Meal planning can be a struggle for busy homemakers. Challenges include not knowing what to make, missing ingredients, not planning ahead, no time or lack of motivation. These are some things I would like to address in this post, easy meal planning for beginners.
While I enjoy cooking and making meal plans I don’t always have the best follow through. After creating a great plan I find that I don’t feel like chicken Parmesan on Tuesday or I forgot that we had an appointment on Wednesday afternoon and I don’t have time to make lasagna. Personally I prefer an easy going approach to meal planning, I like flexibility in the schedule.
My Approach To Meal Plans
I don’t usually write plans and then grocery shop, it can be expensive to do it this way, particularly if you don’t consider what is in season or on sale. I make my grocery list based on what essentials and regular items that we need and keep an eye out for sales and promotions.
When cheese or butter or other items that we regularly use are on sale I buy extra so that I rarely have to pay full price. I don’t buy meat at the grocery store I purchase from butcher shops or from farms in bulk. Vegetables that are in season and locally grown are preferable as they are more nutritious. When that isn’t an option I choose frozen over canned.
Grocery shopping day is Friday at my house so that we are stocked up for the weekend. I plan meals for the week based on what fresh and frozen items we have on hand. Generally I don’t write out a menu plan I just figure out what we’re going to eat in the morning and defrost whatever we need for the day.
Meal Planning Services
There are some meal planning apps and services you can choose if meal planning is troublesome for you. Some popular ones are Plan to Eat, Mealime Meal Plans and Recipes and Prepear.
Plan To Eat has a rating of 4.8 stars and they offer a free 30-day trial period with no payment info needed. After the 30 days it costs $39.00 per year. You have to use your own recipes with this system. I have never used this system so I can’t say what its like to use.
Mealime has a rating of 4.7 stars and a free option is available. The paid option costs $8.49 a month or $69.99 per year. Again this is a system that I have no personal experience with. Unlike Plan To Eat you do not need to use your own recipes.
Prepear has a free and a paid option as well. Payment is $9.99 a month or $99.00 per year. They have a rating of 4.6 stars. I have used the free Prepear app and I think it is fun to use. You can upload your own recipes as well as search for recipes to add to your recipe book and meal plans.
Having planned times to dedicate to meal prepping or even just doubling certain meals when you are already preparing supper can be incredibly helpful. When I make lasagna I usually make 2 and freeze one, same can be done for Shepards pie or many other casseroles.
Fried rice is something else I make in big batches to freeze and it is super easy. I cook 4-6 cups of rice the day before I plan to meal prep. I use the instant pot to cook 4-6 chicken breasts, when the chicken is done I shred it. Next divide the rice and chicken into large freezer bags in meal sized proportions. Add diced onion and frozen mixed vegetables (I use mixed peas and carrots) to the bags, then put in the freezer.
On the day you want to prepare it all you need to do is defrost it and heat it in a skillet, add some eggs to the pan and scramble them up. Prepare some sauce to add in, I use sesame oil, soy sauce and a squirt of sriracha to make my sauce. You can add some chopped green onions and sesame seeds on top. My family loves this meal and I love that I can get a meal on the table in less than 20 minutes.
As I said earlier my shopping day is Friday so when I plan to batch cook I usually choose a Monday or Tuesday for that so that I don’t have too much to do on the same day. Depending on what you decide to make it can be really time-consuming.
Many people thrive on routine and choose to do theme nights. Ideas include meatless Monday, taco Tuesday or pasta Thursday. Other ideas are soup and sandwich days or seafood night. We like to do fun food Friday, we’ll have chicken wings, cheese fries or nachos or some other fun food on those nights.
You could have a night designated for take out or date night when you don’t cook at home. I find its best not to be too rigid in my planning because I have ended up with an abundance of leftovers going in the garbage because of following my plan instead of taking a break from the plan to eat up the extra food.
Putting It All Together
An option for really busy people of course is something like Hello Fresh or another delivery service. The ingredients and recipes are delivered to your door and you just need to prepare the meals. I have never used a service like that but I can certainly see the appeal, particularly in homes where both partners are working full time outside the home.
Next step is to decide what your personal meal planning style is and figure out what realistically will work for your situation. Do you want the planning done for you, or would you rather have more control? How busy is your lifestyle? Only you know what will work for yourself.