You Need to Know These Simple Things to Get Started Meal Planning

Wanna get started meal planning but you’re not sure how? It isn’t as hard as you might think. Let’s take a look at how to get started meal planning.

What is Meal Planning?

Let’s start with the very basics:

What is meal planning? It’s as simple as it sounds. Just as you would plan your week so you know what events are happening, what important meetings you have to attend and what time you have to be ready each morning, you’ll also plan which meals you’re going to eat for the week and what groceries you’ll need to buy. 

What Meal Planning is Not

There are a few misconceptions on meal planning. Let’s take a look!

Meal Planning is Not Inflexible 

Do the thoughts of having a meal plan make you feel a little too in the box? Meal planning actually gives you more flexibility. How? Ever have those days when you don’t know what to eat, have nothing in the house except cereal and boxed macaroni and you just don’t have time (or energy) to run to the store? 

Meal planning gives you more flexibility because you’ll always have meals ready to cook at your fingertips, no matter what you feel like eating. 

If meal planning overwhelms you, you'll definitely wanna take a look at these easy meal planning tips!

Meal Planning Does Not Meal You’re Stuck in a Rut

Quite the opposite, actually!

Meal Planning can actually help you get out of a rut. It gives you the flexibility to try new recipes. You can avoid those quick five minute recipes you always seem to be relying on, and explore your culinary side with little to no extra work. All it takes is a little planning. 

Meal Planning is Not Expensive!

Who can afford all that food? I know it seems overwhelming to buy a ton of groceries at once, especially if you’re not in the habit of meal planning.

But consider this: have you ever wandered aimlessly around the grocery store, not sure what to buy? Or have you ever run to the store last minute to grab an ingredient, but then you’re unsure how much you need, so you ended up buying too much (or not enough and then having to go back again! AH!)

Or, my big downfall: buying food that you don’t really need but you can’t resist on a hungry stomach? With one stop you can grab everything you need, know the exact quantity you need, so you don’t buy too much or too little, saving you time and money!

Planning Your Menu in Advance is Not Super Hard

Meal planning might seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not as hard as it sounds. Just take one day a week (Saturdays are my ideal day of choice) and write down all the meals you want for the week.

I always ask everyone in the house to choose at least one meal for the week so I don’t have to come up with all of the dinners myself, and that way I make sure everyone gets at least one meal they like. It sure helps for picky eaters!

Meal Planning is Not Tons of Work

Meal planning is actually less work. Think about it, every night you have to eat dinner. When you have a plan and all of the ingredients you need to make your meal, you’ll be able to get dinner on the table effortlessly. In fact, I find that meal planning actually is less work than if I don’t plan. 

Be sure to check out the other articles in our meal planning series, where you’ll find excellent tips to make meal planning even easier than you thought it could be!

A Meal Plan Does Not Meal Only Homemade Foods

When I first heard about meal planning I was super intimidated. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t make a nice homemade meal every night of the week!” But that’s not what meal planning is!

Meal planning is knowing which days you have time for home cooked meals, which days you need something quick to cook, and which days you won’t be home at all. Keep in mind that there will probably be at least one day a week that you just don’t want to cook!

So, having a frozen pizza on hand no longer becomes a guilt trip, but just part of the plan! 

Meal Planning Can Work for Any Size Family

Meal planning is ideal for any size family, big or small. Why? Because we’re all busy. Whether it’s just the two of you or you have seven kids to feed, meal planning is a must.

Your family size will obviously determine the amount of food you buy or which recipes you decide to double up on and batch cook. If your family is smaller in size, you’ll know which recipes to cut in half or better yet which meals you can cook at the beginning of the week and save for dinner again later that week or next week! 

Helpful Tools to Get Started Meal Planning

Ready to get started meal planning? It becomes so much easier when you have the right tools. I find I’m much more excited to meal plan when I have a way to track and organize my recipes and ingredients.

Here are some helpful tools to help you get started meal planning.

