How To Meal Plan
We've been meal planning and prepping since 2012 and have seen and heard EVERYTHING as it relates to meal prep successes, challenges, hurdles, favorites, process, etc! We wanted to bring together all the information we have gathered over the years into one getting started and maintaining success when it comes to planning your meals. This How To Meal Plan guide will cover topics like; organization, shopping lists, time management/planning, and tools and hacks.
In our experience, we've seen 3 main roadblocks I hear about from the people who want to start meal planning:
- I don’t know where to start!
- I have no idea what to put on my plan.
- I don’t have time on Sunday.
This Meal Plan guide will help solve all of these problems!
Meal Planning will help you:
- Say goodbye to decision fatigue around “What’s for dinner”
- Reduce the number of trips in a week to the grocery store.
- Spend less money on food each month (especially if you eat out)
- Feel more organized
- Reducing food waste and buying only what you need.
- Get dinner on the table faster and have more time in your evenings!
Step 1: Organization
- Haul everything out of your pantry – get rid of expired items. Donate items that are not expired
but you are not going to use. You now know what you have on hand, and you
have eliminated the items you no longer need or that you don't want to eat (like those Girl Scout cookies!)
- Get food storage bins and containers and organize your pantry into zones (like canned beans, snacks, soup broths, etc) so that you can keep it organized.
- Clean out your fridge and freezer – get rid of expired items and items you are not going to use.
- Write down what is in your fridge and freezer on a sheet of paper and keep it handy. This will be necessary when we get into meal planning.
Step 2: Identify the Basics
The last thing that you want to do when it comes to planning meals is to try and come up with a new 5-course menu for each day of the week. Imagine if you had a list of 5-10 recipes that you KNOW you and your family likes and that you could easily get together. Sounds easier already, doesn't it? This is the goal... to have a foundation of recipes that you are comfortable with and that you can then build on top of. We're going to call this the Meal Plan Foundations List, but first, let's bust some myths...
The most common question that comes up is, "I don’t know what to put on my Meal Plan Foundations List." If this is you, no worries... here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you overcome this mental block (be sure to write down the answers to these questions too!!):
• Think about what has been for dinner for the past month. What was everyone’s favorite meal this month?
• Ask the people in your house, “if you could eat anything for dinner tonight, what would you want?”
• Ask your friends, "what are you making for dinner tonight?"
Answering those questions will help you identify the basics. If you are a little more advanced in your meal planning process, the second most common hurdle is, "I am sick of making the same thing every week." Here is what you should do when you find yourself asking, What's Next?!
- Get out your cookbooks for inspiration, sticky note them and write down the recipes you want to try. Note the book and page number on your Meal Plan Foundations List!
- Pinterest: We try to break down the meal prepping categories pretty easy on our Pinterest page. But be careful. You can come away from Pinterest even more hungry than when you started!
- Hit up Google and search based on your main/favorite/staple protein. For example, "Easy Chicken Recipes" or "Ground Turkey Dinner Recipe." One of our favorites is Cheeseburger Pizza Chicken (just saying). There are SO MANY free recipes online, but Google is making it easier to search by time to cook, ingredients, diet, and so on. Also, if you are keto, hit up the keto or paleo or gluten-free, add those terms to your search query and let Google do the heavy lifting.
- AND Obviously... we have our own favorite meal prep recipes to choose from as well. =)
Here is an example of how we've displayed our Go-To recipes:
Step 3: Bring Everything Together
Take your list from Step 2 and break the meals out into categories. Everyone’s categories will be different based on your family’s way of eating and that's OK! Putting your list items into categories serves 2 purposes, planning your weekly calendar and planning your monthly calendar.
Here is an example of what your categories could look like.
- Ground Beef/Turkey
- Meatless Monday
- Slow Cooker
Having a category list is super helpful to have because it eliminates one of the main decision-making points as it relates to dinner. Go look in your freezer, see what you have, then go look on your categorized list.
GOAL: Try to have 5-10 recipes in each of your main categories
Do you have ground beef recipes? Awesome... Pick one of your favorite ground beef recipes! Once this becomes routine, you can look at what main ingredient you have (usually in the freezer because you save money by buying in bulk and freezing it) and prioritize using what you have, over buying new main ingredients.
Step 4: Schedule
WARNING: TBH... if you stick with steps 1-3, you're solid. Those steps will eliminate so much time and mental energy when it comes to meal planning. Step 4 is more for the people who are a little extra and want to be ultra proactive. We've seen this work great for people and we've also seen this be a discouragement. If you can be flexible with yourself, and not beat yourself up over missing a planned meal, than keep going forward. If you get discouraged when you don't stay on target, start with steps 1-3 as a base and see how the meal planning process has changed before moving forward.
- Moving forward... Here is an example of what your weekly meal calendar can look like:
Monday – Meatless Mondays
Tuesday – Taco Tuesday
Wednesday – Pasta
Thursday – Beef
Friday – Chicken
Saturday – Pork
Sunday – BBQ/Grill
PRO TIP: If you're going to BBQ on Suday, plan on buying extra meat so you can prepare them ahead of time and portion it out for luches... or even freeze the left overs and incorporate them into one of the dinners for the coming week. BOOM!
Each week, when you go to build a plan, look at the categories on your Meal Plan Foundations List and pulling a recipe from each list and plug it into one of the days.
MONEY SAVING TIP | If you are meal planning with the primary goal of saving money, check out the deals at your local grocery store. If you see that chicken or beef is on sale, pick those recipes from your Meal Plan Foundations List and rest assured you're saving money!
For a little house cleaning, here are some Do's and Don'ts when it comes to making your lists:
- Ask your family for input.
- Add a few things that you haven’t made before.
- Think about what you have made the past month to make your list.
- Revisit your list each new season. Food tastes change with the seasons
- Focus on the meal that is giving you the most headache... for most people it's dinner.
- Make your list 300 recipes long. This will not help your decision making
- Make a list of 100 recipes you have never made.
- Worry if you miss a meal or have enough ideas to fill out a whole calendar yet
- Think that these recipes are carved in stone... you have our permission to be flexible and adjust with how you're feeling.
Still with us?! WOW! Thank you so much...
If you have any questions or comments, please leave then in the comments area below. Or, come say what's up and chat with us on Instagram @MealPrepMondays