Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Meal Planning for Beginners (Why, What, and How)

When Brian and I got married, I was a 21-year-old who had never actually grocery shopped. I'd never made a meal plan, I burned quesadillas on a regular basis, and I literally didn't know how to follow a recipe. Welcome to marriage Brian! Have fun eating charred pizza and noodles for the rest of your life.

Feeding yourself, let alone your husband or kids, can be daunting. You're factoring in nutrition, grocery shopping, eating on a certain budget, and getting dinner on the table before 7pm. I am not exaggerating when I say that making dinner used to bring me to tears several times a month.

What has saved me (and my family) has been very intentional meal planning for our dinner meals. So for the new wife, the health-conscious college student, or the overwhelmed mom - here are a few tips for meal planning! 

Why meal plan?

- Less stress about cooking, shopping, and food in general
(I know exactly what I'm going to make each day of the week - which means I know my exact grocery shopping list,  I don't forget to thaw out meat or start the slow cooker in the morning, and I am ready to cook when dinner time rolls around.)

- Spend less money & waste less food
(We plan our meals around our weekly schedule - so if we have a date planned, a dinner with friends, etc., I am not buying extra food for a meal we won't need. I also plan for leftovers, which saves money. And I plan two or more meals that use some of the same ingredients , so I don't spend much $ on random ingredients that can only be used for one meal.)

- Eat healthier
(When I can see 7 days worth of meals, I can see the amount of veggies, fruits, grains, meat, etc. that we are eating as a family. I'm not guessing about what we are putting into our bodies.)

- Greater variety of foods
(Because I record what we eat, I know my "staple" go-to recipes. If we get bored with my usual recipes, I know what to try in order to mix things up!)

What to do:

 - At the beginning of the week, make a weekly "menu", with your meal for each night of the week
 (List the dish(es) you will be making, including any side dishes. The hour you may spend doing this will save you SO MUCH TIME throughout the week.)

- Consult your family's calendar as you meal plan, for less stress
(On busy nights I make a simpler meal or we eat leftovers; on a less busy night, I make a more complex meal or a "bigger" meal that can be frozen/refrigerated for later. I also try to plan one meal a week that can be stretched for guests if we invite someone over for dinner. If we don't use that meal for guests, hello leftovers!)

- Keep fresh ingredients in mind when planning
(Fresh herbs or produce need to be eaten earlier in the week, so plan meals that include fresh items near the beginning of the week. I save meals that use lots of canned ingredients or meat/bread that can be froze, then thawed, for later in the week.)

- Record your "menu" in an easy-to-remember spot
(Add your meals to your calendar/planner, or see my "how" list for great resources!)

- Grocery shop based on your planned meals
(Whether you are creating your own recipe or following a recipe, you'll know the exact ingredients you'll need.)

- If you want to be more spontaneous, save that for breakfast or lunch
(You are more likely to have pancake ingredients, eggs, lunch meat, cheese, bread, etc. already on hand - so if you need some spontaneity in the kitchen, use breakfast and/or lunch to be spontaneous!)

A few tips & resources:


- Sort your grocery list by aisle
(Try listing your items by grocery store aisle. This is such a blessing when you are shopping in a hurry or when you have an antsy toddler with you :) Remember to also list items for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.)

- Only 2 new recipes a week
(Making a meal I've never cooked before stresses me out, so I plan for a maximum of two new recipes a week. I then rely on our "staple" meals for the remainder of the week. If you enjoy making new meals, forget this tip!)

- Keep breakfast & lunch simple
(The bulk of our food budget, as well as my mental and physical energy, goes towards dinner. I keep breakfast and lunch pretty simple, which gives me the gumption I need to make a great dinner.)

- Try adding in at least one slow cooker meal per week
(Slow cooker meals typically don't take long to prepare, they are often great for leftovers, and they leave little prep to do come dinner time.)


- Printable meal planner from The Nest Effect
(I use this every week! Glancing at this cute planner throughout the day alleviates so much stress.)

- Gorgeous meal planning & grocery list supplies from Suzie Studios!

- - a website & app that records your recipes & creates grocery lists
(This has revolutionzed my planning/grocery shopping, and cooking. Import your own recipes AND recipes from any website. Plan a weekly menu, create a grocery list by aisle and/or by recipe, and cook directly from this app & website. And it's FREE!)

A few of my favorite blogs/websites for recipes:

Mel's Kitchen Cafe - some of my favorite recipes come from Mel's site!
Dashing Dish (great for healthy eating!)
Oh, and my own recipe page :)

Well folks, that is all the meal planning "wisdom" I have at this point :) I truly hope that some of these tips and ideas will make your life a little easier.

 I can confidently say that now I actually look forward to cooking dinner most days, and that I no longer burn my quesadillas. (Mostly.) If you have any questions, please let me know! 

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Just so you know, I was not paid to endorse Pepperplate or any other resource I have listed. All these thoughts are my own, and all these resources truly bless me and my family. I hope they bless you too!


  1. dashing dish is great!

    I have a little calendar that is dry erase to write dinner/lunch on daily.

    I like the idea of keeping what you are eating down so that you can start having Go to means and keeping track of what you ate , when.

    Great tips!

    Teressa @

  2. I love these tips! I always meal plan at least a week in advance. It makes life so much easier and when it is time to make dinner I already know what I will make, no longer just starring into the fridge wondering!

  3. Great tips, girl! Thanks for sharing! I am definitely downloading that app!

  4. I don't know how we lived before meal planning!! I plan and shop for each pay period. In Texas that meant I meal-planned and shopped for the entire month at once! It was nuts, but so worth it (we had a deep freeze to store groceries for later in the month). Now that we're in Vegas, we're back to 2 weeks at a time. It's such a money and time saver. These are really great tips for anyone getting started!

  5. thanks for this! I enjoy cooking by the planning and shopping is never fun so these fun sites will hopefully help :)

  6. Thank you for sharing this! I try to meal plan too. I notice when I do it, life is less stressful, so why I skip it some weeks is beyond me, ha! :)

    I added the app, Pepper Plate onto my phone! Can't wait to try it out.

    Can you tell me how you add a recipe tab to a blog? I am posting the recipes our family enjoys so that I can use it as our recipe box, and I would love an easier way to pull up the recipes for future use.

    Thank you!

  7. On using Pepperplate, if you have a mobile iOS device — the “add to Pepperplate” bookmarklet works just fine in the Safari browser.

    First add a bookmark, then go back and edit it and drop-in the javascript. Then whenever you see a recipe that you want to save to Pepperplate, just click on the bookmark in your Safari browser.


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