The Basics of Meal Planning

This is just the basics to help you get started. Here are a few suggestions to make meal planning more efficient as well as save you extra money, but if you are just getting started start with these steps first. You can always add the other tricks in later when you feel more comfortable with the whole process.


Sit down with cookbooks or the internet and write down recipes (including your tried and true favorites that you don’t even use a recipe for). Include 5 or 6 different recipes. Try to think of some “go to meals” that you can make without having to put too much thought into it. For instance, I make egg muffins every week. They may have different ingredients in them but I know for breakfast the kids will have muffins as they run out the door. For me my go to meals are egg muffins, oatmeal or a protein shake.

  • Some meal planners recommend a 5-day meal plan, because if people “overplan” the plan tends to fall apart. Set aside at least two days a week for eating out or leftovers. Be realistic and don’t overwhelm yourself with getting it right all the time.
  • I personally can’t afford to eat out several times a week if I meal prep, so I plan a 4-5-day meal plan so that there’s the wiggle room for eating out or having leftovers. Something always tends to come up during the week, so I find at least 4 days of meals works well for us. This has helped tremendously with time management and me no longer feeling guilty about not being the kind of mom that gets us early to make the kids a hot breakfast before school.
  • If you have a certain day of the week that you go grocery shopping (for example Saturday) then you will want to make sure you have enough meals to get you through to that day. We are flexible with what day we go, so my grocery day never falls on the same day of the week – we just go when we run out of meals.

I also have an idea of places I can go for lunch or dinner that won’t cause too much mental guilt if I eat there. Panera Bread and Wendy’s are my go to places for now.


Look through the ingredients of each of the recipes you have chosen

  • What do you have in the cupboards, freezer, fridge, etc.
  • Put only ingredients you DON’T have on your shopping list.
  • Add to your grocery list other essentials that may not be part of your recipes – milk, bread, lunch stuff, etc.


Go shopping for your groceries

  • Buy ONLY the ingredients on your grocery list – try not to get distracted! ( I am still working on this but I have gotten much better!) Try to avoid impulse buying! To help with impulse buying, eat before you get to the store and shop the outer edges of the store.
  • The exception to the rule is if something is on sale for a REALLY good price and you want to stock up – such as ground beef, chicken, laundry detergent. (Meat is your most pricey item so if you get it cheap now, you can meal plan with it later.)


Hang a piece of paper on the fridge with your 5 or 6 meals for the week and what they are.

  • Each day (or the night before) you can take out the meat you need for the meal you’ve chosen that day.
  • Cross items off your list as you make them.

Keep in mind this is only the basics of meal planning. If you have never done meal planning or meal prep this is a good place to start. Work on building with baby steps. Don’t make your meals too busy or too time consuming or you will stop before you even get started good. Only try new recipes when you are in the mood to try something new or you have the time. Meal planning should help decrease stress not increase it. If you start by adding too much for yourself to do, you will get overwhelmed and stop doing it completely. Planning ahead will definitely make your life easier.

And guess what??? This will free up time for you to exercise!!!!!

If it seems like too much, just stick with these basics for a little bit until you feel more comfortable with the whole process. You will get the hang of it and then be looking for those ways to make your job more efficient. Your family will start to depend on your meal plans and meal preps. It’s also a great way to get the family involved.

If meal planning to too much for you, at least have an idea of what you plan to eat. During breakfast, plan for lunch. During lunch plan for dinner. During dinner, plan for breakfast the next morning.

Make plans to be successful but be sure it suits your lifestyle.

There is not right or wrong way…..just work towards finding the best way for you.

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Montoyia McGowan, LCSW
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