Meal Planning: 7 Tips For Beginners

by Cents and Order | Last Updated: August 7, 2015

With busy schedules, you may find that you order take-out, pizza, or go out to eat more than you’d like. Last minute trips to the grocery store may be common when you don’t have a meal plan. But both of these options are costly.

Either you end up spending money on take-out food or impulse buys end up in your grocery cart along with dinner.

What do you want for dinner?

I don’t know, what do you want for dinner?

This exchange was an almost daily occurrence in my house!

Does this sound like your house? When you don’t have a meal plan, you end up wasting time trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Or end up taking cranky, hungry kids to a restaurant and no one enjoys their meal.

I started meal planning so the argument over what was for dinner would be a thing of the past. I also started trying out freezer meals and bulk cooking so I’d have easy meals for busy days.

Meal planning helps me save money by using more of what I have around the house already and avoiding restaurants/fast food. I know what the options are for dinner and am not tempted to eat out.

New to meal planning? Save money on food and grocery costs by using a meal plan. Great tips to get any beginner started with meal planning plus a FREE printable meal planner!

1. Use what you already have to make a meal.

Check what you have in the cabinets/refrigerator/freezer. Is there any meals you planned last week that you didn’t get around to making? Is there an ingredient that can be turned into a meal? For example, when I have rice in the pantry, it could be used to go with crock-pot chicken or stir-fry.

In addition, remainders from last week can be turned into a meal for this week. A half box of taco shells left over from last week means tacos goes on the menu again. A half pack of hamburger buns from last week’s sloppy joes means hamburgers this week.

2. Meal plan around your schedule.

Do you have kid’s activities like sports or scouts on certain nights? Or have work schedules to work around?

Plan quick and easy meals if you know you won’t have much time to prepare a meal. If not everyone will be home to eat dinner at the same time, consider making a meal that can be reheated easily. Save the meals that require more prepping and/or cooking time when someone will be home to prepare them.

I also keep the weather in mind-if it going to be a very hot day, I’ll plan a crockpot meal. That way I’m not heating up the whole house with the oven. Or in the winter time, soups and chili are great to warm you up on those cold nights.

3. Plan for leftovers to provide a second meal.

Once a week I make a meal that will give us enough leftovers for another meal, such as baked pasta or chili.

4. Have a back-up plan.

Keep one or two easy meals on hand as a fall back. If you forget to defrost an item or don’t have an ingredient on hand, you can make one of your back-up choices.

5. Write out your meal plan if necessary.

If you need to plan around activities and schedules, you may stick with you meal plan better if you write it out. Or just plan the days that you know you need to have a certain meal.

We specify which meals are for days when we have a busy schedule. The rest aren’t assigned a certain day of the week; I keep my list written by the fridge so I know what the choices are.

6. Plan your meals around sales.

Watch the sales flyers from your favorite grocery store and plan your meals based on the sales. I do a variation of this-I stock up on meat when it goes on sale and use it to prepare several freezer meals.

7. Try new recipes.

Eating at home can get boring-especially if you have a house full of picky eaters! Instead of eating the same foods week in and week out, try a new recipe every week or two.

Even a little variation can make meal planning seem less boring. You’ll have more choices and be less tempted to eat out.

Meal planning will save time and money.

With meal planning, I have grown accustomed to eating at home. A standard meal at a family style restaurant for the four of us will easily run $40 or more. By planning my meals I’ve been able to avoid going out to eat and have cut my dining out expenses by at least 75%.

Try making a meal plan for a week and see how much you can save by avoiding takeout and last minute grocery store trips.

Free Printable Menu Planner

Use this printable to plan your meals for the week. Plus, it has a handy grocery list on the side that you can use while making your meal plan so you don’t forget anything at the grocery store.

For each day, there are three lines so you can either plan each meal for the day. If you only need to plan dinner, then use the lines just for the dinner menu.
If you are using a binder, there is room to 3-hole punch the sheet. You can also just print the sheet and post to your bulletin board or hang on the fridge as a reminder.
Free Weekly Meal Planner Printable. Plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week and it includes a grocery list! Save money by grocery shopping with a plan.

Click here to download the meal planning printable.