Guide to Meal Planning for Beginners

Guide to Meal Planning for Beginners

“What’s for dinner, Mom?”

Anyone else get tired of hearing that question night after night? And, worse yet, not having the slightest idea how to answer it?

Yep, been there.

Life gets busy, people get hungry and suddenly it is dinner time (again?!) and you have no plan for that night’s meal. What is your go to response? Pizza? Take Out? Fast Food? Quick trip to the grocery store to get a few items to throw something together?

There is a way to stop the chaos, have a plan and get the dinner hour under control. And the solution is simple–meal planning.

I actually started meal planning when I was a senior in college and tired of making the same meals every night/week. This also happened to be the summer that Mr. Dentist and I got engaged, so I was getting some good early practice into this whole being a wife thing.

As we graduated college and started Dental School, started adding babies to our family and eventually started paying off debt, meal planning became a sanity saver and a budget saver!

Americans actually spend so much money on food. Some estimates say that we spend over $7000 on food a year!

Food is often the biggest budget category in a household budget, after rent/mortgage. But sometimes it is even MORE than rent/mortgage payment.

When we were paying off Mr Dentist’s dental school loans, so much of our paycheck was going to loans that we didn’t have much leftover to actually live on. Our food budget was less than $400 a month, with 2 (and eventually) 3 little kids at home.

How did we manage it? Meal Planning, and planning for inexpensive meals.

if you are just beginning with meal planning, you are in the right place. I want to show you how to easily start a meal plan, even if you have no idea where to get started. Are you ready?

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1. Get A Calendar

This might seem basic, but you can’t make a plan and not write it down. You will forget! I love using a dry erase calendar with magnets on the back. I love that I can use a dry erase calendar over and over. Again–budget saver! 

I also keep my menu plan on my fridge where I can easily see it and know what is coming up so I can properly prepare for it. So get yourself a calendar you can easily use for your meal plan. A piece of paper or your planner will work for this too.

2. Look at your schedule

In order to know the best meals to plan for the week, you need to know what your week is going to look like. What do you have going on each evening? Are you running kids around to activities? Do you have a date night planned? A meeting at church one night? Make a note, on your calendar, for what is going on that day/evening. You don’t want to plan to make a dinner that takes an hour if you will have to grab and go.

3. Check Your Fridge, Pantry and Freezer

Part of meal planning is to use what you have on hand already. This is also a budget saving tip, because you will be wasting less food and therefore wasting less money. And, if you are using what you have, you won’t be buying extra stuff at the store. Win win! So take a look at what you have in your fridge. Are there some items that need to be used up soon? Make note of those items.

Also look into your Pantry and Freezer. What do you already have on hand that you can use for dinners this week? Make a list of those items so you know what you have to work with.

4. Check Your Recipes

Alright, now you can start making a plan. Gather your recipe books, Pinterest recipes and your list of ingredients/items on hand. Start looking through your recipes and seeing what looks good, what you have time for this week, and which recipes use what you have on hand. Start adding those recipes to your calendar. Make a new list for items you will need to get at the grocery store to supplement what you already have at home.

Struggling with how to use a particular ingredient? Head over to In the search function, search by ingredient. You will have then have lots of ideas for how to use that particular ingredient. 

Continue adding recipes until your week is filled up and your meal plan is ready! Time to go shopping.

5. Be Flexible

Here is the thing about a plan–life happens and sometimes the plan doesn’t quite work. This happens all the time in my world. But, the beautiful thing about a meal plan is that you have several meals planned out, and the ingredients for those meals on hand. Which means, if you need to swap out which meal goes to which day, it is no big deal! Make the change and move forward.

6. Use Your Leftovers

This is one of my biggest tips for saving money on food. Use those leftovers. Leftovers make excellent lunches for work the next day–another money saving trick for you!

We always plan at least one night a week to eat leftovers for dinner. It ends up being a bit hodge podge with who gets what. BUT it has a couple of bonuses to it. 1) It means that I don’t have to cook that night. And 2) It uses up the food–therefore not wasting food or money.

Creating a Meal Plan can seem scary, but I promise with time and practice it gets easier. Start by trying to meal plan 4-5 meals for the week. Go through the steps. Do this for a few weeks until it gets easier. Then try meal planning for two weeks, if you think you can.

Meal Planning has truly helped our family to save so much money on groceries, which helped is to get out of debt faster too.

You got this! If you need help, let know. Leave a comment and I will be happy to answer!

Guide to meal Planning for Beginners

how to meal plan for beginners