How to Meal Plan – Super Simple Meal Planning Tips

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Do you know what you’re having for dinner tonight? Determining a meal plan for entire week or month can seem daunting if you’re currently figuring out dinner on a day by day basis. Learning how to make a meal plan will simplify your life by making dinner an easy-to-follow plan. You will know what’s for dinner every night and you will be prepared to make it happen.

What Meal Planning Isn’t

Before I even get into how to make a meal plan, I want to clear up any misconceptions about meal planning.

Meal Planning Isn’t:

  • Only home cooked – While the idea is to cook more at home that doesn’t mean you need to give up dinner out with friends, getting take out or using a frozen pizza.
  • A lot of work – Sure, you’ll have to put some work in upfront but that will save you so much time in the long run, while also lessening the frantic scramble to figure out what to eat every night.
  • Expensive – There are options that are more expensive than others but basic meal planning should help you save money and reduce food waste.

How to Make a Meal Plan

You may have heard of meal planning but you weren’t really sure what it was or how to get started.

Quite simply, meal planning is figuring out what’s for dinner in advance. Some people like to meal plan for a week or a month or even longer. When you are just getting started, I recommend to only plan one week at a time. This will allow you to make adjustments based on what you learn each week.

The four key steps to meal planning are:

  1. Recipe selection – deciding on meals
  2. Shopping for ingredients
  3. Prep, prep, prep
  4. Making the meal

Recipe Selection

Choosing which recipes you are going to use is more than just picking your favorites.

First, decide on how many nights you are going to cook at home. There is no right or wrong answer here.

If you typically eat out every night and want to eat more at home, don’t try to cook at home every night right from the beginning. Start slow, planning 2-3 meals at home.

If you already cook five nights a week but end up with a lot of food waste, think about how to incorporate leftovers into your plan.

Think about how much time you have to cook each night. Don’t plan elaborate meals when you have a time crunch.

Where to Find Recipes

I personally love going to Pinterest to find new recipes. Simply search for whatever type of recipes you are looking for, such as easy dinner ideas, one-pot meals or quick chicken recipes. Pinterest is also a great source for diet-specific recipes, like Keto, gluten-free and Paleo.

Other great resources for all different types of dinner recipes:

Meal Planning Service

Hunting for recipes isn’t for everyone. If just thinking about finding recipes makes you want to give up, then try a meal planning service. I recommend eMeals for three main reasons:

  1. They have a HUGE selection of meal plans to fit all types of diets and lifestyles. Looking for vegan meals? Kid-friendly? 30-minutes meals? eMeals has you covered with those options plus so much more! And you can switch between plans anytime, as much as want.
  2. eMeals offers a FREE 14-day trial. Their plans are very reasonably priced for how much time and effort they save you. But why not try it out for free before you buy it?
  3. eMeals provides a shopping list for you or it can even send your list directly to Walmart, Kroger and few other shopping partners. Either option will save you a ton of time at the store.

Grocery Shopping

Once you have the dinner recipes for the week (or month), then it’s time to make a grocery list. Making a list should be pretty easy since you know what’s for dinner.

Look at each recipe and write down the ingredients you need. Be sure to double check what you already have. Add in anything additional you need for breakfasts and lunches.

I like to organize my list by categories – produce, dairy, meat, etc. – if I’m going to actually go into the grocery store.

But I don’t always do the grocery shopping myself. I’ve been hooked on ordering online and picking up outside the store ever since I first tried it. It saves me:

  • Time – quickly adding items to the store’s app and quick pick up service at the store.
  • Money – not being tempted to add on unnecessary items and price comparison between two store apps
  • My sanity – not having to deal with crowded stores or having the kids peste me to buy them junk food.

When I plan to order online, I skip the traditional grocery list and just add the items directly into the app of whichever store I’m planning to use.

Meal Prep

My old way of doing things was to find recipes, grocery shop and then cook each meal on the assigned day. There was one key step I didn’t do that makes a world of difference!

Taking a little bit of time at the beginning of the week to meal prep can make a huge difference in your likelihood of succeeding with your meal plan. Actually cooking the meal will be a breeze if you are already paritially ready.

Take an hour or so at the beginning of the week to do meal prepping. What you are acutally doing will vary by the recipes you selected but may include:

  • Washing fruits and vegetables
  • Chopping, dicing, grating
  • Measuring out dry ingredients and storing in reusable containers

Make note on your daily or weekly planner about specific tasks that need to be done in advance, such as pulling the meat out of the freezer to thaw or putting together a marinade the night before.

It’s Time to Cook

The final step is to actually make the meal. This is where all your hard work pays off. You selected the best recipes to suit your lifestyle, shopped for the ingredients and meal prepped. Now, just put it all together for a delicious home cooked meal.

Did Your Meal Plan Work?

Starting a new routine is never easy. It takes practice and flexibility. If your meal plan didn’t go exactly as planned, don’t give up! Instead, figure out where the problem was and figure out a solution.

If the recipes took too long or were too complicated, search for quick dinner recipes or 30-minute meals, crock-pot dinner ideas semi-homemade or one-pot meals.

If you hate grocery shopping, consider shopping online and either picking them up outside the store or having them delivered. Or make a meal plan for a month and buy the non-perishables and as much as you can of the perishables in one grocery trip. Then you will just need quick trips throughout the month for the remaining perishables.

Next Steps

  1. Determine if you are going to find recipes on your own or use a meal planning service, like eMeals.
  2. Select the number of recipes that make sense for you and put it on your weekly or monthly calendar. Start small if you are feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Make your grocery list – either a paper one or via a grocery app. Shop or order groceries online.
  4. Meal Prep. You may be tempted to skip this step but don’t! Meal prep has such a big impact on the success of your meal plan.
  5. Cook the meal on the designated day and enjoy a good home-cooked meal.
  6. Evaluate your meal plan process. Make changes to make your meal planning successful.
How to Meal Plan - never wonder what's for dinner again. Dinner plate with ???

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