1. Tools to Find Recipes

My favorite places to find recipes are:

  • Pinterest – Wanna talk about a minefield? The biggest obstacle when using Pinterest would be to get lost in the sea of recipes. To help you keep it narrowed down, be very specific when you search for recipes. Don’t just type in the word, recipe. Instead, search for easy dinner recipes for families, or something like that. Even still, you’ll find there are a ton of results.
  • My mom’s cookbook – Don’t overlook the old family favorites hiding out in your mom or grandma’s cookbooks. They’re tried and true and can be a great starting point for building your menu plan. 
  • The library – In the digital world, it’s easy to overlook the library. I’m amazed how many cookbooks I can find at the library! It’s fun to explore books that have old recipes or books from recipes around the world. Or some that may test my culinary skills (which actually… isn’t very hard)

2. Use a Spreadsheet to Organize Your Recipes

It’s always helpful to have a list of your favorite recipes, recipes that are easy, or recipes you plan on trying someday (when you get a little braver. A spreadsheet is helpful for keeping them all organized. 

3. Paper Will Work, Too!

If you don’t like using the computer grab a notebook to keep track of all your recipes! 

4. Use the Meal Planning Binder

Let’s be honest, It does you no good to plan a menu for the week, if you forget what it is you’re planning to make or you can’t find the recipes!

That’s why I put together The Meal Planning Binder! Not only does this planner have space for your menu, recipes for the week and ingredients needed, but also a place for a list of the ingredients in your pantry, fridge and freezer so you can plan meals around what you already have!

It also has spots for dietary needs, locals sales you want to remember about and more! 

Consider Your Family’s Dietary Needs When Meal Planning

Did you know that if your family has food allergies or restrictions, meal planning can actually make navigating them easier? Any time you’re forced to stick to a diet, not knowing what to eat or not having what you need in the house when those hunger pains come a knocking, can be detrimental to you!

Also if you have someone who has a food intolerance in your house, you can plan meals to avoid those ingredients without too much stress. 

I made a board on Pinterest to stash recipes for my kids who have multiple food allergies. That way, when I’m looking for recipes to plan for them, I can quickly grab them and add them to my menu plan. It’s super simple!

Check Your Current Food Supply and Plan Meals Around It

When you start on your meal planning journey, it’s always important to know what ingredients you already have on hand. This helps you avoid letting things expire or rot in your fridge, and will allow you to save even more money as well as reduce waste. 

Shop the Sales at Your Local Grocery Store

Knowing exactly what you need at the grocery store allows you to know what you can save money on when shopping. There are two ways of doing this. 

  1. You can plan your menu and then search for ads that apply
  2. Look through the ads and plan meals that use ingredients that are already on sale!

Either way you choose to do it is fine, just make sure to take advantage of those deals!

When You Plan Your Meals, Don’t Just Throw Recipes Into the Plan

When planning your meals for the week, it’s easy to just pull out all your favorite recipes and call it good. But this really isn’t the ideal way to meal plan.

Be realistic when putting together your menu. Know your budget, your cooking abilities (and limitations), and also your schedule and time availability. All of these things must be considered before adding a recipe to the menu. Over time, you’ll get good at know which recipes fit in well with your lifestyle. 

Choose Recipes that Have Ingredients in Common

Consider planning recipes that utilize the same ingredients. Make tacos on Tuesday and meatball subs on Friday. This will allow you to buy ground beef in bulk for a cheaper price, but without letting it go to waste.

Then plan a salad to go with your meatball subs and use up the rest of the lettuce and tomatoes you bought for your tacos, so nothing goes to waste!  

Start with Recipes You Know and Then Add in a New One Here and There

When you first start out meal planning, it is always good to start with recipes you know and love. This gives you more knowledge for exactly how long each recipe will take to make, what the cost might be, etc. Once you get into the flow of things, consider picking at least one new recipe to try each week.

Trying new recipes is one of my favorite things to do. But I always make sure to plan my new recipes for days when I know I have extra time because it always seems to take longer to cook recipes that are unfamiliar.

