This fail-proof system is quick and easy to help you simply start meal planning as soon as possible.
The only skills you will need would be to start and follow along with your progress. Soon you will be a meal prep master in no time!
Meal Planning For Beginners
Who doesn’t love the idea of saving tons of money? Imagine all the fantastic stuff you can do with those extra savings!
Think of the new renovation you can do for your house or even maybe seriously consider getting a new car too! The possibilities are endless, and the best news is that I have the low down on everything about meal planning.
This guide is a simple guide that will give you the ultimate basics of meal planning, and the bonus is that there are instructions to meet all requirements.
Let’s get real for a moment. I’ve always wanted to stick to meal plans that we see on Pinterest or Instagram. I noticed how my friends were doing it and winning at life, yet I always failed in the end.
But as is always the case, I realized that I was my own obstacle because I had such high hopes even though I had just started. I expected to be an expert meal planner in a week. This realization helped value the process of meal planning even more – everything is a process.
Honestly, everything takes time, and if you have recently been Burger King’s favorite customer and also expect to be eating healthy, home-prepared meals and exercising seven days a week within the starting stages, you will be sadly mistaken.
The best thing that worked for my family is knowing ourselves well, allowing space for mistakes, and using our strengths to gain some momentum.
You may often find that looking closer to home can yield some excellent results, and by this, I mean at your actual receipts when you go grocery shopping.
It can be a pain, yes, but you may find some startling discoveries. And think about it this way, if you don’t manage your grocery budget properly, you will end up eating out to accommodate.
That said, I’ve still got you covered to meal plan as a beginner, and you’ll learn the right way and maybe even see some massive reductions to your budget too.
Step by Step Instructions for Simple Meal Planning for Beginners
- Get a simple sheet of paper indicating the days of the week. Better yet, if you can find a template, you will thank yourself and save loads of time!
- Become super aware of how your week is going. Do you also have an annoying boss that spontaneously asks you to work late? You may need to accommodate for all of this in your planner.
- Go ahead and check off the days that will prove to be challenging to plan meals. You can use an “X” or anything you fancy.
- Breakfast is the easy part because it is usually cereals, toast, and if you’re feeling relaxed, then leftovers always taste better for lunch the next day. You can choose two options for breakfast and lunch, so it gives some sort of variety. And that then leaves you with dinner.
- Keep dinners as simple as possible, and you can have a look at the ideas we use below.
- Now grab a second sheet of paper and write down all the ingredients you need to create these meals.
- You’ll find that individual meals need fresh ingredients, so make sure that your family eats this at the start of the week.
Here are 6 meal types to get you started on your Meal Planning journey:
Quick and Easy Meals:
These work best when your week is super busy. You know the weeks that generally you have to pull an all-nighter to get the job done. The basis of quick and easy meals is that it may not be healthy, but it’s so quick and easy to make. The ingredients are mainly stuff that is easy to make and put together, hence the name.
It’s my favorite type of meal, as it’s so satisfying when you’re having a crazy day. It does hit the spot. No prep needed on your part, and you can also take it super easy as there aren’t any dishes either.
Slow Cooker Meals:
These work best when you have loads of time on your hands. Also, it helps when you want to get some other work done, like updating your blog or office work too. As its name would suggest, slow cooker meals use the slow cooker for cooking you dinner at a snails pace and can usually take about 8 hours.
This idea is cool because you don’t have to watch over the food and have any stress over the food burning either. It takes about 8-10 hours, and that’s even enough to take a nap.
You can probably tell I love to slow cook my food because usually, it gives me such wholesome and delicious meals that take me back to moms cooking.
Some large slow cooker meals include Cajun Pork and Rice, Autumn Pumpkin Chilli, Chutney Chicken, Tomato Basil Steak, and pork chops.
I’m ready to get out my slow cooker to start making some of these delicious foods! Who said meal planning couldn’t involve a little excitement too.
Freezer cooking is best for when I have a bit more time on my hands (and if my kids are taking it easy and not too demanding that day).
Freezing cooking is fun because it helps you plan for every meal, and you can choose your favorite foods and batch them in containers and freeze them for later use. I love spaghetti bolognese, but every time I buy the convenience style packages at the local grocery store, I sense the standard is not up to scratch. I always wish I had enough time to make it the way I like it. This shift in perspective helped me plan well, save a bunch of money, and eat well too. I love finding so many options of hand-cooked food at my disposal. Yet I have to say that batching is the best time-saver ever.
