Meal Planning for Beginners & Planning a Weekly Menu

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Have you been doing your weekly grocery shopping without a plan and wasting money, time? Or even worse, are you eating out too often? Let me help you with planning a weekly menu, simply.

Just like you, we spent our weekly grocery shopping without purpose, spending too much money on groceries without a plan on how to use them. This led to food and money waste as well as time wasted at the store buying food that we didn’t know what to do with.

Ultimately, this also led to eating out way too much. That was more money wasted along with a healthy dose of a lot of extra calories. 

Meal planning for beginners: planning a weekly menu

I know that planning a weekly menu might seem intimidating. There are many incredibly organized people out there who have it down to a fine art. But what about if you’ve never meal planned before?

I’m excited to tell you that meal planning for beginners doesn’t have to be hard. Figure out what works for you with other tasks and take baby steps at first.

Are you a list maker? Do you need binders and printouts to be successful? Are you more of a digital person or a pen and paper person?

Figure this out to get started making your grocery trips more productive, then build on it and fine-tune it if you feel like you need even more of a plan.

Simple meal planning tools

Some meal plans on Pinterest seem to be overly complicated, but that’s not how I roll. I don’t use a binder, printables, or a “system”. If that works best for you, then, by all means, get some binders or digital lists and fill them out instead of using paper.

The tools that I use are just to get you to start planning a weekly menu. Meal planning for beginners is meant to start simple, then tweak it as you get used to it. This is what works for us:

Weekly meal planning doesn't have to be rocket science. Check out our super simple method that keeps us on track every week.

Stock up on food staples

To make weekly menu planning a breeze, keep your fridge and pantry full of staples.

Think of all of the things you use most when you cook and when you run out of that item, immediately put it on your grocery list dry erase board to restock it then next time you go shopping.

Common food staples

  • Condiments like mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, vinegar, sauces, etc.
  • Dry goods like flour, sugar, cornstarch, grains, pasta, beans, etc.
  • Canned goods such as diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, tuna, etc.
Planning weekly meals

Getting your freezer organized

When you don’t have a plan, the freezer became a black hole and a big source of the problem. If you don’t write it down, label things well, and organize your freezer space, you might forget what you have or how much. This makes it difficult to figure out what you’re going to have for dinner during the upcoming week.

Having a magnetic dry erase board on your freezer can be a menu-planning lifesaver! When you come home from the grocery store each week, write down what you put in the freezer, and be sure to erase food as you use it.

Meal planning for beginners

  1. Discuss what your family would like to eat for the upcoming week and write the meals down on a weekly magnetic dry erase board or calendar.
  2. Write out our shopping list of everything we will need to make all of the meals on the menu. If you have your kitchen stocked with food staples, getting the remaining things you will need to make meals for the week will be painless. Just don’t forget to bring your shopping list to the grocery store!
  3. If something needs to be defrosted, put it in the refrigerator with enough time to thaw.
  4. Anything from the store that needs to be frozen, divide it up how you normally do for individual meals and put it in the freezer.
  5. Don’t forget to update the magnetic dry erase board on the freezer when you add or remove something.
Weekly meal planning doesn't have to be rocket science. Check out our super simple method that keeps us on track every week.

Tips for planning a weekly menu

  1. Buy a good cookbook or two. I love The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook and The Make Ahead Cook. Both of these cookbooks have easy recipes with a lot of flavor along with a wide variety of meals to choose from. 
  2. Websites like allrecipes.com and food.com have just about any recipe you want to make and I find that their ratings are pretty spot on. 
  3. Find recipes on your favorite food blogs or Pinterest by using the search bar. Some of my favorite blogs are Damn Delicious, America’s Test Kitchen, and Skinnytaste.
  4. You can also check out some of my recipes. In general they are easy to make and hey, my family likes them. 

Weekly menu planning is a game changer. Knowing what you are going to make each day removes so much stress and saves time and money.

Now getting take out is a treat instead of a necessity because we forgot to defrost something for dinner. 

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32 Comments

    1. My husband and I share cooking duty and every once in a while my teenage son also cooks. We involve the whole family in meal planning so it hasn’t been an issue for us.

