Meal planning 101: a beginner’s guide

Meal planning 101 a beginner's guideWant to know an easy way to meal plan, especially if you are a beginner? Planning your menu for the week sounds like a great idea, especially about 6pm when you’re staring into your fridge, hungry and tired and wondering what to make for dinner. Again. But it can feel overwhelming to figure it all out. And as much as you might dream about a cute hand-drawn menu on a chalkboard in your kitchen (in handwriting impossibly nicer than your own), you really just.want.dinner.on.the.table.

But what if you could remove some of the stress and chaos from your life with a simple meal plan? You can. All you need is a strategy–a simple, easy strategy that you can replicate every week, on any budget, and with meals your family will actually eat. Even if you don’t like to cook and you serve chicken nuggets—at least you planned to have them for dinner!

Since dinner is the most stressful meal to plan for most of us, we’ll start with that.

How to start menu planning for beginners: 4 easy tips

1) Narrow your options.

I don’t know about you, but when I try to think of what to make for dinner, I literally forget what I have ever made before. Or eaten. Or seen on tv. For the love—my mind goes blank. Do we even eat?

The problem is that there are just too many options. An overwhelming amount of possible choices. Have you looked on Pinterest for recipes? So great! But also, AHHH!! Which is why you end up staring into the fridge with desperate, crazy eyes.

The first thing to do as you begin menu planning is to narrow the possible options from the MILLIONS available. The easiest way I have found to do this is to assign a specific genre of food to each night of the week. By assigning a certain type of food to each day, coming up with ideas for meals suddenly feels doable and your brain gets to work. Maybe you want to have a night of the week for Instant Pot or crockpot meals. Or soup. Pick the genres that you are familiar with and build your weekly food genre list.

It might look something like this:

Monday-Mexican

Tuesday-American

Wednesday-Asian/Indian

Thursday-Vegetarian

Friday-Pizza

Saturday-Out/Left overs

Sunday-Italian

Note: This is not the time to try new recipes every night. (Unless you want to make one night New Recipe night, but maybe not at first.)

2) Come up with ideas to fill a weekly menu

This is not as hard as it sounds

  1. Write down meals you have eaten recently.
  2. Ask the people you regularly feed what meals they like.
  3. Put the favs into the daily food genres and you can quickly build a few weeks’ worth of ideas. I’m guessing you can probably think of 3-4 Italian dishes your family enjoys (spahgetti, lasagna from Costco, broccoli alfredo, etc) Boom—you just planned a months’ worth of Sunday dinners. Go you!

A key point to make simple menu planning work in your actual life is to know what your evenings look like. Consider rehearsals and practice and commutes. If you have a late meeting every Wednesday, then Wednesdays become the eat-out night. Or the crockpot dinner. Or the super easy spahgetti from a jar night. So look at the family calendar as you meal plan and know what is most doable for each night. You can only plan for so much, of course, but plan for what you can.

3) Keep the shopping simple.

If the meals you plan mean you have to go to more than 1-2 stores, stop and re-evaluate. Ain’t nobody got time for that! You are looking for simplicity and familiarity as you figure this out. Julia Childs might come visit later, but save those Instagramable dinners until after you get your feet under you. *The goal is to make this a doable process that works with your current life, so limit how much time you have to spend sprinting about town to get groceries.

4) Eat the same things for breakfast and lunch each week.

I know—it’s not exciting, but it is simple. Plan breakfast and lunch menus that have a very limited list of items. Like seven items each. Your breakfast menu might look like this every week:

Monday—cereal (hot or cold)

Tuesday—cheese toast, fruit

Wednesday—waffles, bacon

Thursday—scrambled eggs, toast

Friday—quesadillas, fruit

Saturday—smoothies

Sunday—egg casserole, fruit

I thought we’d get tired of eating the same thing, but my kids actually liked the consistency of knowing what we were having. It’s easy to remember what groceries to have on hand and it makes it incredibly simple to manage in the morning rush.

If you have lunch at home or pack lunches, you can do the same thing. Or rotate through 10 lunch variations every two weeks. Whatever makes it easiest for you. There are a ton of options on Pinterest and I have pinned some quick ones here for you here.

A simple menu plan will help eliminate some of the stress and scurry of mealtimes and streamline your grocery shopping process. And now you can write it down on that cute chalkboard in your kitchen.

(Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash –Thanks, Edgar!)


I hope this helps you feel less overwhelmed and more equipped to begin a simple meal plan and change how it feels when 6pm rolls around tomorrow.

(Questions? Thoughts? Tips to share? Jump on over to the Facebook group and join the conversation there! Search the page for this blog post title and let’s chat!)

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