A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning

Published on May 13, 2024
A Beginner's Guide to Meal Planning

Cooking at home can feel like scaling a tall mountain: challenging, filled with stress, and often feeling out of reach. It demands plenty of elbow grease and determination. Yet, for those who’ve mastered it, cooking becomes the golden ticket to pocketing extra cash, consuming nutritious meals, and boosting overall wellness.

Here are a few pointers on how to plan meals like a pro.

1. Check your calendar.

Consider what you have planned for the coming week. This one will give you an idea of how much prep and cooking time you have on which days. Make a list of any events that may impact your meals. Late hours at the office, your child’s Krav Maga class, long night shifts, or a planned dinner outing with friends are all examples of this.

2. Look for recipes that suit your needs.

Choose recipes that will work for you based on your upcoming events. Focus on recipes that take less than 30 minutes to prepare, can be prepared ahead of time, or can last several meals if you have a busy week ahead of you (e.g., crockpot recipes). To shorten your grocery list and possibly reduce prep time, choose recipes that use the same ingredients. You can eat dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.

I like to make a large batch of green smoothies or overnight oats for my workdays and save the more time-consuming recipes for my weekends.

3. Shop for groceries like a pro.

You should do a meal plan and grocery shopping lists on specific days of the week. Make a shopping list before you go to the store. Organize your things into categories such as fruits, vegetables, frozen foods, canned goods, and so on to make your shopping trip more effective.

Creating meal plan lists on Saturdays and grocery shopping on Sundays have proven to be the most efficient. I can’t live without having my grocery list generated for me automatically.

4. Make a buddy.

You’re not the only one who feels this way! Find a buddy or enlist the support of your partner to help you find healthy recipes, shop for groceries, and make meals.

5. Remember why you’re doing it.

Consider why meal planning ideas is so essential to you. Weight loss, better skin, decreased gastrointestinal problems, or cost savings may be among your motivations. You may simply desire to feel better, be less irritated, and be more patient with those around you. Look into it more. You may be considering sickness prevention not only for yourself but also for those you care about. You could be thinking about starting a family or figuring out how to best model healthy eating habits for your kids.

Don’t lose sight of your motives, whatever they are. They are necessary for your success.

6. Take it easy on yourself.

You don’t have to make drastic changes all at once. Make simple changes to improve your eating choices. Take things at your speed and be kind to yourself. No one is flawless, and everyone’s experience is unique.

What to Know About Meal Planning, How to Succeed, and What to Avoid

Creating a weekly meal plan might appear elusive or overwhelming to the uninitiated, but that’s generally because we approach it from the end. All the recipes have been chosen, all the supplies have been purchased, and a week’s worth of dinners has been successfully prepared. When you put all of this information in front of a rookie, their eyes widen, and they ask, “How do I do it?”

We’ve found the most straightforward, most effective meal planning technique and broken it down into three simple steps: choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, and preparing your meals. These steps may appear to be self-evident, and they are for the most part, but each one contains an effective strategy. It’s the approach that makes meal planning worthwhile – or perhaps just the money you’ll save! We’ll go through what to skip, what’s necessary for success, and a few bonus pro ideas you can use as you discover your own pace along the road.

Let’s Define Meal Planning

Before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what a meal plan is and isn’t.

What it is: Meal planning entails asking what’s for dinner only once a week, rather than every night, and then buying for and preparing the ingredients before cooking. We believe that you can break down weekly meal plan into three simple phases.

  1. Choose your dinners and, if necessary, their recipes.
  2. Purchase the necessary components.
  3. Get those components ready.

Start on a Friday: We recommend starting this practice on Friday, shopping on Saturday morning (or night if fewer people are in the stores), and meal prep on Sunday for an hour or two.

What it isn’t: The grail of the gods! There’s many hype about how weekly meal plan ideas can alter your life, and it’s easy to exaggerate the benefits. And, while it solves many problems, you have to personalize it to your own needs (which means you have to know what they are) and give yourself plenty of room to explore and find a system that works for you. You must also make room for pizza night – we are huge fans of pizza night!