Try to Choose Recipes that Will Provide Leftovers

Leftovers are the best part of meal planning! If you have a small family, plan a meal that you know makes more than you can eat. If you have a big family, double the recipe. Leftovers give you more options and more time. My favorite way to use leftovers is as a second dinner later in the week (Cook once feed twice? Yes please!)

My husband’s favorite way to eat leftovers is for lunch the next day. You can never go wrong with extra leftovers in the fridge. They’re easy to grab and work in a pinch. Also consider freezing the leftovers for quick freezer meals. Some last as long as six months in the freezer! 

Do Your Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping on the Weekend

Pick one day of the week where you can set aside a few hours to do all your planning, shopping and prepping. Saturdays are my ideal choice because we seem to have very few things going on.

Also when I plan and shop on the weekend, I can start strong on Monday with no stress! (Well, no stress about food anyways) If the weekend doesn’t work for you, pick whichever day of the week works best! But be consistent. 

Use Vegetables for Your Sides So You Don’t Have to Plan More Recipes

If you plan on adding a side to your dinner, plan something easy like vegetables, that take little to no prep. But remember not every dinner needs a side! So don’t stress about it.

Consider Your Schedule for the Week

Before you plan your menu make sure to write down all the things you have going on during the week, so you know how many nights you really won’t have time to cook. Pro tip: There’s a place for you to do this in my printable meal planning binder

To Get Started Meal Planning, Decide How Many Meals You Will Plan For

How many meals do you want to plan for? Are you planning just dinners? Or will you be making breakfast and lunches too? Will breakfast be eggs and sausage or cereal? Will lunches be sandwiches, leftovers or will you just be grabbing something at work?

The good news is, there is no wrong answer! It’s just a matter of putting it down on paper so you know what to prepare for. 

Make Meal Planning Something You Do on a Regular Basis

Once you start meal planning you won’t want to stop! However, like everything, it’s a habit you have to get into. Make sure you schedule time into your calendar and that you meal plan regularly to get yourself into the habit. Soon you’ll find it becomes second nature. 

Plan for an Easy Meal the Day You Go Grocery Shopping

Because you’re going to be spending a couple hours planning, preparing and organizing food, it’s always nice to have something simple and easy planned for the day you’re doing your shopping and prepping.

Or you could even plan on not cooking at all. Just make sure to factor that into your plan and order takeout or use up one of your freezer meals.

Don’t Let Your Food Supply Get to Low Before Shopping for the Next Menu Plan

It’s important to always have a little extra food in the house, whether it be leftovers, a frozen dinner, or even just snacks. You never know when life is going to surprise you and suddenly you need food you didn’t originally plan on.

Make sure you go shopping before all your pre-planned meals run out. 

Likewise, Make Sure to Start Planning for Next Week Before You’re Finished With the Current Meal Plan

Don’t plan on Saturday what you’re going to eat that night. Have your meal plan start the following day. That way you’re always one step ahead. This leaves leeway for when something happens and you can’t meal plan on your usual day of choice. And you’ll make sure not to run out of food, which we’ve already established is very important!

Stick to the Meal Plan

One of the most important parts about a meal plan is sticking to it! If you plan a menu for the week and then decide at the last minute that you don’t want to eat any of those dinners, you’re back where you started.

But this time with even more food to waste! However, that doesn’t mean you can’t switch up what you eat from day to day. Don’t be afraid to change the menu around a little bit and make some tweaks. Sometimes what you had planned just doesn’t sound good or you’ve run out of time.

Maybe you planned tacos for Tuesday but those meatball subs just sound so much better. Feel free to mix up what you eat on any particular day. Just make sure you leave easy meals for days you won’t have time to make something more involved. Don’t stress, meal planning is all about having more time and freedom.

Remember that it’s ok to veer off the menu a little. Just don’t decide to not cook the meatballs at all. If worse comes to worse, cook them and freeze them for a future time.  Just don’t make this a regular habit. 

Have an Easy Meal You Can Fall Back On for the Days You Mess Up Your Schedule

It’s easy for something to pop up without warning. It’s part of life. So your meal plan gets messed up again. That’s ok! Just make sure you have something in the freezer or fridge you can fall back on when this happens.