Examples: Beef and Broccoli Teriyaki, Honey Sesame Chicken, Pesto Tortellini Bake, Easy Ravioli Lasagna, and Thai Peanut Chicken.
Freezer Slow Cooking Meals:
This method is precisely the way its name sounds. We think of it as a method where you add all your ingredients into a bag and freeze it. Planning helps when you’re busy as you don’t need to chop up veggies or get the meat ready. It’s quite simple as you just have to get the frozen package, defrost and then put it into your slow cooker.
I think this is how most people start of meal planning in the beginning, and I’m the same. As you may have guessed, it used both the beauty of slow cooking as well as freezer cooking to give you the best result.
And bonus is that you don’t have to work very hard in the kitchen for hours, the convenience is simply astounding.
My go-to method is to spend a free evening preparing my dinners, and I set aside about 2-3 hours a week to Ziploc these meals and throw them in the freezer. And the best bit is that it’s so easy to prepare, you can put everything into your slow cooker in the morning, quickly get ready for work and come back to an amazing and delicious meal.
You’re probably also amazed that this method is rapid, yet you end up with delicious and nutritious meals at the time. My favorite part is that I don’t have to nag my kids to clean up and do the dishes. To make things even more comfortable, why not invest in bulk for slow cooker bags then you simply add the bags and don’t have to stress about cleaning the slow cooker every day.
Examples include Beef Ragu, Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken, Homemade Cheeseburger Helper, and Sheet Pan Sausage.
Reverse Meal Planning
My time is scarce these days, and I’m happy when I have a bit more on my hands. It’s then when I take the time to do some proper cooking from the beginning. I take stock of all my groceries at home and even go as far as to make a list. This list includes everything that has been sitting around and not used. You wanted to consider items close to their expiry date and also meat that has not been used for a while to make sure you’re getting enough value from your grocery bill.
As long as you’re willing to be patient and take the time to try this idea, I can promise you will be surprised by how many great meal ideas you have and can make. And what this means for you is that you will have a lower monthly spend on your grocery bill for that month.
If you want to get ahead on other payments, then this step will go along way to helping you be more savvier with your limited funds.
To sum up, this is when you shop first, then plan your meals.
Examples include Veggie Burrito Bowls, Garlicky Shrimp Couscous, Tuscan Soup with White Beans and Chicken Curry.
Plan to Eat Out:
Yes, there comes a time when eating out is the only option. I remember when I had a hectic work life and worked over 18 hour days at a time, then my only option was to get takeouts or eat out with colleagues.
Yet eating out can be helpful sometimes and gives you a break from the systematic planning of every aspect of your life. After you have meals planned well and started to save financially, I think it’s important to give yourself and family a treat.
You can also eat out responsibly, and you will find that grabbing a sandwich can be relatively cheap if you lose the extra that most food chains add to make the deal seem more affordable. You don’t need unhealthy sides like soda and fries with every meal.
But don’t make it a habit, and ensure that you try and plan as much as possible. Understand that life happens; you will get busy and will need to eat out from time to time. Don’t be too hard on yourself and plan plan plan.
Include Recipe Sourcing and Time to Thaw on your Meal Plan
Let me just tell you, this mini step can save you lots of stress and worry along the way.
The worst thing is cooking dinner for the family, and realizing your recipe takes at least 3 hours to prepare. This advice will help you avoid this altogether, and you will always know exactly how long your meals will take, and your decisions become a whole lot easier.
In the end, it’s all about sticking to your meal plan and making it very easy to do that.
Keep Side Dishes to a Minimum.
Often when I was new, I would dream up elaborate meals and only to find that they did not quite work out accordingly.
Nowadays, I can do this, with a lot more experience, yet as a beginner, it’s important to keep it very simple and stick to the basics of the meals and just salads or veggies as a side dish.
Reduce Visits to the Grocery Store
The lure of the grocery store always lingers as your meal planning; maybe you will need a different ingredient for your meal plan ideas. You sometimes even get slightly nervous that you haven’t bought everything.
The best way I know how to curb this is to simply set a rule that you will visit the store once a week. And even better to reduce decision, set a reminder in your calendar to visit the store every week at the same time.
This simple steps gives you time to plan accordingly, and always make sure you bought everything for this week.
The common problem is that fresh ingredients will spoil quicker, and when left in the fridge for some time, you will find the food goes bad. Make it a priority to eat these meals first and then move onto the freezer food.
