If you’re like me, the thought of scrambling for dinner at 4:30pm with whatever is in the pantry seems crazy. This is why I rely on meal planning. Except unlike complicated methods, this is meal planning for beginners.
With this guide, you don’t stress about what to cook every night. You also save time running to the grocery each time you cook a meal. Plus the money you waste for buying items you don’t even need.
But don’t worry: This isn’t complicated. This is for the mom who just needs good ol’ paper and pen to jot down the ingredients for the week.
The mom who may not always have time on her hands but is tired of serving the same things every night.
The mom who groans when she finds expired food in the back of the pantry that she purchased and forgot about.
Meal planning for beginners
So, are you ready to get in the habit of planning your meals? Let’s get to it.
#1: How many days a week do you want to cook?
Every family is different: Some of us have more members to feed. Others have just had a baby and can’t fathom the thought of making a home-cooked meal. Decide on a good number of days per week that works for your family.
When I had a family of three (my husband, son and me), I planned and shopped for five days of the week. With leftovers and the occasional restaurant meal, five days was enough to hold us over.
When the twins were born, those five days shrank to zero. Gradually, I crept back into the kitchen—cooking once a day, then twice. Until now, where I plan, shop and cook for all seven days of the week. We are definitely a growing family!
#2: Find the same number of recipes to fill those days.
Let’s say you decide to start cooking four days a week. Now find four recipes.
Recipes are everywhere—online, on the backs of packages, in cookbooks. I usually find my meals on Simply Recipes, a long-time blog whose yummy food has made me a fan over the years. I’ve also been getting into cookbooks and am digging Jessica Seinfeld’s Can’t Cook Book.
Include meals for special occasions, such as a Saturday breakfast quiche or cookies for Saint Patrick’s Day.
#3: Vary your meals.
While you’re looking for recipes, take note of the meals you’re collecting. Avoid three stir-fry dishes or two spaghetti meals (unless, of course, you prefer it).
Theme nights can also help organize your meals. Maybe Fridays are pizza nights, and Tuesdays are soup nights. And if you’re expecting leftovers, include them as one of your days. Me—I just eat them the next day for lunch.
#4: Make a list.
You’re going to make two lists:
The first is a list of your weekly recipes. This is where you’ll write your four recipes for the week. Write the recipe sources on the list in case you forget where in the world you got the idea to cook teriyaki chicken.
The second is your shopping list. Look at the recipes and jot down what you’ll need to buy.
How you make your list is completely up to you. I’ve seen some where people write the ingredients based on where the items are located in the grocery. Some, like me, make lists depending on where they shop.
I also make one list for the farmers market and another for the grocery. Include other items you might need that aren’t ingredients: bread, milk, formula, jam, fruits.
Want an easy way to organize your weekly meals and shopping lists? Download and print this free weekly meal planner I made for easy organizing:
#5: Go shopping.
I shop once a week. I’ve heard of others who bulk shop once a month, to every two weeks, to every few days. Some even cook once a month.
With a list, you’re able to bypass impulse purchases, or worse—forget to buy a key ingredient. You also don’t have to create recipes on the fly based on what you find along the aisles.
#6: Decide which meals to cook first.
Start with the recipe with the most perishable ingredients and save those with the rest for later. Cook meals that include fish or tomatoes before those that use canned beans or meat you can freeze.
You can also base your meals on leftovers for lunch the next day. I don’t like to bring fish to work anymore (yes, I am that person who has brought fish to work). So I’ll cook pizza knowing it won’t elicit funny-but-not-really jokes from coworkers.
You’re busy. The last thing you need is yet another run to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten ingredient. Or to bundle the kids up in the car to eat at a restaurant yet again.
Meal planning eliminates those hassles and even saves you time and money.
Feeling overwhelmed? Start with a day or two. Find those recipes and post them near the kitchen. Write that list. Find your rhythm.
Get cooking. And enjoy well-deserved, hassle-free dinners.
Read more tips:
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- 9 Warning Signs You’re Raising a Spoiled Child
- Why You Shouldn’t Reward Your Kids (And What to Do Instead)
- Newborn Tips and Tricks for New Moms You’ll Be Glad You Read
- Surprising Differences Between Singleton and Twin Pregnancies You Never Knew
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Tell me in the comments: What are your top tips on meal planning?