Anyone can meal plan. Literally anyone. You don’t have to have a stocked kitchen. You don’t need to have all the cooking skills already. All you need is the motivation to do it. Meal planning for beginners should not feel overwhelming in any way. So even if you are a complete beginner, this article is just where you should be. Below I will be explaining everything you need to know about dinner meal planning for beginners!
who should be meal planning?
If you are meal-planning only for yourself, obviously you will be the one doing it all. However, doing this for families is different. Dinner meal planning does not and should not fall on one person. Try to get your family involved so everyone likes what they will be eating. Something that has worked for my family of 5 is having everyone pick one meal each week, so everyone gets a little of their favorite. Not only should everyone be helping to choose the meals, but cooking them can be a family affair as well.
what is meal planning and meal prepping?
Before we go any further, you should first know what meal planning is, and what it isn’t. To start, let me clarify: There is meal planning and meal prepping.
When you meal plan, you PLAN out the food you will be eating for each week, whether you do three meals a day or one. This means writing down your meals, finding the recipes, and going to the grocery store.
When you meal prep, you PREP the food that you will be eating for each week. This is the actual “hands on” portion. You can again meal prep for one, two, or three meals each day. For example, preparing a pasta salad for lunch everyday would be considered meal prep.
Now that you know what it means to meal plan and prep, we are going to go into further detail about meal planning for dinner. I will have a future article about meal prepping so stay tuned!
when should I be meal planning?
The most important thing about dinner meal planning is consistency. The more consistent, the better. Therefore, try to plan your meals and grocery shop the same day every week, if possible. I like to do this on Sundays.
why do I have to meal plan?
You can’t meal plan without knowing why you are doing it. Meal planning benefits you in 2 main ways: affordability and health. Planning out your meals can save hundreds or even thousands off your grocery bill every year. When you know what meals you are going to be eating, you know what groceries you need to buy. This significantly reduces the amount of food you have to buy and the amount you have to waste. The second main reason to meal plan is to consistently eat healthier. Having a plan prevents you from going out to eat last minute or making quick microwaveable food that would otherwise be unhealthy.
how do I meal plan?
Now that you finally know all the background info about meal-planning for beginners, it’s finally time to learn how.
This check-list is specific for dinner meal planning only, but can be easily adapted for whatever you want to do!
Step 1: Consult your schedule
Before you can plan out what meals to make, you first need to know when you have to be cooking. A common misconception about meal-planning is that it requires you to cook every night. This is NOT the case. For the average person/family, the goal is to only have to be cooking about 4 times each week. To decide which nights you want to be cooking, check your schedule. That way, you know when you might have to have a quick dinner, when you’re going out for dinner, or when you might not have time to make any dinner at all. Then when you plan your meals, you plan according to your schedule.
→ Using the “My Dinner Meal Plan” printable below, circle “cooking,” “leftovers,” or “eating out” for each day of the week according to what your schedule allows.
Step 2: Assign a protein to each day
To figure out what to make for each day that you are cooking, start by assigning a protein. For example, this would be chicken, ground beef, fish, etc. Because this is the base of the meal, I like to start with this.
→ Using the “My Dinner Meal Plan” printable below, mark off the protein you will be eating for each day that you are cooking dinner in the shaded region.
Step 3: Choose meals
Now comes the time to actually choose the recipes you are going to make. The key to this step is using the protein you already listed WITH the ingredients you already have. For example, if I decided on steak one day and I have fresh peppers and onions, I might make steak fajitas that night. To make this step easiest, you can make a list of all the foods that need to be used up before they go bad.
The goal here is to figure out anything and everything in your kitchen that will not be fresh by the time you meal plan next (which should typically be in one week). It is so important to use the fresh food you already have to reduce the amount of food you waste. That way, instead of having to buy 9 out of 10 ingredients for a recipe, you may only have to buy 2 of 10 ingredients. If you are having trouble figuring out meals with your ingredients, I love using AllRecipes to help. This website allows you to ingredient search for specific recipes that include what you already have. Then you can save recipes and go back to them later. Click here to check it out!
→ Using the “To Use & To Buy” printable below, start by listing everything that needs to be used up from the categories listed. Then, using the “My Dinner Meal Plan” printable, write down the meals and sides that you will be having for each day that you are cooking. You can also add the restaurant you are eating out at.
Step 4: Make a list of what you need
At this point, you should know what you are having each night that you are cooking. Now is the time to go through the recipes and figure out everything that you need. Make a list of all of this either on paper or on your phone so you can bring it to the grocery store with you.
→ Using the “To Use & To Buy” printable below, list all the ingredients you need to buy for the meals that you are cooking.
Step 5: Go to the grocery store
The final step is to actually buy the ingredients you need from the store. I will be posting a future article about tips and tricks at the grocery store. Of these, the most important for meal planning is to be prepared with the list you made in step 4. That way, it will keep you from forgetting essential ingredients and buying unnecessary items.