Meal Planning: A Beginner's Guide

What's for dinner? Probably one of the most dreaded daily questions. No matter if you are single, a parent, or anywhere in between, the dinner question is one that has to be answered. And so often that question is answered with take-out, frozen pizza or fast food. Hard on the wallet, not to mention your health! But you are busy and have so much to do that there doesn't seem much else to the cycle continues.

Stressful, right? 

But it doesn't have to be! A little bit of time once a week to plan out your meals can save you so much time, stress and money later on. Suddenly that question is easy, and so is grocery shopping!

But before you sit down and start going through cookbooks or food sites and getting overwhelmed, there are a few things you can do to make the process so much easier:

  • Review your schedule for the week - Do you have days where you are gone most of the day or really busy? Maybe a slow cooker dish would be best. Have some extra time? Maybe that favorite dish that takes a bit more work. You can make your menu work for your schedule!

  • Decide shopping frequency - Do you want to go once a week? Every two weeks? Once a month? This can affect how you plan your menus a lot! I prefer to go once a week so that influences how I plan everything and what factors I consider.

  • Check your pantry - Do you have items that need to be used up? Plan a dish that uses those items! This reduces waste from your kitchen and saves you money in the process! 
  • Speaking of your pantry - While you are checking items that need using, check your space. Your pantry, your refrigerator, your freezer. There is very little that can be more frustrating after a shopping trip than to get home and realize you don't have space to put the items you just bought.
  • Check local grocery sales - Especially if you are on a budget, this can be a great way to make your menu save you even more money! You can plan your menu according to items that are on a great sale. This works especially well for meat sales.
  • Jot down some of your favorite dishes - Even before you start planning the menu, brainstorming some of your favorite meals can make deciding on recipes easier. And don't forget about side dishes, if you like them! 

Don't worry if this process takes a long time the first few times. It's something new and takes practice! 

Now it's time to sit down and actually make your menu! It's important to keep in mind to keep things simple! You don't need anything special, just some paper, a pencil and your favorite cookbooks or cooking websites. Another part of keeping things simple....don't pick elaborate or unfamiliar recipes to start off with! Unless you are really comfortable with cooking, that is just going to add stress. Until you are more familiar with the process of making a menu and using it throughout the week, stick with recipes that are simple or ones you are really familiar with. Adding too many new things all at once can be really overwhelming. Once you have the menu making process down, then you can start experimenting with new recipes and ingredients! 

After a month or two, you may start to notice you have some "go-to" recipes. That's great! Having some recipes that you can go to easily makes planning so much easier. You know how long they are going to take and how many servings the recipe actually makes. If you want, you can even build up 1-2 months of menus that you cycle through, eliminating the need to even plan your menu! This works best if you have a stable schedule, but can be adapted to use even if your schedule fluctuates.  Then all you have to do is pull the menu for that given week and write your grocery list accordingly.

Another thing to keep in mind: You want to decide ahead of time if you are going to plan out just your dinners or if you want all meals planned out. Do you want leftovers so you can take your lunches with you? What about snacks? These are all good things to consider ahead of time. Then you can not only reduce impulse purchases at the grocery store but your stress later on in the week.

All of these things add into writing the grocery list. I find it easiest to section off the grocery list into roughly the sections of a grocery store; produce, meat, dairy, etc. I usually start with the basics - the things we buy every week. Then I check recipes and write down any ingredients we need to buy. If you aren't sure if you have something, check! I can't tell you how many times I made last-minute runs to the store because I relied on my memory instead of checking! Once you have all the recipes done, fill in for any snacks, drinks, and other similar items. 

You now have your menu and grocery list! These will not only make it easier and quicker to shop but reduce a number of impulse purchases and food wastage. Not only that, they can reduce or eliminate so much of your stress! Once you get some practice in, this process will seem like it takes you no time at all and you will wonder how you ever did things any other way! 

Have you tried menu planning before? Would you plan all of your meals or just one or two? I would love to hear about your experiences, so please leave a comment below!

About The Author:

Sara Letsch is a blogger who strives to inspire others to live happier and healthier lives! She does this based on her own journey from being
unhealthy both emotionally and physically to healthier, stronger and happier, both in herself and her life.

In 2015 she launched her website, Nymph In The Woods to do just that. The site is focused on healthy meal prep, fitness, and exploring
activities that fulfill you in all ways.

She also is a jewelry artist who combines fused glass and wire wrapping, and has recently launched her shop on Etsy selling her creations.

You can find her website and Etsy shop via the links below:

Nymph In The Woods

Sara's Etsy Shop