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A Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Meal Planning

Are you busy and want to reduce weeknight stress over what to make for dinner? Then read on.

Full disclosure. This article contains affiliate links that I may earn a commission on.

It’s Tuesday at 3:00 pm and you have no idea what you are going to make for dinner. For me, that equals stress.

If you’re always busy (says everyone) meal planning will not just save you time, but stress as well.

If you’re like me, not knowing what’s for dinner can create stress once 3:00 pm hits. I am already exhausted from working all day. My mind doesn’t want to also deal with figuring out what to cook for dinner. It seems like such a small thing, but for me and for many others, it creates undue stress.

Sounding familiar?

The one thing that has made all the difference in my house was meal planning. And get this, meal planning is not hard!

Meal planning is the process of planning, organizing, and preparing some portions of your meals in advance. It can help you save time, money, and stress and improve your overall health. No more getting unhealthy take-out a little too often.

Notice how I am emphasizing reduced stress over and over again?

Here’s a tip for those who don’t want to spend two hours meal prepping on the weekend.

No stress is the goal here.

Breaking meal planning into smaller steps can make it feel like a walk in the park instead of a stress-inducing event. But that’s me. If you want to spend a few hours on the weekend cooking for the week, do it, love it, and enjoy the results of it!

Here are the meal-planning steps to get you started:

Determine your goals

Before you start meal planning, consider your goals. Do you want to save time, save money, eat healthier, or do all of the above? I’m in for all of the above.

Knowing your goals will help you plan meals that are aligned with your priorities.

Review your schedule

Consider your schedule for the week and how much time you have for meal prep. This will help you plan meals that are realistic and achievable. This is where you might add those extra 15 minutes when you’re already in the kitchen to do meal prep for the next meal.

Make a list of meals

Determine what meals you want to make for the week, taking into account your goals and schedule.

*This is the fun part!*

No inspiration?

Here are places to find recipes/meal ideas:

  1. Look at the online menu of some of your favorite restaurants
  2. Pinterest (make a board for meals you want to make this week)
  3. The cookbooks you own
  4. Whisk — an online recipe platform
  5. The Feed Feed — another online recipe platform
  6. Instagram is another great place to find recipes

Make a grocery list

Based on the meals you have planned, make a list of the ingredients you need. I like to keep a notebook open while I am looking up recipes so I can jot down the ingredients I need to buy.

Time to shop for groceries

Once you have your list, go grocery shopping to buy all the ingredients you need. Trying to save money?

Try these tips:

  1. Buy in bulk when possible to take advantage of bulk discounts.
  2. Shop at discount stores or use coupons to save on items you normally buy.
  3. Buy store-brand or generic items instead of brand names.
  4. Stores that I save money shopping at are: Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Aldi.
  5. Online stores that I save money shopping at are Amazon, Misfits Market, and Thrive Market.

Prepare your meals

Set aside time to prep your meals for the week. Are you going to spend a few hours on the weekend doing this? Is meal prepping in 15-minute increments easier for you?

This can include chopping vegetables, marinating meats, or cooking grains in advance.

Bonus tip for smoothie lovers: prep your smoothie ingredients ahead of time and put them in a baggie. I prefer reusable baggies to save plastic waste.

When its time to make your smoothie as you’re trying to rush out the door, dump your baggie into the blender with some liquid and DONE!

Meal/food storage

Once your meals and foods are prepared, store them in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to eat them. Keep a list of the meals you have prepped or will prep on a weekly meal planner.

I have a blank weekly meal planner template that you can print and hang on your fridge — get it here!

Lastly, enjoy your meals!

Knowing what’s for dinner and having it prepped each night will reduce stress and save you time.

What’s your top meal-planning tip? Share in the comments!

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Want to save time, money, and reduce the stress of meal planning?

And be able to stick to your dietary goals and feel confident in the kitchen?

In my Cook Once, Eat Three Times Ebook you'll get:

  • A comprehensive grocery list to help you stock your kitchen with healthy ingredients
  • A variety of recipes to choose from
  • Simple, step-by-step instructions for each recipe
  • Nutritional information for each meal, so you can track your daily intake