The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning

Embark on your meal planning journey with The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning. This comprehensive guide will help you save time, money, and reduce food waste while creating delicious and healthy meals.

For more meal planning ideas, discover 15 meal planning tricks to save you time and money or learn 17 smart ways to use leftovers in your meal planning.

MEAL PLANNING for Beginners | 6 Easy Steps
1. Meal planning is an effective strategy for simplifying home cooking and saving time.
2. It helps in achieving a well-balanced and nutritious diet by consciously choosing ingredients and portion control.
3. Meal planning can be tailored to individual dietary preferences and restrictions, making it inclusive for everyone.
4. It can save money by reducing food waste and avoiding impulse purchases at the grocery store.
5. Staying motivated and experimenting with new recipes are key to successful and enjoyable meal planning.

1. Define Your Meal Planning Goals

Before you start, it’s important to consider what your meal planning goals are. While there are many reasons why you may want to plan your meals, the most common reasons include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Saving money on food costs
  • Reducing stress by not having to think about what’s for dinner every night
  • Spending more time with family

If any of these sound like something that would benefit your life, read on!

The ultimate key to successful meal planning lies in finding ways to simplify your home cooking. Discover the best strategies and tips in our comprehensive guide on simplifying home cooking through meal planning to make your culinary journey more enjoyable and efficient.

2. Determine How Many Meals You’ll Cook Each Week

Now that you’ve compiled your list of meals, it’s time to determine how many of those meals you want to cook each week.

A good meal plan will help save money, eat healthier meals and incorporate more nutritious ingredients in your diet.

The number of meals you can make in a week depends on the size of your family and the amount of time that you have available for cooking. 

If there are just two people in your household, then it might be possible for one person to cook all three days’ worth of food in one evening.

However, if there are six kids running around with mouths to feed (and stomachs), then this is not realistic! Instead, consider dividing up the preparation over several nights perhaps Monday through Wednesday or Tuesday through Thursday  so that everyone gets some home-cooked goodness every night without feeling overwhelmed by making too much at once.

3. Decide on a Budget

Once you’ve decided on the type of meal plan you want to use, it’s time to think about how much money you’re willing to spend. 

This is where a budget will come in handy. A good rule of thumb as a beginner is to set aside $15-$20 per person per week for food shopping (although this can vary depending on your lifestyle and diet). 

If that seems like too much right now, try starting with just $10 and work up until you find yourself comfortable with your new routine.

If these numbers feel overwhelming or are just not feasible for your situation, remember that there are ways around this! 

The first thing I would recommend is looking into coupons or discounts especially if you’re planning on buying organic produce or other products from specialty markets. 

You can also try swapping meals with friends who may have more room in their budget than yours does; sharing recipes and cooking together means less waste!

If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, meal planning can be a game-changer for reaching your weight loss goals. Dive into our extensive resource, The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning for Weight Loss, for expert tips and proven tactics to harness the power of meal planning as a tool for healthy weight management.

4. Pick the Right Tools for You

When you’re trying to get started with meal planning, it can be helpful to pick the right tools for your needs. 

Here are a few things to consider:

What tools do you need? Will a pen and paper be enough, or do you need technology? Do any of your other hobbies require specific gear (like photography or gardening)? It might help to write down exactly what kind of tools and supplies each activity would require before making any decisions.

What’s available in your area? If there are specific resources nearby (like farmers’ markets), then those will be less expensive than buying online. 

On the other hand, if shipping is free for some products (like Amazon Prime members), then ordering online may save money overall—but only if delivery fees aren’t too high!

5. Create a Weekly Schedule

One of the biggest mistakes that beginner meal planners make is not giving themselves enough time to do everything. 

It’s easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just take an hour or so on Sunday morning and then I’ll be done!” But then when you look at your week and realize there are going to be a lot of other things happening that day (maybe even another big project you have planned for that evening), suddenly everything changes. 

The good news is there’s something you can do about it: set up a weekly schedule!

This may sound like overkill at first glance after all, what’s so hard about cooking? It doesn’t take long at all! 

