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What Is Meal Planning? + 5 Easy Steps To Get Started

What is meal planning? Let me help you understand how this one simple habit can transform dinner time from stressful to satisfying. These 5 easy steps will get you started!

What if every time you made dinner, you could open the fridge, get what you needed, combine a few elements, and have a delicious home-cooked meal on the table in under an hour?

It sounds like magic, but it’s something I do multiple times a week with the help of my meal plan. Simplifying dinner time like this is one of the many reasons I’m a massive believer in weekly meal planning!

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Your daily ritual of cooking, no matter your current skill level, will always benefit from having a solid meal plan. A meal planning practice is your partner in creating delicious, stress-free dinners that nourish your body and soul. I started from scratch too, and I’m here to share everything I’ve learned with you!

Whether you’ve been struggling with the ‘what’s for dinner’ dilemma or sick of making the same thing every night, you’re in the right place. Often, the only hurdle people face is simply making a plan. The process of meal planning is, speaking from experience, easier than most people think!

A bowl of sautéed vegetables on polenta

What Is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is, simply put, a list of recipes or dishes you create at the beginning of the week with the days of the week you intend to make them. From that list you can then make a master grocery list, and perhaps prep a few items to make things easier during the week with a busy schedule.

There are many, many benefits of meal planning. The motivation to meal plan can really depend on your goals. Are you looking for help with weight loss? Meal planning can guarantee you make healthy recipes and perhaps have better control over portion size.

Some people love meal planning because it cuts down on their food budget.

One of my favorite things about meal planning is it eliminates last minute cooking and is one less decision I have to make when I’m exhausted on busy days.

By the way, you may also have heard of meal prepping which is actually chopping vegetables, marinating meats, or whipping up a salad dressing. This is the prep work that can make dinner quicker during the week.

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    5 Easy Steps To Get Started

    1. Take Inventory

    The first step (which I usually do on Friday) is to check your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what you already have on hand. Make a list of the ingredients that need to be used up then plan meals around those ingredients. For example, have a pound of ground beef in the freezer? Make this Mexican Piccadillo from my sister site, ¡Hola! Jalapeño.

    2. Set A Weekly Meal Plan Goal

    The next step is to decide how many meals you want to plan (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks). It is always a good idea to consider your schedule and any dietary preferences or restrictions for the entire family.

    I like to make sure we have plenty of healthy meals with whole grains like brown rice, fresh fruit, salad greens, and other healthy foods to make sure we are maintaining a balanced diet.

    If you are going to have a particularly busy week, look for easy recipes that aren’t going to be too difficult to pull off after a long day.

    Lentil barley salad in a blue bowl with a spoon in the side of the bowl.

    3. Find Inspiration

    I like to browse my cookbooks, my favorite food blogs, and Pinterest to find new recipes I can make. I take into consideration how much time I’m going to realistically have during the week and my family’s preferences.

    They don’t have to be all new recipes either. Think about easy meals that you already know how to make and incorporate them with new recipes to keep things interesting.

    When trying to find new recipes, consider your favorite cuisines and flavor profiles. Choose recipes that fit your skill level and available time.

    4. Create A Meal Plan

    Fill out a weekly calendar or chart with your own meal plan. Some people like to use a meal planner but I just keep a list easily accessible in my phone.

    Assign each meals to a specific day of the week, considering your schedule and ingredient availability. Include leftovers or repurposing ideas to minimize food waste.

    5. Make A Grocery List

    Now you have a plan, it’s time to make that master shopping list. This is one of the things I love the most about meal planning. Because I know exactly what I’m making during the week I reduce our food waste by avoiding impulse buys, which also is a great way to save money.

    Another benefit is you will only need to go to the grocery store once a week! Plus once you’re there, grocery shopping is a breeze because I know exactly what I need. I typically go once a week on Saturday and get everything I need.

    A person spooning into a bowl of carrot soup with cilantro garnish.

    Bonus Tips

    • Start small: Don’t feel obligated to plan every single meal right away. Begin with a few days or just dinners.
    • Be flexible: Life happens! Allow room for spontaneity and don’t be afraid to swap meals or adjust your plan as needed.
    • Get the whole family involved: Have family members contribute recipe ideas or help with meal prep and batch cooking.
    • Meal prep: If you have time, like on a Sunday, prep and portion out some of the ingredients. This also helps with portion control. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Do things like soak dried beans, marinate chicken, or boil some eggs.

    Ready To Start Meal Planning?

    Meal planning is not just one more thing to add to your to-do list. By taking a little time once a week to map out your meals you can transform your relationship with cooking. Try it out and see the positive impact it can have on your life. A good place to start is with my FREE meal planning checklist. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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