Meal Planning Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

  • A large tabbed binder contains a month’s worth of recipes: Make a note of it in your calendar, on a piece of paper that you tape to the front of the refrigerator, in a Google Doc, or on a whiteboard in the kitchen. Simply post it somewhere you’ll notice it.
  • Homemade: We’re huge supporters of preparing takeout, pizza night, and leftovers ahead of time.
  • Only for four-person families: Everyone can benefit from creating healthy meal plans. However, depending on the number of people you’re expecting, you’ll need to use different tactics. These guidelines for food preparation for one are helpful if you’re flying solo.
  • Costly: If done correctly, this method will save you money. Promise!
  • Quite a bit of work: This is not the case. You have to put in a little more effort at first, but everything goes smoothly after you get started on your strategy.
  • Inflexible: There’s so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It’s not set in stone.

1. Start by determining what you require.

We’re not asking you to do any deep soul searching here, just a quick self-evaluation. The best method to figure out what you need is to analyze why you’re interested in meal planning in the first place. We’ll be able to pinpoint how to get there from there. So, here are a few ideas for you to consider.

  • Are you looking for something different?
  • To save money?
  • Do you want to eat better?
  • How can you avoid wasting food?
  • Do you want to keep your sanity?
  • Or to have a ready response to your partner’s or kids’ everyday inquiries about what’s for dinner?

Meal planning is one of those circumstances where you can have it all but take it slowly at first. Burnout is real, so if you’re a newbie, focus on just two or three of the essential factors and keep them in mind as you move on to the next step, which is selecting recipes – our favorite part!

2. Next, choose your recipes with extreme caution.

The concept of meal planning and why you’re doing it are put into action when choosing your recipes. We believe it is the most critical phase because it initiates the entire process. However, you shouldn’t just pick a few recipes and hope for the best. Start thinking about your meal plan at least three days before you want to implement it, so you have time to complete the entire process of creating a shopping list, shopping, and then prepping. Here’s how we suggest you choose your recipes.

Determine how many meals to prepare and what they will entail.

Examine your upcoming week’s calendar and determine how many nights you want to prepare dinner at home. The most common commonality is five nights; however, three nights is the sweet spot for other folks. Then you’ll need to focus even more. What do those foods need to accomplish on nights when you’re cooking? A 10-hour slow cooker dish, for example, is a terrific choice for nights when your child has swim practice. If it’s just you and your spouse, and she’s working late, you might need something you can bring for lunch the next day.

Where Can I Find Recipes?

So, we hope you’ll find what you’re looking for here. Online, of course! See what inspires you on the internet. Pinterest, a Google search, other cooking sites, and, of course, cookbooks are all excellent places to look for ideas.

4 More Points to Consider When Choosing a Recipe

You can find the specifics on choosing recipes here, but here’s the gist of it.

  • Choose meals that will provide you with leftovers because they are a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Cook one new recipe in addition to the ones you already know: This is a brilliant move! Make a master list of all the recipes you know by heart, the ones you make week after week, and know your family enjoys. Then, if you like, add one or two new dishes each week.
  • Choose recipes based on common ingredients: This is another smart strategy, and it begins with a check of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Shopping in your kitchen might assist you in deciding on meals and preventing food waste. This is where the cost-cutting part of meal planning comes into play.
  • Prepare foods that you genuinely want to eat: It may take a little longer to find recipes that are appropriate for you, but it will be worth it if you can’t wait to try them. So, we’ll just state the obvious: cook only what you want to eat!

1. Make a more innovative grocery list by following a two-step process.

You’ve got your recipes now. You did a fantastic job! So, what are you going to need to make them? Making an ingredient list and then a grocery list is a two-step process that we advocate. Don’t get too carried away! This one isn’t as difficult or time-consuming as it appears. You won’t need to buy another bag of shredded cheese if you compose your final grocery list this way! Once you’ve gone through the procedure, you can pretty well call yourself an expert.