However, once you start adding in shopping trips (to get fresh ingredients), prepping time (to chop veggies), actual cooking time (especially if you’re doing several dishes), cleanup time (because no one wants dirty dishes lying around festering) and eating/tasting/testing new recipes…you’ll see why setting aside an entire afternoon or evening isn’t always realistic. 

You might even need two days per week dedicated solely to meal planning/prepping and one day for grocery shopping!

Are you constantly short on time but still want to enjoy delicious and nutritious meals? Our comprehensive guide, The Busy Person’s Guide to Meal Planning, will equip you with effective strategies and time-saving tips to incorporate meal planning seamlessly into your busy schedule, ensuring you never compromise on good food.

6. Make a List of Family Favorites and Go-To Recipes

We’re pretty sure you have a few go-to recipes, but making the list of your family’s favorite meals and dishes can sometimes be tricky. 

Maybe they don’t like fish or they won’t eat anything with broccoli in it, but when it comes down to it, these are the things we need to know. So let’s make that list!

Here’s how:

Think about what your family likes for breakfast and lunch. Are there any favorites?

What are some of their favorite foods? Do everyone enjoy eating spaghetti? How about pizza? Or do some people prefer burgers over chicken fingers (or vice versa)? What about tacos or burritos or sandwiches—do any of those sound good right now? If so, write them down!

Don’t forget desserts! What kind of desserts does everyone love most often—cinnamon rolls, ice cream sundaes, cake…or something else entirely?

7. Look at Your Calendar

Once you know what types of meals you want to make, it’s time to look at your calendar. Take a look at how many days you’ll be eating out and which days will be busy (or not). 

If you’re like me and most people, your work schedule is flexible enough that it doesn’t interfere with meal planning. 

However, if there are certain nights every week where this isn’t the case—if I had an early morning meeting on Wednesdays or Fridays I would take those nights into account when choosing my recipes for the week ahead.

If any of these things apply to your life:

  • You have young children who require supervision during meals;
  • Your spouse/partner works long hours;
  • Your parents have moved in with us unexpectedly; or
  • Someone else has moved in with us unexpectedly (or even worse: an ex-spouse!).

8. Build a Recipe Database or Bookmarking System

If you want to keep track of your recipes in a digital way, a database is a good option. There are many options out there you can use an online database like Evernote or Google Keep, or make an Excel spreadsheet on your computer with columns for ingredients, instructions and photos.

A bookmarks folder might not seem like the most advanced tool in your arsenal for meal planning but it’s one that I have found to be incredibly useful. 

If you don’t have time to search through dozens of recipes to find something appealing at the moment, then bookmarking them will make it much easier for you when you get home from work and need something quick!

Unlock the secrets of meal planning like a pro and experience the countless benefits it has to offer. With our invaluable insights and expert techniques provided in 10 Secrets to Meal Planning Like a Pro, you’ll take your meal planning skills to new heights and revolutionize the way you approach cooking.

9. Plan for Leftovers

When you’re tight on time, it’s easy to grab whatever’s closest and most likely cheap. But leftovers are a great way to save money and time on your grocery trip. 

If you make dinner for two nights in one week, that means you get four meals out of one grocery run!

Here are some tips for making the most of your leftovers:

Plan ahead by using a meal planner or keeping a running list by your fridge so that when mealtime comes around, all you have to do is grab what’s already prepared.

Store foods in airtight containers or resealable plastic bags in order to keep them fresh longer (but don’t forget about them!).

Reheat leftovers by placing them in a microwave-safe dish with as little liquid as possible and heating until they’re warm enough; if reheating meat makes it dry out too much, add some moisture back in before serving by adding broth or water or even mixing with mashed potatoes! 

Leftover vegetables will also benefit from some added moisture so they don’t become soggy again when reheated; try drizzling them with olive oil or dressing before heating up if needed.

Use leftover ingredients from one dish as components of another dish! For example: leftover roasted chicken thighs can be used in tacos; leftover chili can be mixed into tacos instead of salsa verde (which isn’t necessarily bad but we all know how delicious chimichurri is).

10. Get Prepping!

Get prepping! If you’re new to meal planning, start with one or two meals and build from there. The best way to know what works for you is by experimenting and seeing how your body responds.

