Meal Planning for Beginners
Do you love the idea of feeding your family real food, but every time you try, it just seems to cost more money? I understand! Cost was the biggest reason our family ate crappy food in the first place. I thought processed foods were cheaper. Now I know better.
It may a seem a little dull, but Meal Planning is the No 1 thing you can do to save money and get your family eating right at the same time.
Before we start, let me just say that there is no right or wrong way to meal plan. It simply comes down to doing what works for you and your family. There are a couple of things that are important to me when it comes to feeding my family: cooking fast, healthy food and sticking within my budget. This is the meal planning strategy that works for our family of 6.
There are no coupon cutting, sale shopping or complicated flow diagrams here – There is no way I could stick to all that. This is a very basic, step by step guide on how to start menu planning for beginners wanting to eat real food and save money at the same time.
Your grocery budget is one of your biggest household expenses. In our home, it is second to our mortgage payments. But this means it also has the most potential to reduce your monthly spending. Unfortunately, the grocery budget is often ignored because it takes the biggest amount of organising. When I get this wrong, I can easily spend double my budget in a week. Lack of planning means a few more trips to my local store and, because I’m easily tempted, a lot more impulsive purchases and ‘quick fix’ meals.
Because it’s such a huge part of our spending and also responsible for keeping your family healthy, I believe it should sit fairly high on your ‘get it organised list’.
A LITTLE BIT OF MATH.
How much do you spend on groceries every week?
Now multiply by 52. Feel free to use a calculator for this 🙂
This is the total amount you spend every year on Groceries. Scary hey?
If you are not sure about how much you are currently spending on groceries, go through your bank statements and add up all the amounts you spent on food for a few weeks. This will give you a good idea of how much you are currently spending. Include fast food trips, dinners out and takeaway lunches. Include all spending done on food.
So, if you are serious about getting your family eating fresh, real food and save money, then follow these steps. My meal planning for beginners will help you get started the right way:
Step-by-Step Instructions for Simple Meal Planning for Beginners
PRINT OUT THE ONE PAGE MEAL PLANNING SHEET. Print out a meal planning sheet with the days of the week on it. (You can print my Weekly Menu Planner).
CHECK YOUR FAMILY SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEK.
Look at your family’s schedule for the week.(You can print off a Weekly Schedule Plan 4 people here). What days involve late nights and limited (or no) cooking time? Extra mouths to feed? What’s going on this week? Do you have to work late, do you have plans for dinner with friends, or a kids party? Which days are busy school days needing fast breakfasts and easy lunches?
CHOOSE 2 or 3 BREAKFASTS FOR THE WEEK.
Put breakfast prep on autopilot by having some fast go to options available for the week. Write down 2 or 3 options for breakfasts that fit into your family’s schedule. Here are a few fast weekday breakfast options that work in our home: 5 Fast & Easy Clean Eating Breakfasts for Busy School Mornings.
CHOOSE LUNCH COMBOS.
We are going to use a trick from McDonalds here to get our lunch planning out of the way. I call it the lunchtime combo. Its what I use during the week to keep lunchbox planning simple. There is no harm in repeating meals. You run a home, not a restaurant.
- COMBO 1: Sandwich/Wrap + Fruit + Snack
- COMBO 2: Leftovers + Fruit + Snack
- COMBO 3: Pasta OR Cous Cous Salad + Fruit + Snack
CHOOSE 5 SNACK OPTIONS.
Having healthy snack options available means you and your family are less likely to grab for the crappy foods when feeling peckish. I keep my list on the fridge so my kids can see snack ideas. I try to get a batch or two of baking done at the beginning of the week to stock up the snack box. Download my list of 50 Clean Eating Snack ideas and pick 5 to add to your plan.
CHOOSE 7 DINNERS.
Family life is busy so I prefer fast, easy dinners (check out the 6 types of fast dinner ideas below) that take the stress out of meal preparation. The great thing about Clean Eating is that most of the food involves simple recipes with very short ingredient lists.
WRITE OUT YOUR SHOPPING LIST.
Why? Why? You ask? I’ve tried to void this so many times and for years I operated off the ‘Ill remember when Im there strategy”. It doesn’t work. You will forget something. Write out your shopping list so that you have all the ingredients on hand for the weeks’ meals. It means no more unnecessary trips to the store and makes meal times so much easier. You can print off a free copy of my Grocery List template here.
FINALLY: STICK IT WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT.
Stick your weeks meal plan to the fridge. This saves the countless ‘what’s for dinner?’ questions and also gives your kids a guideline on what you consider healthy meal options. Having an easily accessible list helps you stick to your plan, remember to defrost for that nights dinner and takes away the panic.
7 Fast and Easy Dinner Options to make meal Planning a Breeze.
1. 15 Minute Meals:
Weekdays are generally crazy busy in our home. Kids and hubby come home hungry. Having a few 15 minute meals up your sleeve make home life that much easy PLUS save you splurging on fast food take outs. Yes, it does mean you need to be prepared – but that’s what meal planning is all about.
2. Slow Cooker Meals:
There is something magical about walking into your home to the smell of a slow cooked meal. If you know you are going to be out all day and won’t have time to get dinner ready – then make your slow cooker your new best friend. Slow Cookers cook food for a long period (4- 8 hours) over a low heat. This also means that many of the nutrients aren’t destroyed like they are in high heat cooking.
Some of the regulars in our home are Chicken and Vegetable soup, Beef and Potato Casserole and Tuscan Chicken. Take a look at my Slow Cooker Dinners Pinterest Board for my favourite Slow Cooker Meals and a little inspiration.