Make a master ingredient list: This isn’t a grocery list, but it will lead to one that is and help you keep track of what you have in your kitchen. Begin by compiling a master list of items you’ll need for the week by browsing through the ingredient lists for each recipe. Then walk around your kitchen with a careful eye and cross down anything you already have. You now have a pretty accurate list that you may use as a grocery list.

Pro tip: If you chose recipes based on what you already had in your pantry and freezer, you should be able to check many them off your to-do list. But not too quickly! Keep the pantry products on your shopping list so you can refresh your pantry. You never know when you’ll need that can of black beans or that package of frozen broccoli. Keep the pantry products on your shopping list so you can refresh your pantry.

Make a grocery list: Of course, you could just go to the grocery store with your pared-down ingredient list and pick up everything you need, but there’s a better way! For starters, rewriting the recipe double-checks the ingredients, allowing you to organize it for easy shopping.

Begin by sorting ingredients into departments at the supermarket. Take it a step further and arrange those categories in the order you prefer to shop. A word of advice: Save the frozen section for last, and go straight to the meat department if you need meat diced or a package of chicken breast separated — all of which a local grocery store butcher can and will handle. Before you go to the store, don’t forget to bring your reusable bag!

2. On Sunday, set aside an hour to prepare.

You’ve chosen your recipe, made a grocery list, and gone grocery shopping for the healthy meals, and now it’s time to put the plan into action. However, one more tip will help you overcome culinary tiredness during the week. You must prepare yourself! On Sunday, we recommend devoting an hour to batch cooking and chopping.

What you should do depends on the week’s meals, but slicing garlic, chopping veggies, cleaning lettuce and herbs, and even cooking some chicken thighs ahead of time is usually beneficial.

3. You’ve done it! Do it once more!

Meal planning isn’t complex, but it’s also not easy – especially if you’ve never done it before. So, if you came here hoping to make your life in the kitchen a little more accessible due to it, you’re almost halfway there. Every time you go through the meal planning process, you’ll learn what not to do, where to improve next week, what you may skip, and how to tailor the entire process to your own needs. It only gets better if you keep doing it.

4. Take note of our blunders!

We’re all at different stages of meal planning at Kitchn, which means we’ve got a whole bag of tricks to share, including the ones we’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ve gathered them all in one spot for you to review and learn from before you start meal planning!

Final Thoughts

Meal planning refers to preparing entire meals or dishes ahead of time.

It’s especially popular with busy people because it can help them save time.

Having pre-prepared meals on hand can also help you stick to your nutrition objectives by reducing portion sizes. You’ll avoid unhealthy options like TV dinners or take away this way, especially if you’re stressed or tired.

Meal planning can also lead to more healthful meal choices in the long run because it requires you to decide what to eat ahead of time.

Despite popular belief, there are various ways to meal prep that do not all entail spending an entire Sunday afternoon for meal prep for the coming week. You have the option of selecting the strategies that are most effective for you.

People who wish to spend less time in the kitchen can consider meal preparation.

It can also encourage nutrient-dense, healthful meals while discouraging unhealthy fast food selections.

Meal prepping can include large batches to be frozen, whole meals to be refrigerated, or prepared items to be blended as needed, depending on your goals, schedule, and meal preferences.

Choose a system that works for you and dedicate one day a week to meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.


  1. https://totaste.com/meal-planning-for-beginners/
  2. https://kitchenambition.com/meal-planning/
  3. https://midlandsclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/A-Beginners-Guide-to-Meal-Planning.pdf
  4. https://workweeklunch.com/meal-planning-for-beginners/
  5. https://www.thekitchn.com/the-beginners-guide-to-meal-planning-what-to-know-how-to-succeed-and-what-to-skip-242413
  6. https://blog.thatcleanlife.com/beginners-guide-to-meal-planning/
  7. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/290651/a-beginners-guide-to-meal-prep/
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