Meal Planning for Beginners Guide

Find Out How to Make Eating Healthy Easier.

I talk a lot about meal planning. That’s because it’s without a doubt one of the most foundational concepts for a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is possible to be healthy without meal planning, but it’s incredibly difficult and more than likely, a much more expensive way of doing things. My guess is that you don’t have space for that. You are busy, you don’t have an unlimited budget and you certainly don’t have unlimited time and energy. That’s where meal planning comes in. The concept is based on deciding ahead of time every meal that your family is going to have for at least three to four days but preferably the entire week. If you’re just starting out with living a healthy lifestyle or are ready to find out how to make eating healthy easier, then this step-by-step meal planning for beginners’ guide is for you.

***Note, you’ll probably want to plan to spend about an hour on getting your system in place. If that seems like too much, remember that this investment of time up front will help reduce the amount of time that you spend on weekly meal planning and will help to reduce food costs on a regular basis.

Step 1: Create a List of Regular Meals

Meal planning for beginners starts with creating a list of your favorite meals or at least meals that you and your family eat regularly. Here’s the way that I do this:

  • Create a spreadsheet with a column for Meals, Ingredients, Cost and Recipe. The simplest way is to use Google Sheets so that you can call it up on your phone wherever you are.
  • In the Meals column, make a list of 10-14 meals that your family eats regularly and/or loves. (If you don’t have 10-14 good foundational meals, see Step 2.) Be sure and leave 5-10 rows between each meal. You can also include the recipe’s website link or indicate the cookbook and page number where it can be found in the Recipe column. Different tabs for breakfast, lunch and snacks can also be created.
  • Then create a list of every ingredient in each meal. Do this in the Ingredients column using the empty rows between each meal.
  • Finally, figure out the average cost for each meal. I do this in the Cost column by including the usual price for each ingredient. For spices and items that I know I don’t use all at once, I come up with the general cost of the amount needed for that specific recipe. At the end of the recipe entry, I put “Total:” in the Meal column and then over in the Cost column, I total up the cost of all the ingredients.
  • It’s helpful to make a note of any recipes that use partial ingredients that may spoil quickly such as ½ can of diced tomatoes or ½ of an onion. That way you can easily know which recipes would be good to make in the same week to cut down on food waste as much as possible.

Step 2: Find Good Recipe Resources

If you don’t have 10-14 foundational meals that you can call on quickly when you’re planning your meals for the week, you’ll need to find at least three good recipe resources that you know won’t let you down. It may take a bit of trial and error to find these, but my bet is that you probably already have them even if you don’t realize it. These are the websites, blogs, and cookbooks that you regularly go to because you know that they have things that your family will eat. If you need suggestions for possible resources, feel free to use some or all of what I consider to be the 5 Best Healthy Food Blogs and the 7 Best Vegan Recipe Blogs and Websites.

As you find new meals to add to your repertoire, simply include them with the list that you’ve already started. This list is going to be the foundation for your weekly meal planning.

Step 3: Create a Meal Planning Template

After you’ve found your basic meals that you can rotate through every couple of weeks, it’s time to create your Meal Planning Template. Again, I do this in Google Sheets in the following way:

  • Have columns labeled Meal, Day of the Week, Recipe, Cost of Meal and Recipe Notes.
  • In the Meal column, have sections that are labeled Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast and Snacks.

Step 4: Fill in the Meal Planning Template

If you have your list of meals that you can refer to, filling in your meal planning template for the week is fairly easy. At this point, it’s just picking and choosing from the list that you’ve already created and maybe adding a new meal every now and then.

  • Cost-saving tip: Think about what foods are in season and look at your grocery store sales circular at the beginning of this step. Choose the meals from your list that use foods that are in season or on sale to keep costs as low as possible.
  • I create a new tab for each week within the same spreadsheet so that I can easily go back and remember what we had the previous week or two weeks before.
  • I would advise having a meal template for each year. Any longer than that gets too cumbersome to scroll through all of the tabs.
  • At the end of the list, you can calculate what your general cost for meals for the week will be by putting “Total:” in the Meal column and then over in the Cost of Meal column, totaling up the cost of all of the meals. That way, if it doesn’t fit within your budget for the week, you can go back and make adjustments.

Step 5: Use Meal Planner to Make Grocery List

Once you have your meal planner filled in, making your grocery list for the week is a snap. Simply, look at the ingredients’ list for each meal, check to see whether you already have it in stock or if you need to add it to the list. If you don’t have a good grocery list template that you use, you’re welcome to access my free Food Inventory and Shopping List template here or check out some of my other favorite meal planning tools.

Bottom Line on Meal Planning for Beginners

The bottom line on meal planning for beginners is that it will take some time and effort to get your system in place. Once you’ve done that though, the time and money savings and health benefits that you will reap from it will make it more than worth your while