Have you ever looked into your fridge and thought “what on earth are we having to eat tonight?”.
If you have, you aren’t alone.
Lack of planning can lead to spending a lot of money on food, throwing food away, and feeling stressed about what meals you’re going to eat that day.
The thing is, we want to be proactive instead of reactive.
If we are deciding each day what to eat instead of planning in advance, this takes up a lot of our mental capacity.
If you are new to meal planning and budgeting or planning in general, then this could seem like quite a big task.
However, we love meal planning – and we think it’s really quick and easy to do once you get started.
In this article, we will take a look at what meal planning for beginners is, how to do it, and some resources to get you started.
What Is Meal Planning?
Firstly, what is meal planning? It’s important to understand what meal planning is before we get started!
Meal planning is simply where you plan out what meals you will be making and eating in advance.
It doesn’t mean creating a menu fit for a fancy restaurant, but rather working out what you and your household will be eating.
Even when you aren’t properly meal planning, you will be eating meals and buying food.
If you are going to be eating and shopping anyway, you might as well do so in the best way to save you money and time.
This is where meal planning comes in!
Why Is Meal Planning Important? (Benefits of Meal Planning)
There are so many benefits of meal planning, which is why we highly recommend it. Here are our top reasons why meal planning is important:
1. Save Money
Meal planning can be a huge money saving activity for you to start up.
We love to talk about personal finance here, and the things that you can do to save money and also improve the quality of your life.
When you don’t have a meal plan, this is where a lot of money can get wasted.
If you are buying food without having a clear plan of what you are going to use it for and by when this can end up in the food being thrown out.
Meal planning saves money because you know exactly what you need to buy, which means no buying food just because it’s there.
Not only that, but it can save money because if you know what you have to buy, you can look at what you already have, and not need to buy extra.
It will also save you money because you will cut back on eating out and buying food when you think you don’t have anything in the house.
2. Save Time
When you are starting something new, especially when it’s going to be doing something (planning), it may seem like a waste of time.
After all, you may be wondering how taking action and sitting down to plan your meals is actually going to save you any time.
We wouldn’t be recommending meal planning if we thought it was going to be a waste of your time.
Meal planning saves you time in the long run. The first time that you do it, it may take you a bit of time whilst you work out what to do.
After that, you will find it much quicker and easier as you will have done the base work.
You won’t have to think about what you are going to be eating each day and panic over not having anything in or prepared.
3. Eat Healthier
When we are making decisions based on what we feel like eating on that day, chances are that we aren’t going to pick something healthy!
It can also be hard to see the overall picture of what you are eating when you are just looking at it from a day to day basis.
When you are planning for a week (or longer) you can plan healthy meals and make sure that you buy these foods in your shop.
4. Reduce Food Waste
When you don’t plan your meals, this is when you are most likely to have a lot of food waste.
When we buy our groceries, we tend to buy a lot of fresh produce. Things like fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.
The problem with this is that they need to be eaten by a certain date, and you probably don’t have a very long time to do this.
If you aren’t planning what you’re eating and when this is when you can end up with food that has gone off.
When you do meal planning to reduce waste, you will know what you need to buy and when you need to eat it by – which will result in less food waste.
5. Reduce Life Stress
Planning anything, in general, will lead to a lot less stress. Stress can come from having a lot of things to do, that comes at you at once.
When you are reacting to things instead of being proactive, things can get on top of you really quickly.
Having a lot of things to do at once isn’t fun for everyone, and then if you add in the kids asking you what they’re having to eat – stress levels can rise.
6. Keep The Family Happy
We are sure that a high priority on your list for life is to make sure that your family is happy.
What are some ways that you can keep your family happy? We think:
- Spending more time with them
- Feeding them good food
- Having less stress and being organized/having a good routine
Meal planning can help with all of these because you won’t be feeling stressed and they will know what to expect and when. Kids love a routine!
How Meal Planning Saves Money
Meal planning saves money because you won’t be buying whatever catches your eye.
If you know what you are going to be eating, then there will be no need to have to make extra trips to the shop to get something to eat.
When you know the meals that you need, you can buy the food just for those meals and not buy extra that will end up costing a lot of money.
How To Meal Plan On A Budget
When you are on a budget, it’s more important than ever to make sure that you are meal planning.
The reason for this is because you will be able to see how much your food is costing you and make any changes if necessary.
You can break down how much the meals you have planned will be costing you, and see if you have the money in your budget for it.
How To Get Started With Meal Planning – Step by Step Instructions
You may be wondering how to get started with meal planning. We’ve got you covered! Just follow the steps below and you’ll have it all planned out in no time!
1. Decide how many meals you need to plan for.
The first step is deciding how many meals you need to plan for. This is where things will vary based on your family and how often you want to do the grocery shop.
For example, you may want to go every week, or every 2 weeks, or every month (these are the most common).
You will also have to think about how often your family eats, and whether they will be getting any meals elsewhere that you don’t need to buy for, e.g. food at Grandmas, at friends, or at sporting events.
