Easy meal planning for beginners-Plan 1 month in 1 hour!
There are few things that will have such a great impact on your budget and your time as menu planning. Once you get in the habit, it is quick and simple, seriously, you can create your month of meal plans in 1 month. Check out this system for easy meal planning for beginners and save yourself a ton of time and money.
Meal planning hasn’t always been something that I was capable (or willing) to do. At one point in my married life, we were spending close to $1,000 A MONTH in groceries. We were eating nice food for sure, but I also had no plan for how we were using the groceries that we bought. It was an expensive mistake. We were in debt and had a long journey ahead of us to change that. Meal planning is the best thing that I have learned for my family.
Keep it simple, easy meal ideas for families
The best thing that you can do as a mama is to respect your season. If you are in a season of babies, crazy toddlers, or lots of after school activities, then you need to respect that and plan around it. Easy meals can still be family friendly and nutritious, but they are fast and don’t cause too much stress and preparation. If you need some easy meal ideas for your family, check out my post on simple meal planning for busy moms where I list out my favorite easy meal ideas for my own family.
When you check out Simple Meal Planning for Busy Moms, be sure to print out the meal printable so that you can list out your own family’s favorite meals. This will really help you get your meal planning done right and quickly. When you know what your family likes to eat, you are the mom of the year:)
Meal planning for 1 month instead of weekly
Why I plan for 1 month
There are a few problems with meal planning systems. A lot of them want you to plan every single meal and snack of every day leaving absolutely no room for spontaneity. Weekly meal planning gets monotonous and really doesn’t allow you to catch great savings for the whole month at a time. The other problem is that it can take way too long leaving you discouraged and putting off what you really need to do in order to save yourself some sanity and money.
I did menu planning weekly for years. Every single weekend I would pull out my cook books, my Pinterest app, and a list and think about what I wanted to cook for that week. I would then write a grocery list of everything I needed for the week. It took me about an hour to do this every single week. Eventually I got tired of it! I started meal planning for the whole month of dinners and it has been life changing! Now, I spend about 1 hour each MONTH planning my meals for the month. Let me show you how you can too!
Tools you need to meal plan
I already mentioned the Favorite Meals printable which is absolutely the best trick for easy meal planning for beginners. Grab that so that you can have a list of meals that your family loves already in your back pocket. This will save you so much time each month. Get it here now.
You will also need a pen, a list pad or a piece of paper, some of your favorite cook books, and the Pinterest app or site. Be sure to follow me on Pinterest while you are at it!
Menu planning example and step by step instructions
So now lets get on with the fun part, the planning!
1. On your list, go ahead and jot down the dates of the month down the left side (i.e. 1-30/31). I like to place an S next to Saturdays and Sundays so that I know it is a weekend as we tend to do a bit more intensive meals then like grilling.
2. If you are going on a trip or have a special dinner occasion coming up on a certain day, mark that down next to the day. This will help you see how many days you actually need to have a dinner prepared or planned.
3. Count up the days you need dinner for and write them at the top of the list on the other side.
4. On the other side of the list, you will have:
- the number of days you need a meal
- the number of times you will be eating out
- the number of times you will make a breakfast for dinner
- the number of times you will do leftovers (my family pretty much does 1 day of leftovers for each day I cook)
- and then the number of other meals you will cook
5. Now, write sections on your list for chicken, beef, vegetarian, breakfasts, and other.
6. Start writing out your meals for the month starting with you family favorites. Do half of your meals or more from your family favorites list. Grab this free printable to keep your family favorites all together in one place!
7. Next, look in your trusted cookbooks. Go to the recipes that you want to try or have tried before and write those down. The last meals that you need (if you still need any at this time) should come from online or Pinterest.
8. Once you have the correct number of meals that you need, start filling those meals into the dates on the other side taking into consideration the day of the week, if it needs to be an easy night or not, etc.
9. Fill in your breakfast meals, leftover nights, and sandwich nights until all of your days have a meal of some sort planned out.
10. At the beginning of the week, just look at the meals that you have planned in order to make your grocery list. I like to keep my monthly meals with me when I am shopping so that I can buy sale items that I will for sure use by the end of the month.
Breakfast and lunch meal planning
Breakfast and lunch are easy meals, so why complicate them. Well, IF you are having difficulty with remembering to have food on hand for breakfast and lunch or if you want a bit more diversity than what you have, then you may need to start planning those meals too. You would follow the same process for planning dinner meals, but remember to keep this simple with easy meal ideas for families. So for breakfast, make a huge batch of waffles to freeze for later, a breakfast quiche, or plan for easy things like eggs and toast. For lunch, easy meal ideas would be sandwiches, shakes, leftovers, soup or salad.
This doesn’t have to be hard, the main goal is that you plan to have the items on hand that you want to eat so that you are less likely to either not eat or go buy food. So just keep it simple.
Tips for beginners to consider when menu planning
Being a beginner, there is a learning curve here so I want to give you as many tips as possible to make this simple. Since you are planning for a whole month, try to diversify your meals as much as possible. Having an equal amount of chicken, beef and vegetarian is good for the wallet and so that you don’t grow tired of the same thing. I like to do 1 breakfast each week as this saves a lot of money (a typical breakfast may cost us $2-$5 compared to most dinners which are $5-$10). Also try to diversify the flavors by doing a Mexican dinner one night, American another, Italian another, an so on.
Once you are into the groove of meal planning and no longer really a beginner, you will want to start paying attention to how much your meals are costing you. Once you know that, you can plan one more expensive meal a week or month alongside cheaper meals so that it balances out.
Money saving shopping tips for the beginner
If you are meal planning because you want to save money, then you will need to learn some other money saving shopping tips. There are so many ways to save money, but I am not a huge fan of coupons. We eat mostly natural foods and very few convenience foods so there are not many coupons for us to use. If you tend to eat other types of foods, then coupons may be a great fit for your family.
Personally, I love to shop at the bulk store, Costco especially for meat, and at Aldi which is a discount food store. If you have an Aldi near you, I highly suggest you go there. They have a good selection of food at really great prices and they even have a lot of natural foods too! Saving money on food is a process, but doesn’t have to be difficult! Check out this post on how to save money on groceries for another tip that saved my family $300-400!
Money saving apps to use
If you shop with a smartphone in your hand, then Ibotta will be a great money saving app for you to use. I love how easy Ibotta is to use and to save money. You just select the items that you are purchasing and then scan your receipt after you pay. Once you have reached $10, you will receive the money! Super easy and such a simple way to save money. Not a member of Ibotta yet? Join now with this link and start saving today!
The Target app is another great app to use to save money. I love that I can scan my item to check if there is a good deal on it and it even tells me if another similar product is on sale. I save a lot of money this way for sure. Just as easy as the Target app, most grocery stores now have apps to use to save even more! Check out your local stores website to see if they have a money saving app yet!
I know this was a lot to consume, but really just break it down. No one says you need to start meal planning for all 3 meals perfectly today, just start with dinner and work your way through planning lunch and breakfast, the money saving tips and apps when you feel ready to take it on.
Just because this is easy meal planning for beginners does NOT mean that you need to do it all right now. It took me years to figure this out. Don’t take years like me, but the point is that in order for this to be sustainable, you need to feel like it is something you can actually maintain. And I fully believe that you can!