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Learn How to Meal Plan When You Don’t Know What to Do

How to meal plan: Meal planning can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. These tips and tricks will help you get started meal planning right away!

Schedule Time on a Consistent Basis for Meal Planning

One of the keys to learning how to meal plan well, is to be consistent in your planning.

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 and then I can start my menu strong on a Monday with no stress! Well, no stress about food anyway!

If the weekend doesn’t work for you, pick whichever day of the week works best! But be consistent. This way you don’t run out of time at the end of the week, or run out of dinners in the fridge and have a panic attack because you don’t have a clue what you need to buy next or where your next meal will come from! 

Wondering how to meal plan? Maybe you've heard about it, but you feel intimidated. Click inside to learn tips and tricks for how to meal plan.

Reuse Old Menu Plans

After you put together a menu for the week, write down the menu and all the ingredients needed and then reuse this same menu in the next month or two.

This will save you a lot of time menu planning! The good news is that after a month or two of coming up with new menus you can recycle them each month and no one will be the wiser! It’s a genius plan, really!

Swap Recipe Ideas with a Friend

I have several friends who are great at meal planning, so whenever I need an idea for a quick dinner, I can usually just call them up! But even my friends who don’t meal plan always seem to have good recipe ideas.

Consider putting together a little group of friends who would like to come up with menu and grocery lists together. This can make the whole experience more fun and enjoyable.

If one of you can’t meet up one week you still have a menu and grocery list all prepared for you! 

Decide how Many Days You’ll be Planning For

Don’t just come up with a whole bunch of dinners that sounds good. Know exactly how many meals you need and how many of those meals will need to be simplified for busy days.

Don’t forget to plan how many breakfasts and lunches, as well. Will you be making lunches everyday this week? Or just the days your kids are in school? Do you want to make seven dinners this week or just five? There really is no right or wrong answer, just know what you need and plan around that.

Be sure to cross reference your menu plan with your schedule so you’re not planning meals on days you won’t be at home. 

Organize Your Recipes

One key component in learning how to recipe plan is to keep your recipes very well organized. Let’s face it, no one wants to try and menu plan when they have to hunt down recipes from every corner of the earth.

Here are a few of my favorite places to organize my recipes. I recommend you find one place to keep your recipes so you can always find them when it’s time to make your menu.

Pinterest

Pinterest is my favorite place to go for new recipes. I could lie in bed for hours just looking at everything. But it’s also a good place to organize recipes too. You can create as many boards as you want for all different categories of food.

You can have boards for dinners, lunches, meatless dinners, Italian food, easy snack ideas and the list goes on and on.The neat thing about Pinterest is that you can be working on organizing your recipes, but having fun at the same time.

Scrolling through Pinterest is a nice and entertaining hobby. How neat that you can also be working on your meal plan while you have fun pinning recipes!

Trello

If you’ve never met Trello, let me introduce you…

Hello, Trello! This is my friend who’s crazy about meal planning!

Now that you’ve met, let me just say, “you’re welcome!”  You’re gonna love it! (It’s not just for menu planning, either! You can use it for just about everything!)

Trello is amazing for staying organized! You can create boards for different categories and then inside each board you can write down recipes or you can link to individual links.

You can also create a board of menus and grocery lists, so that they are easy to find. This will be so helpful for when you decide to reuse your menu plans.

Wunderlist

In full disclosure, I’ve never used this app, but I came across this article which looks amazing! In it, she talks all about how to organize everything (including your paper recipes.)

The Meal Planning Binder

Easily keep track of your recipes and organize your entire meal plan in The Meal Planning Binder. Use the lists to help you get organized and stay organized.

You’ll find inventory trackers and grocery lists. It’s a great way to learn how to meal plan!

Keep Your Favorite Recipes at Arm’s Reach

It’s great to have hundreds of boards with thousand of recipe ideas on Pinterest but make sure your favorite recipes, or the recipes you always seem to be recycling, are in easy to find places.

