Are you wondering how to meal plan? Whether you’re feeding yourself, a few people, or a whole family ― meal planning can help get the job done faster, easier, and cheaper.
Have you ever found yourself too tired and stressed at the end of the day to cook, but you know you’d rather eat at home than spend money dining out? If so, there’s one skill that can help take some of the pressure and stress out of feeding yourself and your family ― meal planning.
Meal planning is essentially the idea of planning, and sometimes even prepping, your meals ahead of time. Not only can it help save you from the stress of scrambling over what’s on the menu, but it’s also a great way to meet nutrition goals, save money on groceries, and more.
Ahead, we’ll share our top tips and resources for how to meal plan, including a step-by-step meal planning routine and tips and tricks for budget and family meal planning.
How to meal plan for beginners
One of the best things about meal planning is that even if you think you’ve never meal planned before, you probably already have. After all, “meal planning” just means planning out your meals ― whether that’s dinner for the evening or lunch for the work week ahead.
But there’s a difference between planning a meal here and there and actually incorporating meal planning into your routine. So, if you’re ready to meal plan regularly, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to meal plan.
Step 1 | Figure out a plan
Before you jump into creating your first meal plan, think about what you want to get out of meal planning. Is your goal to get more nutritious food on your plate, or do you just want to spend less on groceries? When you have a goal in mind, meal planning is much easier.
Step 2 | Note what you have
As you get a better idea of what you want to meal plan, consider using ingredients you already have at home as the inspiration for your recipes. Frozen ingredients, leftovers, and pantry staples are a great place to start if you want to keep grocery costs low.
Step 3 | Pick a few recipes
Once you know how many days you want to meal plan for and which meals you’re including in your plan, the next step is to choose your recipes. If your plan is only for a few days or meals, you can experiment with recipes ― but for bigger meal plans, aim to keep it simple.
Step 4 | Make a grocery list
Now that you have all of your recipes planned out ahead of time, you can save even more time by planning out your grocery list, too. And as you’re planning out your shopping list, don’t forget to mark off any ingredients you already have at home.
Step 5 | Shop, prep, and store
Meal planning can include both planning and prepping your meals, and meal prep is just another way to help you meet your goals. Once you’ve shopped for all the ingredients on your list, all you have to do is cook your food and store it for later.
And there you have it, the five basic steps of meal planning ― but what about planning on a budget or for a large family? We’ll share some of our budget-friendly and family-friendly meal plan tips below.
How to Meal Plan on a budget
Meal planning is a great way to save money because it helps reduce both grocery costs and food waste. If lowering your grocery bills is your ultimate goal, here are some tips to help you save more.
Pick a weekly budget that works for you:
While a $50-a-week budget might work for a single-person meal plan, it’s probably not enough to feed a family of three. Meal planning is much easier when you have a budget you can actually work with.
Plan recipes around sales and seasonal ingredients:
Another great way to create a budget-friendly meal plan is to incorporate on-sale and seasonal ingredients. Check out this list of seasonal produce from the USDA to help you brainstorm.
Give plant-based recipes a try:
If you eat meat, you probably already know how expensive certain types and cuts of meat are. Cooking with plant-based protein sources (like tofu and beans) a few times a week can help cut food costs.
Tips for meal planning for a family
When you’re a parent, a meal plan is even better when you can get the whole family on board with it. So, here are a few tips that can help make meal planning exciting for your family:
• Plan out a weekly or monthly calendar ahead of time and ask everyone to share their favorite recipe ideas to add to the plan.
• Pick recipe themes, like Taco Tuesday or Leftover Friday, to keep your meal planning consistent and give everyone something to look forward to.
• Choose recipes that are easily customizable — such as a baked potato bar or quesadillas — so everyone can enjoy the meals they want without having to plan different recipes.
• Get the entire family involved in the meal planning process by asking for help with tasks like planning recipes, grocery shopping, and cooking.
Customize your meal planning
Whether you’re meal planning to save money, lose weight, or just eat at home more often, we have plenty of resources that can help you customize your meal plans. Here’s a list of some of our top picks to get you started:
If one of your goals is to spend less time and energy deciding what to cook and eat every day, meal planning can help you meet that goal. Even if you’ve never meal planned before, all it takes is a little time and effort and you can have your meals planned out and ready to go for the day, week, or even month.
Click here to read more about how to meal plan