You will want to make sure that you have all the ingredients necessary for a given meal before starting to cook it. This includes everything from meat and vegetables, down to herbs and spices. You can also add in extras like coconut aminos if needed.

The most important part of preparation: making sure you have a clean kitchen! It should be free of clutter or anything else that would distract you while cooking (like dirty dishes). 

If not, take an hour on Sunday night after dinner when no one is hungry yet but before bedtime so that everything is ready when it comes time for breakfast Monday morning (or any other morning).

This process could include washing dishes or wiping down countertops as well as organizing spices into small containers instead of having them all out in a drawer together anything that makes cooking easier by making it faster/more efficient (this step especially helps when trying new recipes).

Elevate your culinary creations by harnessing the power of various herbs and spices. Explore our guide on The Power of Spices – How to Use Different Herbs and Spices to Elevate Your Cooking to discover the art of flavor enhancement and bring depth and richness to your dishes like a seasoned chef.

11. Gather Your Groceries and Cook!

After you’ve planned your meals, it’s time to gather the ingredients. If you’re going to be cooking all of these dishes, make sure that the ingredients are available before shopping it’s a waste of time if they aren’t.

You can try any number of ways to keep track of what you need maybe a notebook or spreadsheet with columns for each recipe and rows for the day and week (or month). 

Or maybe just stickie notes on your fridge with reminders like “Buy eggs + milk + butter.” No matter what method you use, make sure that everyone who lives in your home is involved in shopping and cooking so that no one feels left out or resentful toward meal planning itself. When everyone pitches in at home, everybody wins!

1Prepare your shopping list based on planned meals
2Visit your preferred grocery store
3Purchase high-quality ingredients
4Check for any necessary cooking equipment
5Follow the meal plan and cook as instructed
6Utilize time-saving appliances, e.g., Instant Pot
7Practice proper food handling and hygiene
8Cook meals in batches to save time later
9Store leftovers properly for future consumption
10Clean up the kitchen and organize your ingredients
11Enjoy your delicious homemade meals!


I hope that this article has provided you with some valuable information to get you started on your own meal planning journey! 

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I would love to hear from you!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful for further exploring the topic of meal planning:

Meal Planning for Beginners – To Taste: This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step instructions and practical tips to help beginners kickstart their meal planning journey. Learn the basics of meal planning and how to create delicious and nutritious meals with ease.

The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning: What to Know, How to Succeed, and What to Skip – The Kitchn: From understanding the benefits of meal planning to avoiding common pitfalls, The Kitchn’s guide covers it all. Dive into this well-rounded resource to gain in-depth knowledge about meal planning and set yourself up for success.

Meal Planning – Everyday Health: Explore Everyday Health’s meal planning guide to discover how this practice can contribute to a well-balanced diet. Get insights on portion control, recipe selection, and long-term meal prep strategies.


Here are some frequently asked questions about meal planning:

How can meal planning benefit my overall health?

Meal planning can benefit your overall health by promoting better nutrition, portion control, and healthier food choices. By planning your meals in advance, you are more likely to make conscious decisions about what you eat, resulting in a balanced and nutritious diet.

How do I get started with meal planning?

To get started with meal planning, begin by setting aside dedicated time each week to plan your meals and create a shopping list. Choose recipes that align with your dietary needs and preferences, and consider batch cooking to save time throughout the week.

Can meal planning save me money?

Yes, meal planning can potentially save you money by minimizing food waste and preventing impulse purchases. By planning your meals ahead, you can shop strategically and avoid buying unnecessary items, leading to a more cost-effective approach to grocery shopping.

Is meal planning suitable for people with dietary restrictions?

Absolutely! Meal planning can be customized to cater to various dietary restrictions and preferences. Whether you follow a specific diet (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free) or have food allergies, meal planning allows you to choose recipes and ingredients that align with your needs.

How do I stay motivated to stick with meal planning?

To stay motivated with meal planning, experiment with new recipes, involve family members or friends in the process, and reward yourself with occasional treats. Additionally, tracking your progress and noticing the positive impact meal planning has on your health and lifestyle can help keep you motivated in the long run.