How to meal plan for beginners

You know that feeling when you’re tired after getting home from work late, the kids are hungry, and you open up full cupboards but can’t see anything to cook? When you’re exhausted, effortless eating comes from meal planning in advance. Here’s how to meal plan, for beginners.

What are the benefits of meal planning?

A weekly meal planner:

  • Avoids food waste. Only buy what you need for your meals that week.
  • Encourages healthy eating. Cook at home from fresh rather than last minute unhealthy takeaway.
  • Decreases effort in cooking at the end of the day. You know what you have planned and you just have to cook it.
  • Saves energy and mental thought when you’re tired. You don’t need to stand there trying to find creativity and food inspiration.
  • Saves money. Only buying what you need each week saves money too.

How to make a meal plan?

While you’re having your Saturday morning cuppa, write out a meal plan for the week ahead too. Future you will say thank you for the effortless cooking this week.

The Balance Planner has a section on each weekly spread for making a meal plan. This can also be helpful when having to track food, diet, and other related digestive behaviours of kids.

In the meal plan section, there is space on each day to record the dinner meal.

What are the 5 basic steps to meal plan?

  1. Pick a day to plan and shop/deliver food
  2. Check the pantry and fridge stocks
  3. Think about the week, the season, and kid preferences
  4. Select meals for the week, making the most of fresh produce
  5. Make a grocery shopping list and get the supplies for the week

1. Pick a day to plan and shop/deliver food

Routine and consistency helps with meal planning. Pick a day to start your meal plan cycle and your ebb and flow of fridge supplies will follow.

I like to plan on the weekend, as that’s when I have time and can consult with other family members about what we’ll eat.

It also means that the low points of food supplies in our house fall over the weekend. This is when we’re most likely to eat out, have family takeaway dinners, or have the time for big roasting trays that use up the leftover vegetables from the week.

2. Check the pantry and fridge stocks

Part of meal planning is managing stocks of staples and perishable to avoid food waste. Do a quick check of levels.

If you are running low on pantry staples like olive oil, flour or sugar, add them to your shopping list straight away.

If you have an excess of leftover vegetables or cans, add them to the top of your weekly meal planner to prompt for their inclusion into dishes.

3. Think about the week, the season, and kid preferences

Step 3 asks 3 questions.

  1. What does your week look like?
    Do you have lots of evening or after school events where you’ll have limited time to cook? Is anyone away for meals that means you’ll cook less? Do you have visitors which means you’ll cook more? Make a note against any days on your weekly meal planner so you’ll remember when picking meals.
  2. What is the season?
    Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often cheaper, fresher and tastier. Take note of what food items might be on special and in season so you can plan meals around them.
  3. What will my kids eat?
    Meal planning is great… until kids refuse to eat your meals. If you’re going through a recipe book to get inspiration for meals, make sure they are dishes that your kids will actually eat. Or, make sure they can be easily deconstructed so each person can select the elements they’ll be comfortable eating. Mexican tacos, Buddha bowls, pasta with separate sauces, curries with rice separate are all ideas of meals easily deconstructed.

4. Select meals for the week, making the most of fresh produce

Take note of leftover food, and other notes you’ve made in step 3 at the top of your weekly meal planner.

Now it’s time to select meals.

We often follow a pattern, which makes meal selection quick (and gives consistency and predictability for our autistic kids around what they can expect at dinner time).

MONDAYPasta dish – cheesy macaroni pasta, pasta pesto, ravioli, spaghetti bolognese.
Monday night pasta is often quick and simple because we’re all tired after being back at work/school.
TUESDAYMexican dish – tacos, nachos, mexican-themed buddha bowls, burritos
It’s Taco Tuesday. Enough said. Let’s not argue with the Lego movie.
WEDNESDAYCurry night – red coconut curry, green thai curry, butter chicken curry
A hot, warming meal with rice for mid week that gives good leftovers for Thursdays.
THURSDAYToast Thursday – it’s chips and burgers night, or soup and panini
Often pulled straight from the freezer, Thursday meals need to be quick because we often have late appointments after school.
FRIDAYFry-up Friday – stirfry with noodles or rice
Make the most of vegetables in the crisper with a stirfry.
SATURDAYSurprise Saturday – pasta bake, lasagna, roast trays
By Saturday, we’re starting to run low in our supply cycle. These meals help use up the last of the vegetables.
SUNDAYFamily Sunday
Sunday is often extended family meals, takeaway night, or ‘fun’ meals like homemade pizza, dumplings, or a new dish from a recipe book

5. Make a grocery shopping list and get the supplies for the week

Once the meals have been selected, we can make a shopping list for the week.

Don’t forget to add staples (milk, bread etc), snacks for recess and lunchbox foods. These are often the same every week and so get added to the list automatically (e.g. 2 loaves of bread, 5L milk, 1 bag pretzels, rolls for lunch).

We often order online, to save time at the supermarket and so we have the whole weekend free with kids. The groceries get delivered or click&collected on a Monday, which starts the week off with a full pantry.

Conclusion: How do I meal plan for the week?

The Balance Planner includes prompts for meal planning to help with effortless eating over the week.

You can also print out some shopping lists and meal planning slips to use without the planner. Print two to an A4 landscape page and cut out where required.

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