Eats, Living

Meal Planning 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Hey friends! Today I want to give you all a behind the scenes look at how we meal plan for our family. Graham and I got married right after I graduated college, and meal planning was NOT a skill I entered into marriage with. Let’s be real, my college meals consisted of pre-packaged rice, mac and cheese, and cereal most nights. But over the past couple of years we’ve developed a system that really works for our family, and I think it could help yours too!

A few things to know:

  1. I’m a planner through and through. In fact, Graham says one of my favorite hobbies is jamming on my planner (Any parks and rec fans out there??) I cannot enter a grocery store without a list without breaking into hives. (Okay, that’s a little exaggerated, but it’s not far off).
  2. Graham does the vast majority of the cooking in our house, but since I love planning so much I lead the meal planning efforts. This may look different for your family, but I would say whoever does the bulk of the cooking should definitely be involved with the planning to make sure they aren’t stuck cooking things they dislike. 
  3. We try our very best to eat dinners at home nearly every night. We plan special date nights out, and go out with friends from time to time, but the majority of our meals are eaten at home. This helps us stick to our budget and makes eating out really feel like a treat!  

Supplies Needed:

  • System for collecting recipes you like
  • Weekly view planning sheet

I’ll explain why you need these items more in depth below, but for now, here’s a few of my favorite supplies. If you can’t tell, I have strong feelings for Rifle Paper Company 🙂 As an added bonus, I found all of these supplies on Amazon! (yay for two day shipping!)

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


The Process:

  1. Determine a time that will work for you. I personally believe meal planning works best if you build it into a set rhythm for your family. So before you get started gathering recipes or writing anything down, you need to take a look at your schedule and figure out when you want to attempt to do this. For us, we pick up our CSA on Saturday mornings, meal plan on Saturday evenings, and then grocery shop on Sunday afternoons. I also know some people who plan and shop for multiple weeks at a time, but to be honest, I get overwhelmed thinking about that. We take things one week at a time for now, but you should try out different things to see what works best for you!
  2. Assemble a recipe collection. This is one of my favorite steps, and it makes the meal planning process go much smoother. You need to have a pool of go-to recipes to pull from, as well as some ideas for meals you would like to try. I linked a few of my favorite recipe boxes above, because I write our favorite recipes on cards and keep them in our kitchen. This is the first place we look to when planning meals for the week. For new ideas, we mainly use Pinterest, Food Network Magazine, and a few of our tried and true cookbooks.  
  3. Setup your meal planning pad. Again, I linked a few of my favorite pads that work for this, but a simple sheet of printer paper would work fine. (I just love a good excuse to buy paper supplies). Look over your calendar for any meetings or commitments that will need to be worked around. Think through who will be cooking each night and how much time you will have to prepare the meals. 
  4. Take a food inventory. Check your fridge and pantry for any ingredients that may be going bad soon/may make planning easier. We write down any produce we have in order to incorporate those ingredients before they spoil.
  5. Choose meals. Start brainstorming meals that require the ingredients you already have at home. This keeps grocery bills lower and ensures you aren’t wasting the food you already have. It helps to have some general ideas of meal themes that you can use week to week. For example, each Tuesday we lead a Connect Group with friends from our church, so we know we have to have a really quick dinner. Nearly every Tuesday we plan on making breakfast for dinner. It’s cheap, yummy, and so quick to throw together.
  6. Make a grocery list as you go. As you determine which recipes you will use, make sure you know which ingredients you need to buy. This way you knock out meal planning and list making in one sitting. Hurray!
  7. Pat yourself on the back. You just successfully made a meal plan:) Adulting is hard, and I’m a firm believer in celebrating the small things. Way to go!
Example Plan: This is what our meals looked like last week!


If you’ve never given meal planning a chance, I hope this post encourages you! Meal planning has helped us stick to a budget. It keeps our meals feeling fresh, and makes it easy to try new dinners. It helps us cut down on the amount of processed foods we eat, because we aren’t wandering through the grocery store aimlessly and reaching for whatever looks easiest. And as an added bonus, it always makes me feel super accomplished. Have you tried meal planning? I would love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below with any helpful tips you have!