So, you’re here to learn how to meal plan? You’re in the right place.
Let me guess…
You’re a busy mom trying to juggle your house, family and work. You have great intentions for dinner, but some nights you’re too tired to cook. Even if you can muster the energy, you look in the fridge and realise the meat is out of date. So… you end up calling for takeout.
I feel you. I’ve been there.
Getting dinner on the table was SUCH a source of stress for me. I can’t say I always have it completely cracked, but learning to meal plan was a game changer. This guide on starting a meal plan is here to help you too, with all the tips and tricks I’ve learned. Plus, a free printable!
Let’s get started!
A beginner’s guide on how to meal plan (for busy moms)
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So, what is a meal plan?
A meal plan is simply a way of organizing ahead of time what you’re going to eat for the next week.
Eh, does that mean I know exactly what I’ll be eating every day for the next 7 days? How boring is that? I like spontaneity!
So do I! But, you know when spontaneity becomes a pain in the ass? It’s when you realize AGAIN that you forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for tonight’s dinner and have to order takeout.
I personally only plan ahead for dinners in this house as it’s the one area that causes me the most stress. So, I get my spontaneous kicks from deciding on toast or cereal on the fly every morning. Go me!
What are the benefits of meal planning?
Meal planning is the bomb. I love it so much, let me count the ways…
- Save time – no more dithering over some random ingredients trying to decide what to make.
- Save money – say goodbye to emergency takeout and hello to a fuller wallet.
- Reduce waste – when you know what you’re going to cook you can buy less and you’ll end up throwing out less precious food (better for the environment and your pocket).
- Reduce the ‘mental load’ – this is a HUGE benefit. We moms are often the ones bearing the mental load of the family. You know – that internal checklist of everything that needs doing. A meal plan lightens the load a little, which is always a good thing.
Does meal planning really save money?
Yes. It absolutely does.
Have you ever come back from the grocery store, unpacked the groceries and then realised that, although you’ve spent $100 on food, you don’t actually have the ingredients for one proper meal?
Yep, meal planning will stop that.
You save money by only buying what you need, buying ingredients that can be used across a couple of meals (hello you giant bag of potatoes) AND you waste less money by throwing out uneaten food.
You’ll also spend less money on takeout. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love takeout food as much as the next person. And you can absolutely plan to have takeout as part of your weekly dinner schedule. It’s when takeout is a regular unplanned spend (because you’ve got nothing else in the house) that it becomes an expensive problem.
How do I start a meal plan?
Ok, now we come to the fun bit…
How to meal plan… What do I need?
Meal planning is only as complicated as you make it. You don’t need fancy systems, binders and spreadsheets (unless, like me, you LOVE a color-coded spreadsheet).
You can just use a notepad and pen. Or, for a more visual schedule that your whole family can use, why not consider a meal planning template? Luckily for you, I’ve created a very cute meal planning template in Canva, which is yours for the taking…
How to meal plan… Step 1: collate a list of easy go-to recipes
The whole meal planning thing becomes a heck of a lot easier if you have a go-to list of dinners and recipes to chose from every week.
I’m a huge fan of one-pot dishes, slow cooker meals and anything which is badged at taking less than 30 minutes. Some of my favorite sources include:
To get started list about 10-14 meals that you’re fairly happy to eat on a regular basis. And take it from there!
How to meal plan… Step 2: do a stock take
A key step to successful meal planning for the week is to work with what you already have in the cupboards.
I love my husband, but he’s TERRIBLE at this. If it’s his turn to cook and we’re not on-plan, he’ll head off to the grocery store and buy all the ingredients for the meal he wants to make, without checking first what’s in the fridge or cupboards. Of course, we end up buying a ton of stuff we already had. What a waste of money!
Don’t be like my husband. Do a quick stock-take before you meal plan so you know what you’ve got. Bonus points for incorporating things that need to be used up quickly into your meal plan.
How to meal plan… Step 3: look at your family schedule
When I first started meal planning I realized I was making a HUGE mistake:
I was forgetting to factor my family’s schedule into the meal plan. Which meant that I’d plan to make a lasagne (takes me at least an hour) on a night when I wasn’t home til 8pm.
So every week take a quick look at what’s coming up the next week so you can plan meals accordingly. I have been known to feed my kid early on the nights my husband is out and then eat cheese and crackers for dinner myself. Money saving AND delicious, win win!
Wondering how to keep track of your family schedule? We use the Cozi app in this family to share calendars, to-do and grocery lists – it works great.
How to meal plan… Step 4: create the meal plan
So now it’s time to pull together the meal plan for the week. Here’s an example dinner meal plan I made up for your viewing pleasure (I’m hungry now!)…
Don’t forget you can grab your free meal plan template here.
How to meal plan… Step 5: add ingredients to your grocery list
My cute meal planning template has a little section for noting the ingredients needed for each meal. I just pop those onto our grocery list for the week (on the Cozi app so my husband can access it too!)
And you’re DONE. Meal plan in the bag. You superstar!
How do you stick to a meal plan?
As with anything in life, making the plan is easy, sticking to it is another story.
From my meal planning experience, there are a few areas where it can become unstuck:
Trying to do too much
If you Google how to meal plan, chances are you’ve landed on a few sites that are all about healthy meal planning, or meal prepping to lose weight.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to eat heathily. But, if your usual dinners are more tacos and less spiralised zucchini, then it’s probably best to plan meals that suit your palate and cooking repertoire. So…
Don’t try to master the meal plan while also completely changing your family’s diet.
It’s a recipe for giving up and ordering takeout by day 3!
Not having food staples in the house
Meal planning works best when you have a base level of ‘staple’ food in the house. By that, I mean ingredients that you can throw into a ton of different meals. Things like pasta, rice, herbs, spices, condiments etc.
If you forget to add those to the grocery list then your meal plan could come unstuck.
A meal plan guides what you eat for dinner over the week, but it doesn’t have to RULE over your lives.
Have a frittata on your meal plan for tonight but feeling too tired to cook? Just whip up some scrambled eggs in a couple of minutes and call the job done.
Being too rigid and sticking to the plan too much can actually make you more likely to fail. So, cut yourself some slack from time to time.
I hope those meal planning tips have helped you decide to take more control over dinnertime. Just start small, try it for a couple of weeks and see how you go.
Good luck mama!