Meal Planning for the Beginner

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Ready to make a meal plan? Some of you are expert at this and know how much time and money it can save you. You avoid a last-minute trip to the store. You bypass the Golden Arches on the way home at rush hour. You have an answer when a child asks, “What’s for dinner?”

But others aren’t really sure where to begin. You know there’s a better way. But you aren’t really sure what to do. You reassure yourself that “spontaneity” is so much more fun.

Yeah, well, honey, a spontaneous half hour spent in the “quick” check line with hungry toddlers is really not that much fun, is it?

I feel your pain. I’ve been there, too. Some days, despite all my grand schemes, I still find myself there. But, I know from experience, there is a better way.

Time to Make a Meal Plan

So, here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to meal plan. Ready? You can totally do this. Promise.

  1. Print out a planning sheet. You can use this weekly meal planning grid that includes spots for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks on a weekly calendar. Or you can use this weekly meal planning sheet that also has a place for you to write out your grocery list.
  2. Consult your calendar and fill in any events that will affect your mealtimes. Do you have a baseball game on Monday? Write that down. Do you have a Church Potluck on Wednesday? Fill that in. For our family, I know that we are going to be out of town Friday through Monday, so I’ll block out the weekend and not need to plan meals for those nights. I also know I’m probably taking the kids on outings two of the remaining days, so I’ll plan easy meals for those nights.
  3. Check out what you have in your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer. Fill in meals that you know you can make with what you have. Put easy dinners or portable feasts on those busy nights when you’ve got Bunco or baseball. If you’re going to be gone most of the day, plan meals that can cook in the crockpot while you’re gone or that come together quickly. (Freezer meals are great for this.)
  4. Look to the grocery ads for inspiration. Build the remainder of your meal plan around what’s on sale. And since sales cater to seasonal items, chances are there will be plenty of things to grill this week, making for easy cooking.

That’s really all there is to it.

Here’s my plan for the week:

Sunday – Chicken Soft Tacos, Mexican Rice, Black Beans
MondayMeatballs and Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli
Tuesday – Chile Chicken Bake, Beans and Rice, Green Salad
WednesdayGrilled Fish, Home Fries, Green Salad, Garlic Swirl Biscuits
Thursday – Grilled Chicken Salad, Cornbread
Friday & Saturday – Out of Town – Take Some Freezer Meals to Share with the Grandparents

Feel like you’re committing your life to this meal plan? Don’t. The plan is there to serve you, to help you. You don’t have to follow the plan, but it’s there to guide you when you can’t think straight and need direction. Write it out in pencil and give your permission to erase or alter the plan as circumstances change. If there’s more than one chef in your home, consider planning more than 7 dinners so the other cooks in your kitchen have a little more flexibility in what they prepare on their cooking nights.

How ’bout it? Are you making a meal plan this week?

For more meal planning inspiration, visit I’m an Organizing Junkie.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. jacinda walker says

    I am trying a meal plan this week- it’s just my hubby and me, and he has to take his lunch- which can be hard to plan for because he travels during the day and has no fridge or microwave, so it has to be something that’s good room temp. He gets sick of soggy sandwiches 😉
    but other than that, I have freezer meals ready. I made the meatloaf on here, but not sure how to cook it??!! It also seems to take some time for my meals to defrost, so I may have to set them in the fridge more than 1 day ahead to be ready in time.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @jacinda walker, sorry about the lack of meatloaf baking directions. I’ll go edit that. In the meantime, I usually use 45 minutes as my starting time at 350 and then check with a meat thermometer. Should be 160 degrees internal temp.

  2. There is one step I would add to this – consult the weather report. You’re not likely to want to roast a chicken in the oven when it’s 90+ degrees outside and your A/C is already on overload. At the same time I don’t want to plan a grilled meal on a day when we’re expecting torrential thunderstorms!

    Meal planning definitely helps me stay in my budget and sane! I am so grateful to the many suggestions I’ve seen here (and at a few other favorite sites) for meal planning .

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Sharon @ UnfinishedMom, thanks for your kind words as well as a great reminder re: weather. We don’t have either of those extremes in San Diego, though we did have them in Kansas, so I know what you’re talking about. Excellent point!

  3. THIS I think I’ll actually give a try at.
    I operate an in-home preschool and you would think that I would’ve done meal planning years ago but for some reason I have just found it intimidating.
    Seeing this done as a “just this week” thing lol makes me not as nervous.
    Today is Sunday so perfect day to start.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Now, that’s the spirit! 😉

  4. I can’t wait to get home and start cooking:-)

  5. I’d love to have a recipe for what’s in that picture. It looks delicious! 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe’s, shredded chicken, salsa, spinach, tomato, and avocado.

  6. Lynn says

    Meal planning is a must for me. I’ve been doing it for so long I feel lost without a plan. Even now in our empty nest years, I still need to have my plan. It just makes the week go more smoothly when you have at least your dinner meal planned out.

