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Let’s start with the basics, the definition of meal planning.  Meal planning is a strategy to map out what you’re going to eat ahead of time. That’s it.  It’s simple when you put it like that.  I mean you probably do this already.  You probably eat out the same night each week or eat Mexican food with your co-workers on Fridays.

Sound like something you could get on board with?  Then, follow along for 5 steps to meal planning for beginners that will make you feel like a pro in no time.

We will discuss:

  • benefits to meal planning
  • why people struggle with meal planning
  • 5 steps to get started meal planning like a pro

Benefits to meal planning:

Saves Time

When you plan your meals ahead of time, you don’t have to figure out what to eat at the last minute when the whole house is hangry.  No more defrosting meat at 6:00.

Saves Money

When you create a meal plan and buy your groceries ahead of time, you don’t run out to the store at the last minute.  You get to just say no to running into the grocery store when half of the city is in there at the same time.

Then finally get to the check-out counter and spend all day fighting with self-checkout because you left your bag on the stand too long or took a bag off the stand too fast.

Saves Sanity

Meal planning saves your sanity, plain and simple.  You don’t have to answer five million questions about what’s for dinner.  Tell them to look at the meal plan.  You don’t have to figure out what to eat at the last minute because you ALWAYS know what’s for dinner.

It takes away the decision to figure out what to cook for dinner when it is 5:00, nothing is thawed out, and your children are screaming at the top of their lungs wanting your attention or fighting with each other.


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More Variety

Meal planning allows you to have more variety in your dinners.  When you plan out your week or two of meals, you aren’t going to eat green beans the same way three times a week.

You avoid last-minute McDonald’s runs

When you know what’s for dinner and have all of the ingredients to cook beforehand, you don’t have to run through the drive-thru at the last minute.  You’re not forced to eat a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger 3x a week because it’s cheap.

You don’t have to get frustrated because someone in front of you is ordering their entire t-ball team a happy meal.

The benefits far outweigh the “hassle” of meal planning.  I say hassle, but it isn’t.  The first time you are creating a meal plan, you might take 45 minutes to figure out what you want to eat for the week, but you save so much MORE time by doing it ahead of time.

As you get better, it will be second nature and you could cut that time in half.  Remember the first time you made your bed as a child?

It probably took you like 30 minutes or so.  Now when you make the bed, it takes a couple of minutes.  The better you get at it, the quicker you can do it.

How to meal plan in 5 steps:

 1. Make a list of meals you know your family likes and will eat.

We are going to start by getting out a sheet of paper and writing down every meal your family likes to eat.  This is going to help you so much when you plan your meals.  You can keep this list handy and add to it as you find and/or try new recipes.

You can keep this list on the notes app on your phone.

Look at your list and put an asterisk * by the ones that are simple and easy (just a few ingredients and quick to cook).


2. Make a list of 5 quick “it’ll do” dinners. 

Now make a list of quick “it’ll do” dinners.  These don’t have to be elaborate meals and they don’t have to be your family’s absolute favorite meals.  Hence the phrase “it’ll do” dinners.

These are the trick to getting your out of the McDonald’s drive-thru three times a week.  These are meals we will add to your grocery list and keep on hand for when you have an emergency, the crap hits the fan, or you just can’t muster up the energy to cook.

These items need to be quick prep meals.  They don’t have to be culinary cuisine, but you do have to like them.

Here are some examples:

  • Chicken sandwiches using frozen Tyson chicken breasts with frozen French fries
  • Frozen pizza
  • Frozen pre-cooked hamburgers and frozen French fries
  • Hot dogs and chips
  • Frozen entrees like chicken pot pies
  • Spaghetti with frozen meatballs

You get the gist of it now.  These are meals that will feed your family, but they might not be their favorites or healthiest. Quick easy to cook meals are the key.


3. Look at your calendar and figure out what activities you have going on the next week.

This will help you figure out when you need quick meals (from #1).  For this step, just simply get out your calendar and look at it.  You will keep it out to complete step 4.


4. Fill out our meal planning sheet (available free in our Resource Library) and get to work.

Now, you need to look at your calendar and list of meals and start plugging in the meals you want to each day on your sheet.

Tips for success:

  • Try theme nights. Theme nights are you picking a night of the week and assigning it to them.  Like pizza night, Taco Tuesdays, or takeout.  That way every single week you know on Tuesday you are going to have tacos without fail.  This limits the number of decisions you have to make.
  • Choose quick and simple meals on nights when you have a lot going on that day. Think intense all-day therapy appointments, IEPs, or a late night at work.
  • When you do cook, cook enough for 2 meals and then have the leftovers the very next day (or freeze them if you can). This cuts down the number of meals you need to decide on and make in half!
  • If you want to eat out one night a week, decide ahead of time what night that will be and go ahead and put it on the calendar. We choose to eat out every Friday night.
  • If you are using a new recipe, go ahead and print it out.  Put the printout behind the meal plan on the fridge so you won’t be searching for it later. 
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5. Figure out which ingredients you need, make a list, and go shopping!

BONUS TIP: Take a picture of the completed meal planning sheet

Text it to your hubby and kids so they aren’t always asking what’s for dinner.  Put the paper copy of the meal planning sheet on your fridge.  When someone asks what’s for dinner, just say check the fridge or your phone.  This is a little tip to get your family independent.  They can’t depend on you for everything.


Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated.  It takes time to develop a new habit.  Just print out the sheet, follow the steps, and get started.   Take it one day at a time.  If you forget to defrost some meat, don’t beat yourself up…..just look at your list of it’ll do dinners.  They will get you from start to the dinner table in no time.

To get your meal planning sheet, sign-up in the box below.  It’s located in our resource library where we have free resources for you to help you with your special needs journey.