Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
Meal planning can seem difficult and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be! With some simple tips and tricks, anyone can become a meal-planning pro. Meal planning has many benefits – it saves time and money, reduces stress around cooking, and helps you eat healthier.
If you’re new to meal prep, don’t worry. Follow these beginner meal planning tips and you’ll be on your way to meal planning success in no time.
Why Meal Plan?
Before jumping into the how-to’s of meal planning, let’s look at why it’s worthwhile in the first place. Here are some of the top benefits of meal planning:
1. Saves money – Planning your meals and grocery shopping ahead of time prevents food waste and impulse purchases. You buy only what you need.
2. Saves time – No more standing in front of the open fridge trying to figure out what to eat. With a plan, meals are quick and easy to prepare.
3. Eat healthier – Meal planning allows you to intentionally incorporate nutritious foods into your diet. You can plan balanced meals and snacks ahead of time.
4. Reduces stress – The decision fatigue around cooking is real. Meal planning eliminates the daily “what should I make?” question.
Streamlines grocery shopping – With meals planned out, you can create organized grocery lists to shop efficiently. One trip per week rather than several trips.
Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
If you’re new to meal prep, starting a meal-planning routine may seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be with the right approach. Follow these simple tips to make meal planning easy and sustainable:
1 Start Small
Don’t try to go from no meal planning to a complex weekly plan overnight. This will likely be overwhelming and set you up for failure. Start small – plan just 3-4 dinners per week. Or focus on breakfast and lunch first. As this habit forms, you can gradually add in more meals. Starting small sets you up for success.
2. Use Meal Planning Templates
Structured meal planning templates can provide helpful guidance when you’re first starting out. Printable templates have sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks already built out. They also include a spot for a grocery list. Using a template gives your meal planning and grocery shopping structure.
3. Cook Once, Eat Twice
A great way to save time with meal prep is to double recipes or repurpose leftovers. Cook once, eat twice. For example, roast a large chicken and use it in tacos one night and sandwiches or salads later in the week. Or make a big pot of chili and have it for dinner, then lunches the next day. This builds in variety while minimizing cook time.
3. Prep Ingredients in Advance
Even with a plan, weeknights can get hectic. You can save time by prepping ingredients in advance when you can. For example, chop vegetables for stir fries or salads on the weekend. Or cook a big batch of quinoa or brown rice to use in several meals over the week. Having ingredients prepped cuts down on rushed chopping and cooking on busy nights.
4. Schedule Planning Time
To form a meal-planning habit, you have to make time for it. Schedule in planning time on your calendar, just like any other appointment. Sunday afternoons or Monday evenings are popular times to plan out the week ahead. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to brainstorm meal ideas and make a grocery list.
5. Adapt Recipes to Use Up Food
One of the best things about meal planning is that it helps reduce food waste. Look at recipes you’d like to try, but adapt them based on ingredients you already have. For example, if you have a lot of veggies, try a veggie stir fry or soup recipe. Use up leftovers and prevent waste.
6. Include Simple Meals
While it’s fun to find new recipes, meal-planning veterans know to mix in simple repeats. Not every meal needs to be complicated – sandwiches, omelets, salads, or sheet pan dinners are great go-to’s. Keeping it simple sometimes is key.
6. Mix Up Breakfasts
Planning breakfasts only takes a few extra minutes but makes mornings easier. Write down some healthy breakfast choices like oatmeal, yogurt with fruit, eggs, smoothies, and toast with peanut butter. Rotating a few breakfasts keeps you from getting bored.
7. Consider Your Lifestyle
Think about your current schedule, cooking habits, and diet preferences when creating meal plans. Are you busy with kids’ activities in the evenings? Do you enjoy cooking? Are you trying to eat more vegetarian meals? Tailor plans to your real life.
8. Be Flexible
An inflexible meal plan is a recipe for failure. Stay open to changing plans based on how the week is going. Having a leftover freezer meal or quick pantry dinner on standby provides flexibility.
9. Use an App or Website
Meal planning apps and websites like Mealime, Plan to Eat and EMeals have templates, recipe ideas and grocery lists ready for you. Taking the brainstorming out can help when starting out.
10. Plan Around Seasons
Plan recipes based on what’s fresh and in season for maximum flavor at lower costs. For example, load up on summer produce like corn, tomatoes and zucchini.
11. Shop Your Pantry First
Before making grocery lists, take stock of what non-perishables you already have – canned beans, pasta, rice, spices. Use these items up first before buying more.
12. Pre-Prep Ingredients
Set aside time to pre-chop veggies, cook rice, etc for the week ahead. Some people devote a few hours on the weekend to meal prep.
13. Freeze Leftovers
Freezing leftover portions of soups, casseroles, etc means you always have a quick backup dinner or lunch ready to just reheat. Your future self will thank you!
Make it a Habit
Meal planning does take some time upfront, but once you get into the habit it will save you time in the long run. Start small, be flexible, and soon you’ll have a meal planning system that works for your lifestyle. With some simple preparation, you can take the hassle out of dinner time and enjoy more healthy, homemade meals. Learn here more about meal planning tips and guides.