How to Start Meal Planning

How to Start Meal Planning

Publish Date January 2, 2024 3 Minute Read

How to Meal Plan

Busy schedules can sabotage even the best dinner plans. While meal planning is a great way to help make sure your day runs a bit more smoothly, it can be intimidating to know where to start. If you want to learn how to meal plan, build a grocery list or even just need some inspiration to spice up your existing plan, we have some tips and tricks to help set you up for success.

Why Meal Plan?

Whether you’re a meal planning pro or a beginner, you probably have a reason for wanting to meal plan. Are you focused on balancing your grocery budget? Creating easy meals? Take our poll to help us show you more of what you’d like to improve.

How would you like to improve your meal planning?

How to Make a Meal Plan

Meal plans can help cut indecision out of your day, enabling you to start your week having already answered the “What’s for dinner?” question. But to make a meal plan that works for you and your family, it’s important to get all the decision making out of the way before you begin shopping and prepping. Here are a few questions to help you create your perfect meal plan.

  • How Many Meals Are You Planning?
    First, decide how many meals you’ll be planning. Are you simply planning to help make weeknight dinners a breeze, or are you planning and prepping for 3 meals a day? Answering this question will help you create a more balanced menu.

    If you’re new to meal planning, consider starting with 1 meal and building from there once you have the basics down. Are mornings a mess? Try meal planning with healthy and filling frozen Breakfast Burritos or a quick Hashbrown Casserole. Hoping for a stress-free dinner? You can try whipping up simple sheet pan meals like Sheet Pan Garlic Chicken or Sheet Pan Salmon with Avocado Salsa.
  • What’s on the Menu?
    Now that you know how many meals you’re planning, it’s time to create the menu. Make a list of the meals you already know your family loves. As you work through tried-and-true favorites, add in new recipes to keep things interesting. If you’re lacking recipe inspiration, consider modeling your meals off the food groups. Think of proteins, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and healthy fats that are in season and simple to prep. For more inspiration, check out these easy meal ideas for the week ahead.
  • Will We Eat All of This?
    Sometimes, even the best meal plans can fall victim to chaotic schedules. For weeks like these, try planning meals that can be frozen. These dishes only need to be warmed before serving, creating quick and easy meals that can safely stay in the freezer until you’re ready to eat.

Planning Your Grocery List

Meal planning can help take the guess work out of your weekly meals, but that means there can be less room for improvising when it comes to shopping. Meal plan with a grocery list to help make sure that you’re grabbing everything you need. Here are some tips that can help save time and money when shopping.

  • Take Inventory
    The first step to shopping should be to take stock of what you already have. Build meals around pantry staples such as beans, rice and pasta that you probably already have on hand. Check the freezer to see if there are frozen vegetables or proteins that you can incorporate into your menu. Not only will this keep you from buying doubles, but it can also help to keep your grocery bill lower.
  • Make a Shopping List
    Write down the ingredients you need to grab on your trip instead of reading through recipes in the aisles. If you know your grocery store like the back of your hand, it can help save time to organize your list by which items you’ll come to first. Did you park near Produce? List out the vegetables or fruits you need first and move through the aisles in order from there. Alternatively, you can organize your list by department. Or you can save even more time and order online for pickup or delivery.

Prep and Plan

Whether you’re cooking all your meals at once, or cutting down on cook-time through the week, we have some tips to make sure your prepping and planning are on point.

  • Prepping Ingredients
    While meal planning gets most of the spotlight, you don’t always have to cook a full week’s worth of meals. Prepping your ingredients can save a ton of time and can be done during any downtime you have. Wash and cut produce when you get home from the grocery or while waiting for your Monday night meal to cook. Trim and marinade meats, cook a batch of grains or make stock in advance to cut down on time in the kitchen later in the week.
  • Ingredient Sharing
    Plan meals that share ingredients for a quick and easy way to get the bulk of your prep done all at the same time. For chicken dishes that come together in no time, use rotisserie chicken to create quesadillas, Cowboy Casserole and more. Plan to make a large batch of rice for bowls, stir fry or fried rice dishes throughout the week. Prep ground beef ahead of time for a week of tacos, stuffed peppers or sloppy Joes. Or, for a meatless option, mushrooms can be the star in French bread pizzas or vegan mushrooms.
  • Reflect and Adjust
    Make note of the meals that work best, whether it’s dishes your whole family loves, recipes that are fast and easy to make, or meals that best match your budget. Now that you have a list of meals that are sure to please, you can try mixing, matching and adding new recipes into the mix.

Want More Meal Planning Tips?

Find more recipes and tips for meal planning, including a printable meal planner, and even more fresh ideas on our blog.