Meal Planning 101: The Basics + A Free Printable

Welcome back to the new year and new resolutions. Last year I spoke about goals, but not really resolutions. Well life got in the way, we discovered we are expecting another little girl (Yup! Count ’em! That’s Four little girls running around our house), and I stuck to my goals/aspirations as best I could with out sacrificing my sanity. So all in all I would say 2016 wasn’t a bad year at all.

Did I accomplish each and every task I set out to do? Well no, did you not just read I have three girls and am pregnant with number four ha ha ha! But seriously, 2016 was the year I really learned how to prioritize. I also want to stay organized as we head into the newest chapter of our life. Oh and did I mention? Clint proposed! Yup, adding to all of our excitement and fun is wedding planning! With all of that said, I wanted to share with you a little life saver that keeps our house hold running fairly smoothly. It also means smaller grocery bills, not as many ‘last minute trips’ to the grocery store, and removes that for ever nagging question: “What’s For Dinner?”.

I’m talking to you about Meal Planning 101: The Basics. Nothing too difficult and nothing that will make you want to give up half way through. I will warn you, it took me about a month to really figure out what worked best for our family, and each family is different, so please have patience when you first start this. And remember: this should be fun. Not pain stakingly difficult.

What you will need:

1. Back To The Basics

To start this off on the right foot, grab a your note book and create 5 headings: Beef, Chicken, Pork, Vegetables, and Pastas/Casseroles. Under each heading write out a typical meal that you make.

For Example:
Under Beef I would add Tacos (our family loves them).
Under Vegetables I would add Maple Roasted Carrots.

When you’re done, beside each write “wn” or “wk”. WN = Weeknight and WK = Weekend. The reason for this is that you can already see the repertoire of recipes/meals you already use, and that work for your schedule/family.

For Example:
Tacos – Weeknight (WN). I can make them in under 30 minutes, and it’s easy set up and clean up.
Chicken Wings – Weekend (WK). I typically make my own sauce, and take my time with these. Not ideal on a Wednesday night when the kids have swimming.

Meal Planning 101: The Basics. A beginners guide to meal planning, saving money and enjoying dinnertime!

2. Inspiration

Is your meal list a little boring? Want to add a little inspiration to your week night meals? Now is the time to go through your cook books! Take a look and see what they have to offer! For Christmas my mom bought me the new Michael Smith cook book Real Food, Real Good. I love it. Honestly, this will come in very handy when I’m meal planning for my family. Looking to start your own collection? Head to a local book store and find some to buy! If you don’t want to commit to buying anything, then your local library definitely has many options.  As you’re scanning these books, add a sticky note/tab to the page. Also write the title, cookbook, and page number on your list of meals under the appropriate heading. If you’re borrowing, try taking a picture of the recipe, and storing it on your computer.

For Example:
In the new Michael Smith cook book, he has a chapter about “A Good Breakfast and A Few Snacks”. I would add these under WK (weekend) because I like to make granola, or prepare easy ‘make-ahead’ breakfasts on the weekend. That way I set myself up for success through out the week. Sometimes I have the energy to make a big batch of muffins on a Tuesday night, but that’s rare and isn’t a realistic goal. 

Don’t have any cookbooks on hand? No problem! Print off a few recipes that you like and keep them stored in a binder in your kitchen. Head over to Pinterest and just by typing in a few key words, thousands of meal ideas will flood your screen. Save them all to new boards “30 minute meals” or “weeknight beef dishes”. It’s all about what works for you.

Autumn Soups from some amazing food bloggers! Including fantastic Lighter Potato Leek Soup, Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup, and Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup just to name a few… click to keep warm!

3. Implication

Ok, so here’s where it can get a little tricky. Grab your trusty Free Fuchsia Freezer Meal Planning Menu Printable. I like to start with dinners first because often I will make enough for lunches… Fill in all of the dinner slots using your meal ideas and the WN/WK legend.

Next, look at your dinner planned – are any of them going to have left overs? Add the things you want to take for your lunches. Need some lunch ideas? Head over to my Pinterest account where there is a board filled with delicious lunch ideas.

Ok so we have dinners and lunches planned… now all we have left is breakfast and snacks! Meal prep/ grocery planning is really going to help you on these ones. Do you prefer eating cereal everyday? write it down? Do you like to switch it up a bit? Then do that! I try to make one “breakfast dish” on the weekend so I can mix it up.

For Example:
I love baked oatmeals during the winter months because I love starting the day off with a bowl full of warmth. A huge hit in our house has been the Cherry Apple Baked Oatmeal and the Baked Berry and Banana Oatmeal. In the warmer months, I try to stick with Lightly Sweetened Granola on top of yogurt, or topping off a bowl a of my Berry Good For You Smoothie Bowl.

By carving out a little time on the weekend to make one of these dishes I have essentially started my week off with success! I fill in some das with toast and peanut butter, and others with a slice of the above. It’s a quick fix in the morning with little to no prep work or cooking involved and I know I am starting my day off on the right foot!

