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Meal Planning 101: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Meal planning is not a new concept, but it has been a hot topic for years in the health and wellness world. And for good reason! Meal planning can help you to prioritize your health goals and food choices as well as save time and money.

There are many ways to meal plan, but I bet you have never meal planned like this before!  Here are some simple tips and tricks to have you meal planning like a pro.

1. ON-HAND LIST

Put away the cookbooks and recipe websites… for just a minute. First things first, make a list of the items you already have on-hand. To save time, skip writing down staple items (condiments, seasonings, etc.), but do make note if you are running low on something.

  • Start with your refrigerator (most perishable items), then freezer, and finally pantry. I know it sounds trivial but doing this first can help you cut down on food waste and save money!
  • Review your ingredients—any meals come to mind?
  • After reviewing my on-hand list, I saw items to make 2 dinners: 
    • Tex-Mex option (enchilada sauce, chicken, whole-wheat tortillas…)
    • Italian option (whole-wheat pasta, chicken, frozen marinara sauce…)
  • Need inspiration?

2. DINNER PLANNING

If you are like me, dinner is the hardest meal to plan for but it is the perfect place to start.

  • Write down your dinner ideas (include where the recipe came from, if needed).
  • Next, consult your On-Hand List and write down the ingredients that you already have. In a separate column, write down the ingredients you will need to purchase. 
  • Gone are the days of cooking every single night—I mean, who has the time? Build flexibility into your week by aiming to cook 3-4 nights.
  • Recipes to try:

3. MENU PLANNING

  • Next, take your Dinner Planning ideas and select which nights you want to cook.
  • Be sure to check your calendar. Late meeting on Wednesday? No problem, that can be a leftover night!
  • Next, plan out your lunches. I love taking leftovers for lunch because it is so easy. By planning these out I will know how much to prepare (I plan to eat these yummy chicken enchiladas for quite a few meals, so I will be sure to double the recipe).
  • After eating dinner, pack individual servings of leftovers before cleaning up. That way you don’t have to in the morning!
  • Round out your menu for the week by brainstorming breakfast and snack ideas.
    • Consult your On-Hand List to see what breakfast and snack items you already have. This will also help you build your shopping list!

4. SHOPPING LIST

The final step is to build your shopping list!

  • Review your various lists to start filling out your grocery list. Be sure to write down any staple items that you are out of (olive oil, seasonings, etc.). Then you’ll be ready to hit the store with a solid plan!
  • Whether you order online or shop in- store, build your grocery list like a road map. For me, I always start with produce and end with frozen items. Laying out your road map will make shopping a breeze!

There you have it! An alternative way to meal plan. Try it out and see how it works for you and your family. 

Happy planning!

Click here to download this simple meal planning guide as a PDF or just the featured templates.

Click here to download our free “Cook This, Buy That” meal planner and grocery list.


You may also enjoy:

How to Easily Meal Plan – My Attempt to Become a Simplified Meal Planner

Celebrate National Nutrition Month with Meal Prep

Healthy and Easy Meal Prep: Greek Bowls

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