  7. tracy says

    Ok I feel like I am on a steps to organised living. I have taken the first step and saved the weekl template to my desktop.phew deep breath. now I need to Think Look and Plan, but first I have to eat breakfast shower and head of to work.
    Now half 1lb ground beef out want to make 2 meals as there are only two of us here any ideas greatfully accepted
    Have a great day God Bless

    • @tracy, A lb of ground beef can be cooked with some chopped onion. Then use it in tacos, enchiladas, sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce or chili. Lots of possibilities – depending on your preferences.

  8. My meal plan is up with 2 new recipes I am trying this week!

  9. I always meal plan… I’m kind of nutty about it. I plan all 21 meals each week and very rarely stray from it! That being said, I always tell all my friends who are just starting out… just pick a few meals to start. Figure out, say, five meals you want to make and be sure you have what you need to make it happen. Most people will find that there’s so much less stress with that that they want to plan more rather than less! Also, when you’re starting out, just remember that it gets so much easier. Once you have a few menu plans under your belt, it becomes a lot of rotation and repetition, quite frankly. 🙂

  10. Christa says

    Can I just copy yours? haha!

    • Diane says

      It’s just me and my 20 y/o daughter to feed. She recently became a Vegetarian. That threw a wrench in my meal plans as far as variety? I used to cook with a lot of beef and pork to cook Italian meals but now I feel like chicken is my only option.
      I want to honor my daughter’s choice and eat better myself so I would love suggestions on any variety I can do?

      • I think I would plan hearty side dishes that work for both of you, like roasted vegetables, quinoa, etc. I’d also do some freezer cooking for your protein portions. You can add for yourself without feeling like it will go to waste.

  11. AllieZirkle says

    What do you make to go ON the meatballs and mashed potatoes? Some sort of sauce or gravy? I have meatballs but only use red sauce as I’m “new” in the kitchen 🙂


  12. Jessie, you are one organised girl. Do you do this weekly?

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Plan meals? Or post about it? Yes on both counts. 😉

  13. Planning prevents a lot of stress. It saves the one-off trips to the grocery store and the 4 o’clock panic! Your week looks great!

  14. Caroline says

    My problem is not eating out too much or last minute grocery runs (we’re 20+ min from a store). It’s things like Sharon mentioned above with not knowing what the weather’s going to do. We definitely try to grill more in the summer but I don’t want to plan on Sunday to grill Thursday and then have it rain. I’m weirdly neurotic like that…I’d rather not plan ahead at all than plan ahead and have it get messed up. But it’s getting really old when I ask my husband what he wants for dinner the next night and he replies that he doesn’t care. So it’s always up to me to come up with the menu! I’m happy to do all the cooking (minus the grilling) but I’d love his input on what to have! I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like to meal plan but despite the helpful hints I’ve read here and other places, I still have a hard time planning out a week’s worth of meals.

    • Jessica Colvin says

      @Caroline, I suffer with this as well. The man in my life will eat lots of things, but NEVER knows what he wants to eat at the time. Period. More than half the time, he ends up eating a bowl of cereal, and I am left fending for myself (cereal fall backs arent an option for me with my diabetes). I am a decent cook, but there are only about 3 meals that he will actually say he wants again. SO FRUSTRATING So, I have been contemplating the freezer cooking method, and meal planning myself, just havent gotten to it yet. I think that it might work to at least ease my own stress in that I know there will already be some “pre-made” meals that we can have our choice of during the week. We just don’t have to necessarily have spaghetti on Monday. If it doesn’t sound good, we could always eat it on Thursday instead.

      Maybe it will help to at least have some of the meals on hand. If you find something else that works in this situation, please share!

  15. Shannon says

    I have successfully meal planned in the, passed and I know it saves money, wasted food, and lowers stress, but for some reason I just have not been able to make myself write down the weeks plan for the last year. I’ve been triing to make my “plan” more broad, it is still meal planning even if I don’t write it down. I have taken the make due approach. I work on stocking my pantry with family favorites, and making it work. If I keep some meal basic’s at all times, then I have my all time 5 easiest meals ready to go when I need them, from there I plan as I shop, not normally recommended, but this way I can plan based on non advertised prices, buying based on what is the lowest cost at the store, I have a mental $ amount per lb that I stick to for meat and for produce. This also makes it less stressfull if I can’t make my normal shopping day, I have a stock pile we can eat from until I can make it back to the store.

  16. I especially like the suggestion about consulting your calendar. My downfall is that I plan, get groceries and then they go bad because I don’t eat dinner at home for example. Thanks for the tips.

  17. Minnie says

    You have just one meal listed per day. Would that be lunch AND dinner?

  18. Anna says

    The weekly planning grid isn’t working…:-( is there a way to get that working soon? I am teaching a class on meal planning and this printout would be perfect!

    • The links should work now. If you use either printable, please direct your students to my sites, or as a resource. Thanks.

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