner Line. I also end up writing my meal plan (at least dinners) in my paper planner.
2. DO’S AND DON’TS
DON’T – completely change the way you are going to prepare meals just because you want to start meal planning. If it’s hard for you at the start to sit at the beginning of a week to plan out meals, start with something even more simple. Write out what you have for dinners as you are making them for a few weeks. That way you have something to look at and see what you are consistently making for your meals.
DO – keep recipes simple. Stick to the basics. We probably only rotate between 10-15 meals during any given season of the year. I don’t feel like we have to eat something new and different each night. That is unrealistic and just asking for failure.
DON’T – think leftovers or eating out isn’t meal planning. The key is to incorporate those nights (we sometimes call them YOYO you’re on your own nights) into your meal plan, because that is real life.
DO – meal plan around your schedule. Sit and figure out what you have going on for the week that may become an obstacle in your meals. If my kids all have evening activities 1 certain night of the week you better believe CFA drive-thru is gonna be my BFF, but nights where we are just chillin’ at home I have the time to make a meal at home.
3. NEED IDEAS
I really do think taking a few weeks to write out your staple meals you are already making is going to be so beneficial, but I also think there are few other things you can do to brainstorm ideas.
1) start with a template. I often use and share mine as an example.
MONDAY – Pasta Night
TUESDAY – Taco Tuesday
WEDNESDAY – Leftovers
THURSDAY – Crock Pot Meal
FRIDAY – Pizza Night
SATURDAY – Grill It
SUNDAY – Low & Slow — Classic Sunday Meal
Having a starting point makes it easier to pinpoint the exact meal you want to make.
2) Cookbooks – I know, there is this thing called Pinterest, but I still SWEAR by a good cookbook. Check out some of my favorites below.
3) Few Ingredients and Easy Methods. There is NOTHING more intimidating than a recipe with 36 different ingredients. I usually look for recipes with under 10. It not only makes preparing the meal quicker and easier and less overwhelming, but grocery shopping as well.
4. STEP BY STEP
Here is the routine that works for me right now in my current stage of life.
- Sit down AFTER planning out my week and pull out my meal planner.
- While I do write in breakfasts and lunches, I suggest you just start with dinners.
- Decide which nights you will be at home, also mark nights where it needs to be simple, or takeout.
- Write out meals for the week, looking in a cookbook if you have a night you want to try something new.
- AFTER you write out your meals, create a grocery list. I go by day and write out ingredients needed to make the meals. If it’s something I know I have (like sugar, or olive oil…. staples I ALWAYS have on hand) I don’t include that. This creates my grocery list.
- I then usually will go online and order my groceries to be picked up. This is a completely personal preference situation. I have been doing grocery pickup pretty regularly for the past year or so and for me it makes sense. If you prefer to go in store you can skip this step.
- Once I pick up my groceries I then take the extra 30ish minutes to put all the things away in an organized manner. I prep produce, decant any cereals or pantry items, freeze meat….. anything to keep my kitchen food situation in order.
5. Q and A
An answer to a few questions I anticipate: Sometimes I will ask my family for input, but usually what we eat is up to me. Less cooks in the kitchen so to speak, makes it a bit easier. Also I am the one cooking dinner 95% of the time. Do we get sick of foods…. yes all the time. I try to switch out what we are eating seasonally. It’s much easier to grill here in the spring and summer months, so we do that a lot. In the winter I rely on the slow cooker. Why do I meal plan? It honestly is one of the biggest stresses in my day to day, what food is everyone going to eat. When I don’t have a plan it’s a disaster. When I have a plan, my whole day just runs smoothly.
What are your biggest meal planning tips for beginners?
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