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How To Start Meal Planning

Are you wondering how to start meal planning but need to know where to begin? It can sound intimidating and time-consuming if you’ve never done it. I’m here to give you a few ideas and tips to help you navigate planning your meals. Plus, a Free Printable Meal Planner to get you started!

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Meal planning doesn't have to be hard or complicated. Keep it simple; it will make your life much easier and save you money!

Make A List Of Your Family’s Favorite Meals

First, I recommend making a list of your family's favorite meals. This is a good thing to have handy any time you are headed to the grocery store, and it is crucial when meal planning. 

Start by making a list of all the meals your family enjoys eating. If you’re unsure, ask each family member what their favorite meal is. If you want to take this a step further, you can even divide it into easy and challenging meals to make. Aim for at least 15 favorite meals to get you started.

Make Your Meal Plan And Grocery List At The Same Time

I keep meal planning very simple; otherwise, I won't do it. I use a simple meal planner form. As I write down each day's meal for the week, I also add any ingredients I need to buy to my grocery list. This gets my weekly meal plan and my shopping list done at the same time. 

I keep breakfast and lunch simple by having oatmeal, cereal, fruit, yogurt, eggs, bread, lunch meat, cheese, salad ingredients, peanut butter, and soup on hand for quick and easy choices.

Aim For Quick And Easy Meals On Busy Days

There will always be busy days, no matter how much we try to avoid them. Having a plan for these days will make it a lot easier. Around here, it’s Mondays. If you have kids in after-school activities, it may be several nights a week that are chaotic. Meal planning will make your life easier!

Don’t plan something elaborate when you know you’re going to be rushing in and out of the door. Slow cooker meals are great for busy days. Start dinner in the morning and it's ready when you get home.

When choosing meals go for something quick and easy, even if it’s something basic like soup and salad or this easy Ham and Cheddar Crescent Rolls. The important thing is to have a plan in place so you can avoid fast food.

Incorporate One New Meal Each Week

Meal planning also allows you to try something new! Pick a few recipes you want to try and let your family take turns choosing which to make each week.

This meal should be on whatever night everyone will be home so they all can try it. You can add it to your monthly rotation if it's a hit. Incorporating new recipes is a great way to encourage everyone to try new foods.

Plan Meals Around What You Have

Check your pantry, refrigerator, and your freezer! Look through what you already have before you head to the store to buy more food. You’ll probably be surprised how much you have to work with right in your own home. 

See what meals you can make from what you already have before you head to the grocery store. If you have parts of a recipe, see if you can add a few more items to make it a meal. If you have taco shells and shredded cheese, then you might only need ground beef and lettuce for taco night.

Choose Theme Nights

Make it fun with theme nights. Theme nights are a great way to simplify meal planning. Just choose the themes that your family likes the most.

Here's a list of theme night ideas to get you started.

Theme nights can also be based on ingredients like chicken, beef, or seafood. You can have a leftover night or appetizer night or breakfast for dinner. Get creative!

Keep Quick Go-To Meals On Hand

For those days that you forget to thaw the meat or your schedule changes at the last minute, make sure you keep some quick go-to meals on hand that you can make quickly.

Easy, quick meals include pasta and your favorite marinara sauce, a can of soup and grilled cheese, bean burritos (refried beans, tortilla, and shredded cheese), Egg Sandwiches (scrambled eggs on toast), pizza on bagels or English muffins, tuna melts, and BLT’s. Dinner doesn’t always have to be fancy. Some days, you just need to keep it simple.

Be realistic. Don’t plan complicated meals with lots of ingredients during a week when you know you’ll be tired after work or the kids will have after-school activities or lots of homework to get done.

If you can only handle 15-minute meals right now, don’t try to make something that will take an hour or more. When planning your meals, you need to be realistic about what you are capable of making, and what you can handle. If your meal planning is too overwhelming, you won’t be able to stick with it.

Keep your recipes simple, be realistic about what your family can handle in this season in life, and have some fun with it!

When done right, meal planning will make your life so much easier! No more trying to figure out what to eat at the last minute or overspending on takeout because you have nothing planned.