This step usually means that you should enjoy all the meals you planned. It’s easy to think that you can eat all meals at any time. You are thinking about satisfying your hunger in the best way now, yet it’s best to manage yourself and snacks accordingly. Remember to eat all the foods according to your plan as much as possible.
Get Into a Routine
I know routines can be so dull, and as I touched on in my previous point, you can make them work for you.
Similarly, as choosing a day to go shopping, why not make grocery shopping even more effortless by selecting a specific day every week to plan your meals, write out your lists and do the grocery shopping.
It takes work to start doing this initially, but after a few days, you’re getting into the swing of things.
Usually, you will only need an hour or two to do this, and this will be once a week. Add to your calendar or planner for maximum effectiveness.
Before you know it, you will be meal planning without even thinking about how difficult it is.
Get Creative and Think Up New ideas.
Most of these ideas have come as a direct result of trying stuff, failing, and succeeding a whole lot of steps in between.
My safest advice to give is that changing the way you eat is challenging yet rewarding, and it’s all about taking those baby steps to achieve the results you want.
That said, it’s also useful to think outside of the box and use the resources available to you to make your life easier.
5 Meal Prep Resources to Give you a Helping Hand
The idea of starting to meal plan for weeks at a time is a mission, so you want to remove as many unnecessary steps as possible. These ideas will help you out.
The Fresh 20
The best bit about fresh 20 is that it is a company that focussed on fresh ingredients that are locally sourced. They use 20 ingredients for their service. There offering includes daily meal prep, monthly freezer cooking, as well as one-hour week prep ideas. There is a variety of classic, gluten-free, and kosher meals too.
I love the focus on healthy fresh ingredients. The fact that it allows one hour prep time makes the entire meal planning process super efficient too.
The only thing I didn’t like is that you cannot switch between plans without adding additional costs.
Reduce your carbon footprint and meal plan with fresh ingredients by using Fresh 20 here.
More health-conscious families use Sun Basket. The premise is that they help people with dietary restrictions such as low-carb, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, and more.
They start each week with 18 dinner options such as shrimp paella, and you pick two, three, or four to be delivered next week.
Bonus is that they have an entire section of healthy snacks to add to your order, like miso soup, egg bites, and yogurt.
If you love variety in your meal kits and to be able to customize your order, check out Sun Basket.
As expected, the price is a little on the higher side, as each serving will cost around $12. The family plan offers a lot more value but less options and gives you only six meal options to choose per week. The portions are large enough to serve four adults and with leftovers. The cost is $132.
Find out more here.
Meal Board is an app that helps you plan meals. You can also search through many recipes online and download these recipes directly to the app. My favorite part of the meal board app is that it will use the methods to show you a shopping list of ingredients you’ll need.
You will also find that it organizes your shopping list by area in your store, tracks prices, and you can tap the item to remove it from the list when you throw it in your cart.
Find more info on MealBoard here.
RealPlans is a weekly meal planner customized for the whole family. And it will be even helpful for a busy family.
RealPlans have over 1600 recipes in total. The app has tons of delicious meals to suit all needs.
Most places deliver groceries now, and they do it so it can be convenient for their customers. I must admit I find it helpful and a huge time saver. This idea is beneficial if you simply do not have the time to head over to the grocery store.
Instacart is doing some fascinating stuff right now. It’s a top-rated delivery service for groceries right to your door. They have same-day delivery and offer 1000’s of products while also ensure they keep their prices down.
Always have a Backup Plan
Last but certainly not least, prepare to have a few additional meals hanging out in the pantry. This idea will be sure to help if something goes wrong with meals for a specific day. It’s a lifesaver and will prevent you from ordering pizza and breaking the budget.
You will recognize pantry meals as those ingredients that have a long shelf life like peanut butter and jelly, or convenient frozen chicken burgers.
Summary: Meal Planning for Beginners
- Always plan and have a look at your schedule for your week ahead.
- Make a decision on which days need simple meals (15 minutes or less or freezer cooking meals).
- Get into the swing of things by choosing simple recipes that don’t have too many ingredients.
- Have two options for lunches and breakfasts.
- Start drafting your shopping list to create your sumptuous meals.
- Fill in the gaps in your menu for your recipe source and duration for the meal.
- Make it easy to find your menu plan by pinning it onto the family board or on everyone’s favorite family sharing app.
- Review your menu plan daily and keep yourself in check by planning at least a few days in advance.
- Scope out the pantry just in case of an emergency and add it to your family bulletin board.
Have any more ideas? Post your best beginner meal prep ideas below – I’d love to hear them!