Meal Planning for Beginners (A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Meal Plan)

This is a beginner’s guide to meal planning. In this post, you’ll discover a step-by-step process to help you create your first meal plan. You’ll also learn how to build a habit of meal planning.

This post is part of the Homemaking for Beginners series.

What is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is the process of figuring out what you are going to eat ahead of time.

Here are two major benefits of meal planning:

  • Meal planning gives you peace of mind. Feeding yourself (and your family) is a big responsibility. By planning your meals in advance, you can stop worrying about what you are going to eat.
  • Meal planning helps you make better decisions. It can be difficult to make good food choices under time pressure. When you determine your meals in advance, you give yourself time to make decisions that make you feel good.

Step 1: Create a Template

To begin meal planning, you need to create a template, which is a list of all the meals that you (and your family) consume each day.

A template helps you create a meal plan that is perfectly tailored to your needs. A template also helps you save time; once you have created your template, you can refer to it over and over again.

Here is a three-step process to help you create your template:

  1. Write down the names of the main meals that you eat each day. On my template, there are three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  2. Write down the names of any light meals or snacks that are served between main meals. On my template, there are two light meals: morning tea and supper.
  3. Write down any special meal arrangements that you need to remember. For example, if you need to prepare packed lunches on weekdays for some members of your family, write that down in your template.

Step 2: Create Your First Meal Plan

Now that you have your personalised template, you can use it to create your first meal plan.

Here’s how to create your first meal plan:

  1. Choose a date for your meal plan. You will find it easier to start meal planning if you focus on a single day. Try making your first meal plan for today or tomorrow.
  2. For each meal on your template, write down what you plan to eat. Using your template ensures that you don’t forget to plan any meals.
  3. Describe each meal in detail. A descriptive meal plan is easier to understand. Instead of broad keywords like “chicken”, write precise descriptions like “breaded chicken breasts with roast potatoes and steamed broccoli”.
  4. Don’t leave gaps in your meal plan. Plan out every meal, including those that don’t require cooking. If certain meals involve having leftovers or dining out, write that down.

Step 3: Integrate Meal Planning Into Your Life

To experience the benefits of meal planning, you need to build a habit of meal planning. You will find it easier to build a habit of meal planning if you integrate meal planning into your existing routines.

Here are some tips to help you integrate meal planning into your life:

  • Find a home for your meal plan. Once you have created your meal plan, put it somewhere visible so that you (and your family) can refer to it throughout the day.
  • Consult your meal plan before going grocery shopping. This allows you to create a shopping list that contains the items that you need to execute your meal plan.
  • Refer to your meal plan before preparing every meal. This helps you build a habit of preparing the meals that you planned.
  • Interact with your meal plan. Tick off each meal once you have served it. At the end of the day, replace your old meal plan with a new one for the next day.
  • Choose a timeslot for meal planning. You will find it easier to build a habit of meal planning if you do it at the same time every day. I do my meal planning every evening, which allows me to go to bed knowing that my meals for the next day are sorted out.

Keep Improving Your Meal Planning Skills

Once you have mastered the basics of meal planning, challenge yourself to keep improving your meal planning skills. Look for ways to make each meal plan better than the last.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when creating a meal plan:

  • Is it appropriate? An excellent meal plan always matches the occasion. When planning your meals, think about the time of day, the weather, and the season. You can also think about special events that you want to celebrate, such as birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Does it include variety? If your meal plan always consists of the same few dishes, your meal plan will soon become boring. To make your meal plan more appealing, include a variety of meals each week.
  • Does it provide novelty? You can inject freshness into your meal plans by trying at least one new recipe each week. If you find a recipe that you enjoy, keep it so that you can make it again.
  • Is it convenient? Cooking can require a lot of time and effort, so it is paramount that you find ways to give yourself a break. Try inserting at least one or two easy meals into your meal plan each week.

Bonus Tip: Be Flexible With Your Meal Plan

When I first began meal planning, I encountered an unexpected obstacle. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like eating what I had planned.

If you find yourself rebelling against your meal plan, do not force yourself to adhere to your meal plan. Meal planning should never make you feel miserable. You just need to know how to adjust your meal plan to work with your whims.

Here are some ways to adjust your meal plan when you need to:

  • Change the order of your meals. For example, try swapping the meals you had planned for lunch and dinner. Or try switching your meal plans for today and tomorrow.
  • Search for ways to improvise. Try cooking a different meal that uses similar ingredients. Instead of Italian meatballs, make lasagna. Or instead of chicken fried rice, make chicken fried noodles.
  • Don’t plan too far ahead. If you consistently struggle to stick to your meal plan, try planning no more than three or four days in advance. This allows you to create meal plans that gratify your whims.

Meal Planning Should Make Your Life Easier, Not Harder

Meal planning is a tool that can make your life exponentially better. The key is to find a meal planning routine that works for you.

As you are meal planning, pay attention to how it makes you feel. Meal planning should make your life easier, not harder. If something feels off, put your chef’s hat on and tweak your meal planning routine. Keep experimenting and adjusting until you find a meal planning routine that leaves you feeling at peace and excited to cook.

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