2. Get a meal planning template (to suit your meal count from step 1)
Once you know how many meals you need to plan for, it’s time to get a meal planning template to get started.
The type of meal planning template that you get will depend on how often you will be doing your shop.
There are general templates for a weekly meal planner with a grocery list or monthly available, with so many pretty ones to try out!
3. Gather some (easy) recipes as your “staples”
Ok, so the next step needs to be getting together some recipes to get started meal planning with.
As we have said, there is no need to think that you need to create a restaurant-worthy menu plan.
It’s time to think about the easy recipes that you make or want to make. You can include more fancy ones if you want to of course, but it’s good to have a base set.
You can find these by doing a good Google search or having a look on Pinterest.
4. Fill out your meal plan template
After you’ve had a think about the types of meals that you want to make, it’s time to fill out your meal plan template.
This doesn’t need to be set in stone – you can change things around if you want.
Try and think about the days on which you’d rather have an easier option – such as the end of the working week or days when you are very busy.
5. Take a fridge/freezer/pantry inventory
When you know what meals you want to make and what ingredients you need for them, start to do an inventory in your house.
What we don’t want to happen, is for you to end up buying a lot of stuff that you already have.
We may think that we know what we have in the house already, but can be quite wrong!
Write down the food that you currently have in the fridge/freezer/pantry.
6. Make a grocery list of what’s left
Now you know what you have in the house, and what ingredients you need to make the meals, you need to cross-reference them.
Make your grocery list based on the items that you need for the meals, and you’re good to go.
7. Schedule a prep window
You’ve done the meal planning now, but the next step is one that will help you out a lot in terms of being prepared and reducing stress.
You can skip this step if you want, but if you take the time to meal prep, things will get a lot easier for you over time.
Meal prep is where you cook the meals in advance, and can put them in your fridge or freezer for the rest of the week to then heat up when you need them.
As it may take a bit of time, choose a time and day when is suitable for you to do this.
8. Going forward, keep your pantry inventory up to date and keep a regular grocery shopping schedule
Now that you’ve got your inventory done, it’s important to keep it up to date so that things are easier for you to meal plan and meal prep.
It’s important to have a schedule and routine that you stick to so that you keep on track.
Once you’ve got started, all that you need to do is keep going! It will become easier and faster over time.
How To Meal Plan For The Week — All Meals
To plan a meal plan for the week, think about all of the different meals that you want to eat.
A lot of the time, we tend to just think about the evening meals, and forget about the rest.
It’s really important that we remember to plan for all of the meals, as well as snacks and drinks.
We recommend checking out our monthly meal planner binder, because it has pages for all of the different meals, and much more!
Meal Planning Recipes To Get Your Plan Started
There are some recipe roundup posts that we have available for you to take a look at for ideas for meal planning recipes for families:
Meal Planning FAQ
Are there factors to consider when meal planning?
When you are meal planning, it’s important to think about this properly, so that it doesn’t go wrong.
If you haven’t done meal planning before then you may feel quite resistant to it and want to revert to what you were doing before.
There are some factors that you will want to consider, such as:
- What your family wants to eat
- How to have healthy meals, and still allow for treats
- Whether you want to eat out at all
- If anyone has any allergens
Is meal planning when working out different than normal?
If you are working out, your meal planning is going to look a bit different – but not really.
The types of meals that you eat will depend on what your goal is with your fitness.
Meal planning will definitely help you out, as it will ensure that you can get healthy food regularly and stick to your fitness goals.
Meal planning is overwhelming. Any tips on how I can get started and stick to it?
Whenever we start something new, it can feel really overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop.
The best way to get started is to follow the steps of meal planning that we’ve outlined in this article, and know that things will get easier.
Grocery shopping for a meal plan seems hard. How can I shop more efficiently to save more money and better stick to my meal plan?
The best way to do this is to do what’s best for you. We all work in different ways and deal with temptations differently.
If you are tempted to buy things that aren’t on your meal plan, think of ways that you can counteract this.
You may find it easier to shop online, or do the grocery shopping when you aren’t hungry. Another good idea is using Instacart where you will get someone else to grocery shop for you.
How can I save more money on groceries, beyond just meal planning?
There are lots of ways to save money on groceries, such as going to farmers markets and buying local produce.
We also love using Ibotta to get cash back on the items that we will be purchasing anyway.
I don’t have a lot of time for prep each week. How can I make my meals fast to cook on those busy weeknights, most efficiently?
There are lots of quick meals out there, and it’s always a good idea to have some recipes in your repertoire that you can call upon.
Some simple ideas are frozen pizza, pasta dishes, omelettes, etc.
Final Thoughts On Meal Planning
If you had been on the fence about starting meal planning, we hope that we have helped you to see that with a little bit of organization, it can be easy.
When it comes to starting new things, we often come up against a lot of resistance, but that doesn’t mean what we are trying to do is bad.
When you have a busy life, the more organized you are, the easier things are going to be for you.
Meal planning will help you save time and money, as well as helping reduce your stress levels.
Because of this, we think that meal planning is more than worth the time it takes to put together.