The Beginners Guide to Meal Planning

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Being prepared for the upcoming meals for the week is so important when you are running a household. Making sure that your family gets fed a nutritious, satisfying, and enjoyable meal after a long day is very important for a happy and healthy home. I find that with the busy schedule of work, appointments, and extra-curricular activities for the kids, weeknight dinner preparation can get lost in the shuffle of life. Before I starting meal planning I used to be so ill-prepared for dinnertime I was finding myself at the grocery store almost daily, just to get the missing ingredients for that night’s dinner. That also resulted in our family eating take-out way more than we should be. This burned a hole in our monthly budget, on top of it not being very healthy. I started to feel worn out by the inconsistency of the last meal of the day and decided to do something about it. I reevaluated how I could approach the daunting task of preparing dinner and started planning before the week started. Once this started to become a routine Sunday morning activity for me not only did my outlook on meal preparation change to be a more positive experience, but I discovered that it actually made a difference with other areas of our life as well!

What is Meal Planning

Meal planning is the task of figuring out what you are going to eat throughout the week so you are fully prepared with the ingredients and time it takes to make it. With meal planning, you figure out what is going on during your week, whether it be a birthday party, skating lessons, or an expected late night at the office, and then plan ahead as to what you are going to make that night.

You don’t have to come up with new recipes every week or spend hours creating a giant list that you will take to the grocery store where you will then spend hours picking out all of the items you’ll need. You also don’t have to force yourself to choose a recipe for every night of the week, because yes, you do have to eat every night but it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to plan for a recipe for every night.

How to Get Started with Meal Planning

The best way to start meal planning is to choose a day of the week to sit down and spend five minutes figuring out what the goings-on of the week are. Is there a soccer-game after school one day? Is it someone’s birthday coming up? Are you going to be late at work because of that monthly budget meeting? Once you’ve figured out what the schedule is, you can decide what nights you need to make the ‘quick meals’. Quick meals are ones that take little time to make. These can be slow-cooker, pressure cooker, or one-pot/pan meals. A simple dinner like grilled cheese is also great for nights you have to eat early and then be out of the house. Once you have determined those nights, then you can have fun using new recipes, or the old classics when you have a little more time to cook. Make a grocery list of the items that you’ll need to make all of these dinners and then hit the grocery store. Doing this means that you should only have to visit the grocery store once a week. **Don’t forget to include other items on your grocery list like the fridge and pantry staples if they have run out, food for lunches, school snacks, etc.

Tips for Success in Meal Planning

Try your best to stick to your plan. If something comes up, and you miss a day of making a specific recipe don’t worry! It happens all the time. You can either carry that meal you planned to make over to the following week, or, if the ingredients are in a ‘use it or lose it’ situation, have fun and improvise for another night that week! Don’t be afraid to freeze certain items as well. Meat is specifically easy to prep and pop in the freezer if you aren’t going to use them and the best before date is approaching.

Another solution for skipping a meal when the ingredients may have a fast approaching expiry date is to make the meal anyway, freeze it, then use it another week. Having a meal you can pull out of your freezer in emergency situations is always a good back-up plan if you need it! It will prevent you from ordering out and save you money in the end by not only eating something you already have at home but using the food you actually bought instead of throwing it away because it went bad.

Do you usually eat a take-out meal, or go out for dinner once a week? Work that into your meal plan as well.

If you’ve made too much of something assign it as a left-over meal for another night where time might be tight to make dinner, or, if possible, freeze it to use during another week.

Try to mix up the kind of meals you’re going to make. For example, I like to make sure that we have a variety of meals such as one night red meat, one to two nights we eat poultry, one night pasta, and at least one night is dedicated to leftovers and a take-out meal (we used to go out for dinner but since having three young kids we decided to bring in dinner instead!).

Common Questions/FAQ About Meal Planning

Why is meal planning important?

Meal planning is important for so many reasons. It helps maintain a healthy diet, helps keep your food budget on track, reduces the number of trips to the grocery store (which saves you gas), and assists with time management for meal preparation in the kitchen.

How do you budget for meal planning?

Budgeting for food can be difficult if you don’t have a plan set for what you are going to eat for the week. Getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to grocery shopping is very important no matter the size of your family. Doing things like buying in bulk, or using common ingredients for multiple meals can help reduce the cost of food for the week. You just have to plan for it!

What do I do with all of the leftovers if I already have meals planned for the rest of the week?

You can tell by the part of the recipe that says ‘servings’ how many people your dinner will feed. If the servings aren’t listed, try to estimate by the amount of each ingredient the recipe asks for and if possible, try to anticipate if it will result in leftovers. If I make a crockpot whole chicken on Monday night, I will plan to use the leftover chicken in a stir-fry on Wednesday night.

What if I run out of ideas?

I am always looking for new and different recipes to make dinnertime fresh and exciting. The recipes section of my blog has tons of ideas for meals you can try!

How many meals do I need to plan for?

If you are new to meal planning I would suggest focusing on the main meal for your family. For our family that meal is dinner. Once you are comfortable with planning that main meal, you can expand your planning to the other meals of the day. I also try to plan a little bit for what I am going to make the kids for lunches so I can add those items to my weekly shopping list to avoid extra trips to the grocery store.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Menu Planning

Meal planning shouldn’t be a daunting task. Yes, it takes a few minutes of work each week, but the end result is so worth it. Before the week even starts you will have all of your meals figured out, a full fridge with everything you need, and more time to be able to concentrate on the millions of other things you need to get done. And before you know it you will have a library of recipes to refer to in the coming months so menu planning will be a breeze.

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