Easy Guide to Meal Planning

Eliminate the nightly stress dinnertime creates. This easy guide walks you through the steps to get started meal planning. Meal planning is a great tool for reducing stress, saving money and eating healthier! Includes free meal planning printables. Repin now for later!

Why Meal Plan?

We are a meal planning family. I love meal planning.

  1. It saves lots of money at the grocery store. Gone are the days of me just grabbing way too much junk that we don’t need.
  2. It make creating weeknight dinners a breeze! Admittedly, I don’t love cooking, but having a clear plan for the week or month makes me not dread it so much.
  3. It’s much easier to ensure my family is eating healthier balanced diets. I no longer lay in bed at night feeling bad for serving a hastily thrown together meal lacking in a lot of nutrients. (Oh the mom guilt…)
  4. My life feels more put together, because even if there’s mounds of laundry, vacuuming that needs done and toys all over the house – if I don’t have to stress about dinner, the day was a success in my book. 🙂

Have I sold you on the wonderful perks of meal planning? Sounds fabulous, right?

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Get Started Meal Planning

So you’re on board to give meal planning a try, but feel overwhelmed and not sure how to get started?

It’s easier than you think!

In three easy steps, you can be on your way to creating awesome weekly or monthly meal plans for your family!

1. Create a Database of Recipes your Family Enjoy

This is the first place to start when meal planning. Sit down and write a list of all the recipes your family enjoys eating. Each week I usually add one new recipe to the lineup to try. Sometimes these are great successes and get added to our list of recipes to keep and other times I toss it and try to forget I ever tried it. 🙂

Once your list is created, gather all the recipes together in a binder. I type up all of the recipes, even for those dishes that I know by heart and don’t need a recipe to make. I’m a visual person, so having a written list of ingredients for each dish is helpful when creating my shopping list. Skip this step if you feel it’s unnecessary for you.

I store all my recipes in our Master Family Organizer. This allows me to simply grab one binder and create an awesome meal plan. I don’t have to worry about running all over and searching online for a recipe-to-that-one-dish-I-made-3-years-ago-and-everyone-loved. I simply grab the Family Organizer and go!

Get your free 2020 Master Family Organizer! It is jam-packed full of over 40 pages to help your family get and stay organized for 2020!

2. Check Sales at Local Grocery Stores

After you compile all your recipes, your next step is to check sales at your local grocery stores.

The ads for our local stores get delivered to our home on Wednesday. I put these ads in our Master Family Organizer and set it aside to check on meal planning day.

I meal plan on a weekly basis. I haven’t figured out how to make produce last longer than a week in our house, so until I do, weekly shopping it is.

When you sit down to meal plan, first look at the sales (specifically meat sales) at your local grocery stores. If you’re able, plan your weekly meals around sales.

And buy meat on sale to use for multiple meals.

Easy money saving tip- Buy meat on sale to use for multiple meals.

For example, our grocery store recently had a BOGO free deal on various roasts.

I purchased several – (tossed a few in the freezer for another week) I used them to make two unique meals that week. A pot roast and philly cheesesteaks. Both were delicious. Both offered plenty of leftovers. And they were unique enough that we didn’t feel like we were eating the same thing 4 days straight. 🙂

While we’re talking about saving money, make sure you utilize Ibotta to earn cashback on grocery purchases you make. Ibotta allows you to earn cashback in 3 easy steps:

  1. Unlock cash back deals on the app for items you plan to purchase at the grocery store.
  2. Shop at the grocery store as you normally would.
  3. Scan your receipt to earn cashback on unlocked purchased items.

So easy! Plus, you’ll earn a free $10 bonus just for signing up through my link! To sign up or learn more, click here.

In addition to checking meat sales, scan the grocery ads for any other particularly good sales on items you may need for recipes.

This portion can be a bit of a struggle, as it’s easy to fall into the ‘it was on sale’ trap. And before you know if, you have spent more on items you don’t need.

I fell into this trap so often when I first started meal planning. If you find yourself in this position, switch it up.

Create your meal plan first. Then go grocery shopping. Skip looking at weekly ads until you are in the meal planning groove and can look at the ads and only worry about sale items that are on your meal plan.

A great place to save money, without worrying about ads, is at Aldi. I love Aldi. They have tons of great stuff and my local Aldi always has awesome produce for really great prices! If you want to cut your grocery bill, without using coupons or worrying about sales, definitely check them out!

3. Create Your Meal Plan

After you create your database of recipes and check the sale ads for your local grocery stores, it’s time to sit down and create your meal plan.

With your database of recipes, you are set up for success to easily plan a week’s worth of meals very quickly! You simply need to plug in recipes for each day.

Some tips for creating the most effective meal plan:

  1. Allow for leftover days. I am not a huge leftover fan, but thankfully C is. So I make sure to allow for one or two leftover days throughout the week. This saves me a night of cooking (which is great on busy nights!) and it allows us to make the most of each meal prepared!
  2. To cut down on your grocery bill, try to plan meals with overlapping ingredients. Meals with the same meats and produce allow you to stretch your grocery budget and helps eliminate excess waste.
  3. Start small by just creating a meal plan for dinners. If desired, work up to meal planning all your family’s meals and snacks. I meal plan all meals and snacks for my family. Similar to my dinner recipes, I keep a database of snacks, breakfast recipes and lunch recipes. I then just plug them into the meal plan each day. (It helps that we all enjoy eating pretty much the same meals and snacks throughout the day. I really only have to worry about changing up our dinner each night).
  4. Make sure to take into account your weekly schedule. On busy nights, plan for quick meals or leftovers. Plan for meals that require more prep when you have more time.
  5. Prep and prepare as much as you can for the week. I use Sunday as my prep day. I cut up our produce, roast vegetables, prepare salads and usually prep one soup for C’s lunches. Mason jars are great for storing prepped food for the week!

Once you plug your meals into your weekly calendar, create a master list of all ingredients needed.

Add any additional foods needed for breakfasts, snacks and lunches for the week.

To make your meal planning even easier, download your free meal planning printables now! These meal planning printables are perfect for creating your weekly meal plan, categorized grocery list and keep a list of your family’s favorite recipes!

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That’s it!

Once you’ve created a meal plan and a grocery list, go grocery shopping (make sure you check Ibotta for rebates before you go!) and prep your food for the week!

With a little planning an prep, you can take the stress out of dinnertime!

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