These recipes are your go-to meals that you can whip up in an instant if you need to and should be at your fingertips at all times. Try printing these recipes out and sticking them to the side of your fridge, or make a Pinterest board, labeled favorites, and only keep four or five recipes in it so that they are easy to find.  

Find Food Bloggers You Love and Sign Up to Get on Their Email Lists

Email list are great, because instead of going and searching for new recipes they come to you! There are so many good food bloggers out there now, that it’s easy to find someone who caters to your skill level and preferred taste.

Also, there are several bloggers who put together completed weekly menus that you can use or take ideas from. Bonus!

Search Online for Inspiration

I love Pinterest for ideas but I also find many of my ideas on Google or Facebook. Googling, and searching on Facebook, is a great way to find new food bloggers and recipe books! Also try joining a meal planning Facebook group!

You can find groups on Facebook for just about anything and everything you’re interested in, including meal planning! Not only can these groups give you help on menu ideas and cheap dishes, but you can help each other stay up to date on specials and sales going on in surrounding cities.

It’s a win-win for everyone! 

Not Every Meal in Your Menu Plan has to be Homemade

Just because you’re meal planning doesn’t mean you’re expected to be a culinary chef every night. I remember when I started meal planning. I was intimidated because I thought it meant that I had to have made-from-scratch meals on my table every night of the week or I wasn’t a good meal planner.

Nope!

Not at all!

Meal planning is all about knowing what to expect and doing what works best for you. So do what you need. Don’t be afraid to use prepared meals in your menu. Do whatever you need to make meal planning work for you.

Some weeks you’ll have more time and/or more ambition and some weeks you won’t. And that’s ok! 

Don’t Worry About Planning Sides. Focus Only on the Main Dish

Your main dish is what’s going to fill up your family. So that’s what’s most important and should be the focus of your planning. You don’t need to serve your family a three course meal every night. I

don’t care what people are posting on Instagram. No one doest that every night!

If you do want to add a side to your dinner, plan something easy, like vegetables, that take little to no prep. Or garlic bread you can buy pre-made, that just needs to be warmed in your oven. Remember that not every dinner needs a side! So don’t stress about it.

Freeze Extra Food Whenever You Can

If you make it a habit to freeze anything that’s leftover at your meals, you can slowly stock up your freezer to use on future menu plans. For some reason, leftovers seem to end up in the back of the fridge after a meal. I have the best intentions of using them, but even my best intentions seem to end up in the garbage from time to time.

So I decided to start freezing leftovers. That way I can use them in future meal plans. Be willing to eat the leftovers, though! To save money and waste make sure to eat all your leftovers!

Use them as a separate meal later in the week, freeze them for future use or use it for lunches throughout the week. My husband is always wanting to take leftovers for lunches and since I already have them frozen, it saves me money on buying sandwich stuff. 

Shop for Your Entire Meal Plan at the Same Time

Come up with a meal plan and buy everything you need in one trip! You might have to go to a couple different stores for this but make sure you only go out once and try your hardest to avoid running back to the store later in the week. This will save you a lot of time and help you avoid excess spending. 

Shop on Off Peak Hours and Not on the Weekends

If you want to make meal planning easier, then don’t go shopping when there are tons of people in the store. If you’re shopping on the weekend (which is usually the ideal time for most of us to go) try going early in the morning, when many people are still sleeping or at their kids’ soccer game.

Another option is to go during the evening when lots of people are out to dinner or with family and friends. These seem to be the times that work best for me. The worst time to go always seems to be around 1:00 in the afternoon, during the week, right before kids get out of school.

But every store and city is different. So start with whatever time works best for you and then start switching it up until you find a time that works with your schedule, but also avoids busy times at the store.  

Use Grocery Pick Up Services

If you find you don’t have time to go shopping for a week’s worth of food, or you would rather spend that time in other ways, try using a grocery store pick up service. You can order all your food online and all you have to do is run to the store and pick it up.