  1. I’ve recently started doing this. Also helps me to not splurge on random items at the store!

  2. Love this post!! I am about to have my first child next month and I hear from a lot of moms that meal planning helps so much. My fiance is always sick of eating the same meals so this way I could try some new meals each week.

  3. I struggle with not having to buy a separate meal item for every day!! I like to be able to use a rotisserie chicken one night and then use it for soup or tacos the other night. Otherwise I feel like Im spending SO much money!!

  4. Great ideas! But I’m not sure how well it would work with people who ask what’s for dinner, then say, “I don’t feel like eating that tonight,” when you tell them.

    1. We don’t allow that in our house. The kids have input on the menu as well and know that I don’t make multiple dinners so they can eat it or not. The only exception is if my husband and I are in the mood for something that we know one or both kids aren’t crazy about. Also, our youngest doesn’t eat beef so he gets leftovers or something easy on those nights.

  5. I too need to start meal planning, the few times I have its worked tremendously well but it’s hard to stay in the routine of it.

  6. My husband and I have been wanting to meal plan for ages. This is very helpful in getting us started. Thanks!

  7. I definitely need to meal plan! My deep freeze is a black hole. I always have plenty of meat to choose from, but I don’t always know what I have!

    1. That was always our problem! The dry erase board on the freezer has been the biggest help. We wouldn’t be able to plan meals without it.

  8. Ooh this sounds lovely if only we could get it together.. I will try this seems easy enough! I love America’s test kitchen I bet the cookbook would be so awesome!

  9. I have so many recipes saved online, on paper, magazines, etc. I really need to sit down and plan to try them out. When my husband wasn’t’ travelling for work we used to sit down on Sundays and plan our weekly meals. It was fantastic! But we got away from it. I am now inspired to get back into it. I fly by the seat of my pants for so many things in life, but it would be nice to know what’s happening for dinner and not have to stress about it. Plus everyone looks forward to the meal they know is coming. Thanks for the post!

  10. Great post. We just started meal planning ourselves at my house.

    A different take for people having a hard time starting: pretend you have an allergy to a certain food (eggs, nuts, peanuts, etc.) We tried this with peanuts and in just one shopping trip I learned more about label reading and meal planning than anything I tried earlier. Plus, it helps you relate to your friends who have food allergies.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. We do the dry erase board thing in our house, but we also have a section dedicated to what’s in the freezer (as complete meals) and a grocery list for all our favorite stores. We are pretty good about having meals ready but our problem is having too much food in the freezer. The dry erase board helps us to eat the food in a timely manner.

  12. I always struggle with meal planning. I write lists, but sometimes will fail to stick to them.

  13. I’ve been doing monthly meal panning for the last 4-5 months, and it has helped tremendously! I don’t really like cooking, so knowing what I’m making and that I have all the ingredients has reduced my stress a ton. Plus it’s a lot easier to stick to a budget when you know exactly what you need to buy!

    1. I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t always want to do it. I agree that having a plan helps to keep it from becoming a huge chore. I have enjoyed cooking more now that I know what’s going on every day.

  14. This sounds like a really good idea, especially the white boards telling what’s in the freezer, I usually forget and sometimes I forget to check before writing what I need from the store.

    1. The white board on the freezer has been a game changer. That is where we have been going wrong and knowing what we have and how much has been the key to sticking to a meal plan for us.

  15. We have tried a couple times to plan meals, but it always falls apart. Hubby usually ends up shopping 3-4 times a week because we nevwr know what we want, and don’t have the stuff on hand that we decide on!!

    1. That was also a big problem for us. We wouldn’t have a plan and didn’t always know what we had on hand or how much each week. The dry erase board on the freezer has helped a ton with that. We also have a lot of different places where we get inspiration for meals which also helps, though we do still get in a rut every few weeks.

  16. I like your simplified way of planning meals we always forget what is in the fridge/freezer in the garage. We seem to only stick to it when we write it down. We will try this next week.

  17. I find new recipes on a lot of sites. I like the kitchn site for new recipes. I have our usuals for the weekly meal planning but I try to have a new meal to try out once a week so we don’t get into a rut of having the same stuff all the time.

  18. I plan on doing the 21 day fix in a few weeks so I need to get my menu’s planned for this. I can’t wait. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. My meals will consist of lunches instead of dinners though.

    1. I’ve looked into that and it looks like a great way to get portions under control. Good luck!

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