Want your evenings to sane and stress- free while your dinners delicious and wholesome? Let’s talk Weekly Meal Planning – A Beginner’s Guide.
Meal planning, that illusive practice that some people embrace and others dread. It’s time to break it down and chat about how doable and helpful it really is!
So what is meal planning anyway? Basically it’s the ritual of planning meals for a whole week, shopping for the ingredients accordingly and then preparing them.
Now let me be the first to admit that meal planning might come easier to some more than others. I’m talking to YOU Type A list-loving folks (including myself). But if you are not THAT person, I promise promise promise you that meal planning is 100% achievable regardless of your personality type, cooking ability or daily schedule.
It’s all about making a little time to think, plan and prep before your week starts. This will make each weeknight dinner infinitely easier and way less overwhelming! The key is to choose easy recipes ahead of time, buy ingredients accordingly, and try to find ways to use up leftovers and reduce waste.
I got into meal planning a long time ago. It started when I was single and living on my own. If any of you have lived on your own, you know it’s really hard to grocery shop for 1 person. I quickly realized that if I didn’t have a plan for the produce and ingredients I purchased, I would end up not eating them and simply throwing them away. Despite life and dinners being more spontaneous back them, once I started meal planning, I found that I ate healthier, wasted less, saved money, and reduced my number of grocery store trips.
Fast forward and I’m now married with a hungry toddler and another kiddo on the way. And as a full-time job of stay-at-home mom and food blogger, meal planning makes life insanely less stressful, healthier, affordable and fun!
Whether you have given meal planning a shot and failed or have never tried it before, this is the moment! It will take a little getting used to at first but with 2 weeks under your belt you will feel like a pro! Take the plunge let’s do this!
Here is the plan:
- First let’s make the weekly meal plan
- Then consider early food preparation
- Next let’s look at some examples to help you get started
- Lastly some things to remember
– HOW TO CREATE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN –
1.Start by defining family dinner goals.
OK, you have read this far and are willing to give this a real shot. So why did you decide to try this? Is it because you want to cook more home-cooked dinners? Or because you find dinner time scratch-your-eyes-out awful when you get home from work? Is it because you want to your family to eat healthier? Or because you just need to make your life a little easier? Whatever the reason, write it down and let’s build a meal plan that can help you tackle that goal!
2. Stock pantry with essentials and take inventory
This is an important part of meal planning that will make dinner making easy! The goal here is to try to keep basic items in stock always, so if you are running low on something add it to your next grocery list. Here is a list of essential pantry items that I would recommend keeping in stock:
3. Build a menu based on protein source and on-sale in-season ingredients
Keeping these 3 factors (protein, on sale and in season) in mind when menu planning is a great way to cut costs and maintain a wholesome seasonal diet. These 3 things are my number 1 guides for our nightly dinners.
- Start by picking one grocery store that you like and sells most ingredients, check their weekly ad and jot down what’s on sale that you like and want to eat. Also note what is in season, like fruits and vegetables.
- Chose what proteins you want to eat this week. Maybe you would like to include 1-2 meatless meals this week. Or perhaps you want to incorporate more fish and seafood into your family’s diet. Or you just want a nice mix of proteins. This is usually my approach.
- From there, you can start looking for recipe inspiration.
Let’s assume you checked the grocery ad and jotted down – broccoli, avocados, chicken, bacon, and salmon. Go to Google, Pinterest or your fav food blog (hint hint 😉) or check a favorite cookbook for recipes with those ingredients. It’s as easy as that!
4. Check the weather
This is the second factor I consider when meal planning. Don’t worry, it takes about 2 minutes. Sounds strange but the weather can really affect our mood and cravings. If it’s going to be blazing hot out, a piping hot bowl of chili may not be your first craving. While a light Cobb salad might not satisfy your cozy cravings on a cold winter night either. So quickly take a peek at the weather forecast for the upcoming week and see if it might affect your dinner plans. Plan on fun finger food dinner with popcorn as dessert for a rainy night, or a fun burger grill-out on a lovely warm evening with your family.