I have a dear friend who started doing this after having twins and she swears it’s the only way to shop! There are also many stores and apps that allow you to shop online and then they deliver the food for little or no extra cost right to your door! Living in the 21st century certainly has it’s benefits!

Start Food Prepping as Soon as You Get Home from Shopping

Or at least make sure to do it as soon as possible. If you keep putting it off it won’t get done. So make it a priority and schedule it into your day.

Try and prepare as much as you can in one day so all you have to do at dinner time is put your recipe together and cook it. I know, this might seem overwhelming and time consuming, but it’s so worth it! You’ll also eliminate a ton of kitchen mess, keeping meal prep to only one time instead of at every meal.

That means clean up throughout the week will be at a minimal. That alone makes meal planning worth it!

Plan Theme Nights and Include Them in Your Meal Plan

Planning theme nights can not only make the planning process easier, it can also make it fun! Think, Meatless Monday, Thai Tuesday, Something new on Wednesday, Mexican on Thursday etc.

Then choose recipes that fit into those themes and repeat it each week, switching out the recipes. Planning your weekly menu this way allows you to not have to go through all your Pinterest boards and all your cookbooks trying to decide what looks the best. Instead, you now have a sense of direction.

Or consider assigning everyone in your family a day and then have them help you prep that meal. My husband gets Friday night… however this usually means he ends up just taking everyone out for dinner. Which isn’t always a bad thing (wink, wink)!

Keep a Food Journal of All the Meals You Make

Write down the meals you’ve planned. Don’t let those menus go to waste! After all, you’ve done all the hard work. This will make your meal planning even quicker

After you make a menu plan of food you know your family will like and works with your busy schedule, keep this menu written down and repurpose it next month. You’ll also have a list of dinners to fall back on that you can make at a moments notice. 

Flex Your Meal Plan if You Need To

It’s nice to have a set menu of what you’re going to eat everyday and it’s fun to have themes for each day of the week, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ok to change the menu from day to day. Sometimes what you had planned just doesn’t sound good or you’ve run out of time.

It’s ok to eat the Thai dinner on Friday that you had planned for Monday and your meatless dinner on Tuesday! Don’t stress about sticking to your menu without room to bend.

Meal planning is all about having more time and freedom, so switch up those dinners as much as you’d like. Just don’t decide to not cook a dish at all and let it go to waste. If worse comes to worse, cook the dinner and freeze it for a future time. 

Keep Your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry Well Organized

Knowing what’s in your fridge, freezer and pantry can save you a lot of time and money as well as prevent food from going to waste. It can also help you know what meals you already have ingredients for and give you ideas of what to put on your meal plan.

Also a clean pantry, fridge and freezer helps you know where everything is, so it’s easier to find when you are in a hurry. Additionally, having your food well organized will make you far more likely to stick to your meal plan. ***

Schedule One Night Off Every Week or Two and Order Takeout

Don’t feel like you have to cook dinner every night! You’re working hard and doing your mama proud! But remember to take a night or two off every now and then. Everyone needs a break, even from cooking and it’s a good way to relax and destress. 

Use The Menu Planning Binder

When you first start meal planning it might be overwhelming. You have to plan out meals, make a grocery list, remember everything that’s in the freezer, etc. But have no fear! I’ve put together The Meal Planning Binder to help you stay organized!

My Meal Planning Binder has places not only for your weekly menu and grocery list but a place to list out everything in your pantry, fridge and freezer. It also has a spot for your budget and dietary needs, a calendar so you can keep track of what crazy things are going on during the week and so much more!

You don’t wanna miss it! Click this link to check it out and learn how to meal plan!

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Do you know how to meal plan? What other tips and tricks do you use to make your meal planning easier? Comment below! I would love to hear from you!  

 

Wondering how to meal plan? Maybe you've heard about it, but you feel intimidated. Click inside to learn tips and tricks for how to meal plan.

How to Meal Plan {Like a Boss}

 

 

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