3. Go To Pantry Meals:
These are the meals you know by heart and can make without looking up the recipe and generally have the ingredients in the freezer or in the pantry. We should all have at least a couple of these up our sleeve. Take the time to learn to remake your usual ‘Go To Meals’ using real food ingredients and then make sure you always have the ingredients for these in your kitchen. A Super Easy Pantry meal is:
4 Ingredient Spaghetti Bolognaise – Beef Mince (from my freezer); Canned tomatoes with herbs (Pantry); Wholemeal spaghetti (Pantry), topped with grated cheese (optional)
4. Double up Freezer Meals for THOSE Days.
Some meals are easy to double up and cook an extra serve to pop in the freezer for another night. Soups, casseroles and pasta sauces are perfect for this. It helps you build a little stash of homemade ready to go freezer meals which you just need to heat up and eat.
There will be THOSE days when even the Martha Stewart of Meal Plans just won’t cut it. These are the days that you can never quite plan for.
Like when the cat gets sick.
Or the car breaks down.
A school project is due the next day.
Or you just don’t feel like cooking.
For these unexpected, far too frequent evenings, I always keep 2 -3 ready made meals in my freezer.
5. 5 Ingredients or less Meals:
These are generally fast and easy to put together. You don’t need complicate ingredients and technical know how. One of the great things about Clean Eating is that most meals have a short ingredient list. Here are some of the 5 Ingredients or less meals we love and for more inspiration, browse these recipes on my Pinterest Board.
6.One Tray Meals:
This is by far, my favourite way to cook for my family. It is easy, delicious and I don’t have a ton of washing up to do afterwards. One tray meals involve putting meat and vegetables in one dish and baking in your oven. It’s a bit like Slow Cooker cooking, only faster.
Keep it Simple
The purpose of eating Clean is to eat wholesome delicious food that nourishes your body. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep your meals simple and don’t stress yourself out with complicated recipes, fancy sauces or countless side dishes.
Avoid the Store Trips
Plan to only go to the grocery store once a week. I know that some salad and vegetables are stretching their use by date by the end of the week, so use your freezer and cut up and store serving size portions of fresh fruits and veg for use later in the week. It reduces waste as well as saving you time later on.
You will save a bundle of money by avoiding those extra store trips. Even a $10 splurge a week from the extra trip adds up to $520 over the year. I also find I waste more when I start doubling up on grocery shopping trips. I get tempted to buy extra fruit and veg instead of using up what I have. I really don’t like throwing away food because I was careless. Throwing away just $10 of food a week doubles that extra spend to $1040 a year. Agh.
Check your Pantry
When deciding on your meal plan for the week, go through your pantry, freezer and fridge. See what you have in stock and add it to your nest meal plan to use it up before you head to the store. You don’t want to spend more than you need by buying double, or throwing away wasted food. It also forces you to clean out your fridge once a week. I read recently that a fridge can house as many as 8000 bacteria!
Grab your Free Simple Meal planning for Beginners printable!
by clicking here.
The No 1. thing you MUST do to get your Meal Planning Sorted.
Establishing a rock solid grocery shopping routine will help you get organised. It is the most important step in the whole meal planning process.
Having that fixed grocery day forces you to keep on track with meal planning, pantry checks and budget tracking. It all starts with setting a weekly grocery date and sticking with it. I used to do my weekly shop on a Monday, but after we started Clean Eating, I had to change it to the Friday as I needed fresh fruit and vegetables for the weekend and school lunches. That Monday shop was leaving my cupboards a little bare and was making Monday morning school lunches hard. Find a day that suits and then set it in stone.
Choose a day of the week that you can spend 30 minutes meal planning, checking your pantry and making a shopping list. Then choose another day of the week that you’re going to go grocery shopping. Put it in your calendar and make sure that it’s done every week at the same time.
Having that grocery shopping routine in place is the first step to getting your food plan organised. It allows you to budget effectively, forcing you to be accountable for your diet and also your spending.
Couple of short cuts.
Get your groceries delivered.
Find out if your local grocery store delivers to your door. This is a brilliant service that is well worth the small delivery fee. It save at least an hour of your time as well as vehicle expenses.
Copy what works.
Don’t throw away meal plans that work well for your family. Keep it and reuse it. In a couple of months’ you will have a stockpile of tried and tested meal plans that are ready to go and perfectly suited for your family – complete with its shopping list.
Make a Master List
Make a master list of 10 – 15 meals that your family enjoys. It is a really good resource when you are looking to full up that meal plan.
Keep a folder of recipes you want to try.
If you find a good recipe, print it, write it out and file it so that its easy to access when you are looking for some ideas on what to cook. We have a notebook in our kitchen where I write down recipes that work. We try a lot more, but only some make it to the notebook (and then to this blog).
Introduce a Theme night.
To really simplify things, you can introduce some family traditions or theme nights. So … Sunday Roasts, Meatless Monday, Tuesday Taco’s, Wednesday can be casserole night. Well, you get the idea. Get the family involved in this one too. It’s a great way to teach the kids to cook as they get to practice meals with similar elements every week.
To Sum it all up: Clean Eating Meal Planning for beginners.
- Write out your family schedule for the week to see if there are any late days or evenings when you need to have a fast dinner option available. Most evenings fall into this category in our home J (Click here to print out a weekly planner)
- Print out a Menu Planner (Click here for your free printable menu plan).
- Choose 7 easy dinners with simple ingredients to fill in the dinners. For some inspiration, take a look at the Clean Eating Dinners we like to cook.
- Choose two or 3 options for breakfasts.
- Choose 5 Snack Options – these can be allocated to a day, or just listed so everyone knows whats on the snack list when they get peckish.
- Fill in your menu plan – include all breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
- Create a shopping list of ingredients you will need for your menu plan.
- Post your menu plan on your fridge where you can see it every day.
- Refer to it daily to keep you on track.
Do you have any meal planning tips you would like to share?