The following week, make sure to use any dinners you didn’t use up in your meal plan before they go bad! It will make next week’s meal planning all that much easier and you’ll keep from wasting any food. 

What Not When You Get Started Meal Planning

  1. Don’t plan a menu full of new recipes that you’ve never tried before! These always take longer and are more work the first time you make them. You also can’t guarantee they will taste as good as Pinterest makes them look. So make sure you have some recipes you know your family will love! 
  2. Don’t over plan. Once you get the hang of meal planning, it actually gets kinda fun. (It really does!) It’s easy to get overzealous and start planning more meals than you need. I have found that for our family, planning five meals will stretch us out seven days by the time we factor in leftovers and nights we end up being away from home. You’ll find the right amount of planning that works for your family, but it may take some tweaking. 
  3. Don’t overspend with the idea that you can always make up for it next week. Just don’t do it. I don’t care how good those ribs look. If you want a more expensive meal, try eating cheaper meals the week before and saving up for the following week.
  4. And most importantly, DON’T STRESS! So you forgot something, or you messed up dinner again, or you broke down in tears, trying to decide if lugging all your kids to one more store so you can save $.50 a lb on chicken, is really worth it…. Or maybe planning seven meals a week is just too much. Shoot for five instead and just eat leftovers on the weekend. Meal planning is all about what works for you! Don’t stress, if it didn’t work out this week, figure out why and start again next week. Just don’t give up! You can do it!

Once You’ve Grocery Shopped, Prep What You Can Before the Week Starts

The last, and most intimidating step in my mind, is prepping as much food as you can at the begging of the week. What does this mean? If you’re having tacos on Tuesday, salad on Thursday and spaghetti on Friday, then as soon as you get home from grocery shopping and everything is put away,  start your prepping.

Cut up the lettuce for the tacos and store it in a bag, Brown all of your hamburger and shop up any other veggies. That way, when Monday comes, all you have to do is a little assembly work and you’ll be good to go! Doing as much prep as you can on shopping day will make things so much easier. It will also cut down on your cleanup time throughout the week.

You’ll have one messy kitchen day instead of every night when you’re cooking supper. (That sounds like a good idea to me!) How else can you prep? Cook all your meat and mix all your sauces and store in airtight containers.

Cut up all vegetables and fruits (that won’t dry out or turn brown) and then divide everything into meals and days. (Ex: Put all the taco stuff together instead of spreading it throughout the fridge, also, put all the snacks together in one drawer so you don’t go rummaging through the fridge trying to cheat on your diet.)   

Use the Meal Planning Binder to Get Super Organized

Meal planning might sound like a lot of steps at first. You have to organize and know what’s in your pantry and fridge, plan your week, pick out meals and then go shopping for a whole week.

That’s why I highly encourage you to use The Meal Planning Binder to stay organized. You’ll be surprised at how simple it really is! It’s amazing how planning out your weekly menu can also help you plan out the rest of your week too! 

Step-by-Step Instructions for Meal Planning

Here’s a quick run-through to get started meal planning. 

  1. Print out my easy to use Meal Planning Binder! Click that link to get it now!
  2. Clean out your fridge and pantry and make an inventory list of everything you have and can be stored or needs to be used right away
  3. Write out your schedule for the week. So you know which days are your busiest.
  4. Plan a menu revolving around your busy week
  5. Write out a list and go shopping for everything you will need.
  6. Prepare as much food as you can for the week to come and organize it in the fridge and pantry
  7. Have a stressless week full of yummy meals! 

Now you’re ready to get started meal planning!

Other Related Meal Planning Articles:

Ready to get started meal planning? What other questions do you have for me? Comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


If meal planning overwhelms you, you'll definitely wanna take a look at these easy meal planning tips!

These helpful tips will have you meal planning in no time, flat. Come and find out everything you need to know to get started meal planning.

Everything you Need to Know {to Get Started Meal Planning}