Lightly Sweetened Granola. A delicious addition to smoothie bowls, yogurt, or ice cream!

Remember to set yourself up for success you must be realistic. Don’t plan on creating a new dish every night, repurpose left overs to save time, and most of all enjoy the time spent around the dinner table.

4. Spring Into Action

Now it’s time to take things to the next level. Using your menu, write down a list of ingredients and groceries you need for your shopping trip! A few things to keep in mind are:

  1. What do you already have in your freezer (ie you bought chicken in bulk last month, time to use it)?
  2. What’s in your pantry? Having a well stocked pantry can reduce the weekly spending at the grocery store. Not sure what to stock up on? You can find my list of what’s in my pantry/freezer/fridge here!Don’t worry, you don’t need to get everything at once. Pick a few items to add to your list, and build yourself a stocked pantry over time.
  3. Are you enjoying take-out one night? No judgment. I don’t always have the time to cook every night. Take that into account when planning your meals, and when budgeting for groceries.
  4. Running short on time to go to the grocery store? Why not try a local “online and pick up” grocery order? It’s a total life saver sometimes and can run you as little at $3.00 per order (just watch out for minimums, some places require a minimum purchase before you can use the service).

5. Take The Time

Now that you’re home, have all of your groceries, and are ready to tackle the week, carve out about 2 hours over the course of the weekend to help with a little meal prep. Wash & pre-cut vegetables for snacks, pre-portion out salads for lunches, or make a batch of muffins to help you out on busy mornings. By doing these little steps you will ensure that you save a little extra cash and time through out the week! I have even included on your Free Fuchsia Freezer Meal Planning Menu Printable a section that reads Meal Prep. It’s a reminder to plan ahead! Make that bath of granola, or pre-portion all of your snacks. Whatever it is you need to do to make mealtime (and life) that much easier!

What awesome tips can you share when you meal plan?

Meal Planning 101:The Basics + A Free Printable! The beginners guide to easy meal planning, saving money and enjoying dinnertime!

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  1. These are so helpful, thank you!! I’m terrible at meal planning, and end up running off to the store multiple times per week because I’ve decided to make something I don’t have all the ingredients for. These tips will definitely help. 🙂

  2. Planning involves forethought and organization — skills I possess in every other facet of my life — except cooking. We prefer the “Quickfire Challenge” method at 6:30 — what can I make with leftover pork chops, kale and farro??? Bam – some weird dinner!

  3. This is a really nicely written and helpful post! You’ve clearly defined a process that would help people (like me) get better organized! I’m one that shops almost daily, and I know it wastes time and money!

    Congratulations on baby girl #4! I’m a mom of 4 sons (all grown) and 2 grandsons… I know how busy life is with that many littles around!

    1. Thanks so much Tamara! I feel like I really got into a writing stride with this post. As a blogger I feel like it’s one of my best posts! Four sons! I can’t imagine! So far the three girls have been great… but they are all 6 and under. Ask me in 10 year 😜

  4. I used to be all about meal planning and freezer meals and then I kind of fell off. I really need to get back into it because it really did make life so much easier, especially since I’ll probably be going back to work soon.

    1. This is a total life saver for me. I went back to work last Sept (2016) and what a change! This was exactly what we needed to keep our sanity… and kids fed lol

  5. A kinder spirit! I love meal planning… helps keep my sanity. But I only have two children. Ha!
    Love your meal planning sheet! I usually only use a calendar but I’m going to try the sheet.
    Sometimes I plan for an entire month using what I have available in my freezer.

  6. Congrats on baby girl #4 and the proposal. I like the idea of meal planning and the printable is a really helpful tool. It was fun to read how you and your family plan your meal and the cool things you eat.
    I was going to wish you a wonderful 2017, which I will do but it seems like you’ve got it all covered. All the very best.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I’m not going to lie and say we don’t order in, but typically I try to prevent the last minute “I’m starving, what’s for dinner” orders that never really make me end up choosing dinner wisely.

  7. First off. . .big congrats on the soon-to-be new addition to your family and on your recent proposal. You certainly are juggling quite a load. I’m sure meal planning is a lifesaver. Before I started doing a meal subscription service (grocery shopping in the city is no fun) I used to spend a solid chunk of my Sunday doing meal planning. . .plotting out serving sizes for each meal. Not only did it keep me organized, insuring I had just the right amount of food. . .but it also helped me reduce food wastes. An all around win.

  8. This is exactly what I need! I don’t have a problem coming up with meal idea etc but if I have to plan for more than a few days it easily becomea over whelming! Printing your meal planner as we speak!

  9. First of all, congratulations! All I picture is when they’re all teenagers trying to use the bathroom at the same time…oh boy. Luckily you’re the organizing type and can plan out time for each of them. 😛

    But back to the post. This really is a 101 guide, great for both meal planning newbies and those who want a refresher. And the free printable you created helps even more! I find meal planning can be tedious sometimes, but knowing that you have healthy food ready is the best feeling.

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