5. Search and select simple, easy and nutritious recipes the family will like
There is no need to get super fancy or spend 2 hours cooking every night to eat well. Just aim for a balanced week filled with veggies, different lean meats/meatless dishes, healthy fats and carbs while still indulging in things everything loves!Keep in mind foods that your family likes and will appreciate as well.
At our house this might look like….
- M– Meatless Monday Quinoa vegetarian chili with easy homemade cornbread (the vegetarian meal is up my alley & hubs/toddler love the cornbread)
- T– Grass-feed beef cheese burgers with roasted potatoes (a hubs/toddler favorite)
- W– Green chicken curry (adult fav, toddler eats chicken & rice without curry sauce)
- TH– Hawaiian pork skewers over quinoa (a hub/toddler fav)
- F– Pick your own topping homemade pizzas (everyone gets what they want!)
USEFUL TIP – when possible try to build recipes that build on one another or use similar ingredients. For example, our Friday pizza night would be a great way to use up extra chicken from our Wednesday chicken curry or veggie left-over from our Thursday pork skewers. And making extra quinoa on Monday while making chili, means I can save it for our Thursday meal thus saving me time!
6. Write down each day of the week and each meal accordingly
Seems intuitive but trust me, writing it down is crucial! And not just on a post it note. Write it in the consistent place that is easy to access like your phone or a designated notebook. This way you can build a meal journal over time that is easy to look back on and use for future dinner ideas. Remember to assign a meal per night and account for any “eating out” nights or scheduled dinner plans.
7. Make a weekly grocery list of all ingredients needed for the recipes you chose
Write down all the ingredients you need for each recipe and meal. Don’t forget to check your pantry items to make sure you are stocked and don’t need anything. Also add any extra grocery items you need for work or breakfast or snack, etc.
🎉Yay your weekly dinner meal plan is completed!🎉 Now go out and tackle that grocery list!
– EARLY FOOD PREPARATION –
Once you have your dinner plan set and your ingredients purchased, time to squeeze in a little food preparation whenever possible. This might mean cooking a pot of rice Sunday morning along while you cook up brunch pancakes to avoid having to make rice on Wednesday night for your curry meal. Or cooking up chicken in the crock pot Saturday while you and the family are out for the day. Take 15 minutes of your Sunday afternoon to chop up the peppers, pineapples and onions you need for skewers during the week.
GOAL here is to find ways to prep on the weekend before the week starts to make life a little easier.
3 easy steps to early food preparation:
- On the weekend, review your meal plan for the week.
- Pin point which meal components you can do ahead of time. Examples: cooking grains; cleaning/peeling/chopping veggies; crock pot cooking; soaking beans; browning ground meats; making dressings; simmering sauces; etc.
- Pick 2-3 things you can do on the weekend and tackle them! Don’t try to do too much. Spending an hour the whole weekend on food prep is plenty!
– WEEKLY DINNER MEAL EXAMPLES –
Each of these examples accounts for local grocery store sales, what we had going on that week, and the weather. An added benefit to meal planning are notating leftovers which make great workday lunches
– THINGS TO REMEMBER –
- Use your freezer – Treat your freezer like your best friend! Make a double batch of sauce, soup, crock pot meals, shredded meats or cornbread — throw it in the freezer. Use those leftovers for dinners on busy weeks or quick lunches. Freezing food is a truly helpful way to make life easier, reduce waste and save money/time. If you are unsure if something freezes well, check the recipe notes or ask google.
- Start with simple recipes and re-use old favorites – Start easy with 15-30 minute meals. Nothing too complicated that is going to feel overwhelming. And when you are stuck in a rut and don’t know what to make, look back at your meal journal and remake old favorites.
- Don’t forget about leftovers – leftover meals or meal components often make awesome workday lunches or you can freez’em for a future meal too!
- Just because you are planning meals doesn’t mean life needs to be boring – Eat out, go to happy hours, see friends, plan movie nights, game nights, pizza nights, breakfast for dinner… get creative! Cook with your sweetie or with your kids. Cooking and eating should be fun and exciting not boring and stressful.
We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life
– Julia Child