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4 Easy Meal Planning Tips for Beginners (With Printables)

by - Thursday, January 09, 2014

One of the things I want to do better in the new year is meal planning. I must admit, I'm not great at it. I start off with good intentions... I go to the grocery store with a general idea of 2 or 3 meals I want to make during the week and buy the needed ingredients. But by mid-week, I find myself staring into an almost empty fridge at 5:35pm wondering what to cook for that night's dinner. Tell me I'm not the only one???

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How To Start Meal Planning

So how do you get started with meal planning if you've never done it? What's the best way for beginners to get into a meal planning habit? You create a meal planning system and follow all the meal planning tips you can find from other busy moms. That's how I approach a lot of things at this stage of motherhood when you still feel like a beginner: find out how others have done it, gather ideas, and create a system so I'm less likely to fail. Here's the best meal planning tips and tricks I've gathered to get started on the right track.

1. Collect Meal Ideas and Create A Personal Meal Menu

Do you have a family of picky eaters? Are you struggling to come up with meals last minute, with the ingredients you have on hand? Part of the challenge with meal planning is coming up with ideas for dishes to make and serve. Why not eliminate that obstacle by having a list of loved foods, a pick and choose meal plan menu, ready to go?

This is a list of the tried and true meal ideas that I know my family will eat and enjoy. I'd say 80% of our meals are captured on this list. (Click to zoom in if you want to see). I'll be printing out this list and taping it to our pantry door for easy reference and those nights I just don't know what to make.

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2. Create a Meal Plan

The key to winning the meal planning battle is simple: write down what you want to cook. That is the first and hardest step.

Weekly Meal Plan Printable:

One option is to go old school and create a hand-written meal plan like this one. This meal plan worksheet can keep you on track for daily meals and grocery shopping. I like to combine my meal planning with shopping ideas at it helps me stay on budget and see where I can reuse ingredients and have less wastage.

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Meal Planning App:

The other option is to use an online app. I have an ipad that I haven't used to its full potential so I'm going to try the high-tech route. Some apps I've heard of are Yummly, Paprika, and Plate Joy. I found the Pepperplate app which seems to have everything I need: ability to import recipes from various websites, drag and drop recipes into a meal planning calendar, and it can generate a shopping list I can access from my ipad or iphone. Winner! Let's hope I actually stick with it.

3. Take Stock of your Ingredients

Before you can cook, you need to know what you have to cook with. This month, I'm focused on getting my kitchen in tip top shape. That means organizing the pantry, cleaning out the fridge, and discarding expired foods and accessories we just don't use. It also means stocking up on the basics and having essentials on hand to make a quick and easy meal. I started cleaning cabinets this weekend and its amazing how much more "in control" I already feel knowing exactly how many frozen chicken thighs I have!

4. Gather Your Favourite Recipes In One Spot

I have favourite recipes stored all over the place: online at various recipe websites, on Pinterest, in my computer, handwritten on pieces of paper. I think having them all in one spot in the Pepperplate app will make it easier to cook. Then I won't be looking for that delicious Beatty's Chocolate Cake recipe every time I want to make cupcakes!

Even with a digital app, I will keep a running binder for printed recipes. These are recipes I've torn out of magazines, or ones passed down from family and printed on my home computer. Many of them have hand-written notes of what's worked and what hasn't. There's something nostalgic about seeing old family recipes in a musty binder, don't you think?

So that's the plan anyway. We've been using our family meal plan for almost a week and and a half and so far: one slow cooker meal made, three new recipes tried, and the fridge and freezer are looking empty because I'm actually using my food up! 

If you'd like to get started meal planning, I've created some free printables for you. Click the buttons below to download blank versions of the files shown above.

Do you meal plan? Any tips you want to pass on to a newbie? Or any favourite recipes to share? I'm always on the lookout for good slow cooker recipes.

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