Let’s talk about meal planning. Getting food on the table is stressful—especially when you have kids to take care of, a budget to maintain, and a house to keep clean already on your plate.
I used to be that mom at the grocery store standing in the middle of the aisle looking like a deer in headlights trying to put together meals in my head while my impatient kids were shouting at me from the cart.
And that’s exactly why I HATED grocery shopping. I avoided meal planning altogether because dinner always overwhelmed me. I found it much easier to just order pizza, grab McDonald’s or Chinese takeout instead.
But honestly? That was draining our budget.
So I knew that I needed to start meal planning if I wanted to save money on food (and save my sanity at dinner time), but I had no idea where to begin.
In fact, I did exactly what you’re doing right now—I turned to the internet to learn how to meal plan.
So if you’ve been struggling with meal planning for quite a while, you’re definitely in the right place.
I’m proud to say that my meal planning skills have come a long way.
Not only have I learned how to master weekly meal planning and actually get dinner on the table, but meal planning has single-handedly helped us slice an extra $200 off our monthly grocery bill! (Woohoo!)
Today, my hope is to show you that meal planning isn’t as daunting and overwhelming as it seems, plus what you can do to make meal planning super easy.
- Our Cheap $50/Week Meal Plan For A Family Of 5
- Easy Meal Planning Recipes That Save Time AND Money
- 15 Easy Crockpot Recipes You Can Make For Dinner In Under 8 Hours
5 Ways to Simplify Meal Planning for Beginners
1. Use custom meal plans.
If you don’t have the time or energy to sit down and plan out your meals week after week, then using the $5 Meal Plan will be your BFF.
Seriously! For only $5/month, you’ll get custom weekly meal plans with recipes and a shopping list sent straight to your inbox every Friday. All you have to do is buy the ingredients and cook the meals.
Have a dietary restriction or picky eaters in the family? No worries. Your meal plans can be completely customized to meet your unique needs.
What I love most about the $5 Meal Plan is that every meal is super easy and affordable to make! Erin does a really good job of making sure to keep these meals low cost at about $2 per person.
And because I was so overwhelmed with meal planning in the beginning, I signed up right away for the $5 Meal Plan. (You can read more about my thoughts on the $5 Meal Plan here.)
In fact, I still use the custom meal plans today because I’m always running out of dinner ideas (which is super annoying).
Should you decide to give the $5 Meal Plan a try, I want you to know that your first two weeks of meal plans are FREE! That’s 14 meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert that you didn’t even have to brainstorm, plan, and find recipes yourself.
2. Plan only for dinner.
Another simple way to start meal planning for beginners is to focus only on dinner. You can use themed dinner nights to make it a fun way to come up with meal ideas without stress and overwhelm.
Here are some ideas for themed dinner nights:
- Pasta Night
- Taco Night
- Leftovers Night
- Sandwich Night
- Chicken Night
- Slow Cooker Sunday
- Casserole Night
I will say that implementing themed dinner nights in your meal plan makes it easier to find recipes too since you already have an idea for dinner.
Then, you could hop over to Pinterest, for example, to search for anything from chicken and seafood to picky-eater approved recipes (that’s not spaghetti and pizza).
3. Plan to eat the same things.
If you’re going from eating out four times a week to once or twice, that transition will be HARD. And to be honest, it is SO much easier to put your breakfast and lunch on autopilot when you’re beginning to meal plan.
The idea here is to eat the same things until you get used to meal planning for a few weeks.
For instance, you can choose to just eat something like cereal and bagels or frozen waffles for breakfast. And for lunch, you can eat dinner leftovers or turkey sandwiches with chips and fresh fruit.
I also like to rotate the same meals for dinner too! I stick to cooking simple meals with 10 ingredients or less that are easy to learn or that I already know how to make.
So keep things simple. For breakfast and lunch, go ahead and give yourself two options (so that you won’t get sick of eating the same things), then for dinner, you have the freedom to explore new recipes!
4. Plan to limit your side dishes.
I cannot stress this enough. Because if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t really enjoy cooking that much, so this is the one thing that’ll help you get out of the kitchen faster.
Because here’s the truth: you don’t have to prepare a Thanksgiving feast every night just like grandma did—I wish I had that kind of time and energy, but I’m busy and I know that you are too. So it’s perfectly okay to limit your family to one or two side dishes for dinner!
That said, these are some of my favorite simple side dish ideas to make:
- Baked Beans
- Canned or Frozen Vegetables
- Steamed Rice
- Fresh Fruit
- Mashed Potatoes
- Dinner Rolls
- French Fries
Pair your simple side dishes with your simple dinner ideas and your simple meal plan is complete!
5. Pick a day to plan your meals.
Choosing a day to get all of your meal planning done helps to eliminate overwhelm. So pick a day that works best for your schedule.
For me, that day is Sunday. But for you, it could be Friday or Monday. There’s no right or wrong way to go about this, just as long as you give yourself about an hour a week to meal plan, make your menu and your shopping list.
Because consistency is the secret to successful (and stress-free) meal planning! So if you know that you’re going to eat the same things for breakfast and lunch then there’s no real reason to write this down.
But, as you’re filling in your dinner menu for the week, you want to keep in mind that any meals requiring fresh ingredients (like produce) need to be made earlier in the week, so the ingredients don’t go bad before you get a chance to cook with them.
Ready to tackle meal planning?
Getting food on the table from your kitchen (instead of the drive-thru) is SO much easier when you plan ahead. Because having a weekly meal plan in place can save you more time, energy, and money on food.
However, if you’re not cooking meals at home because you can’t see your kitchen counters, you always have dirty dishes in the sink, and your house is a total mess, then none of these tips will work—you’ll end up right back at a drive-thru somewhere, feeling overwhelmed and guilty about feeding your kids fast food again.
So if you struggle with keeping your home and your food spending under control, then you need to join the Reclaim Your Sanity Challenge: 8 Simple Steps To Conquer Overwhelm and House Management (even if your husband doesn’t help), so that you can live a life that supports your effort to get dinner on the table. Grab it while it’s still FREE here!