Meal Planning for Beginners in 7 Easy Steps

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Do the words meal planning cause you to panic? Don't worry. This simple meal planning for busy moms printable list will help you take back control. You'll know exactly what food you have as well as what you need to buy while sticking to your budget.

meal planning printable

Meal planning.

Do those two words make you want to close the pantry and call for delivery?

Maybe you've found yourself feeling desperate or frustrated when it's almost time to have dinner on the table.

Have you ever stared into your pantry wondering how in the world you're going to use the randomness in front of you to make something that everyone will actually eat?

Does trying to bribe the toddler attached to your leg with another bowl of cold cereal while you attempt to cook make you want to order pizza for the third time in two weeks?


I have talked with so many moms over the past few months who feel the same way. Over and over again I hear they tell me that meal planning doesn't work for them but they are desperate for a plan of action.

I used to be in that camp too! With my planners, whiteboards, calendars, cookbooks, and lists everywhere.

I found myself throwing away food often. Erasing and rewriting my plan over and over again. Abandoning my plans month after month. It left me so frustrated. We were wasting money, and I was stressing out daily.

You don't need all of those bells and whistles!

This method has saved my sanity and my budget. I am so happy to share it with all of you.

Meal Planning for Beginners in 7 Easy Steps 1

How Do I Create A Meal Plan? Meal Planning For Moms

1. Evaluate what you already have.

Every two weeks, I quickly take a look at three areas of our Kitchen – the pantry, the refrigerator {which includes the freezer} and my baking supply closet. While I used to go once a month, adding more children meant more trips to the store. For us, going every payday makes the most sense and works well with our budget.

What we have on hand inspires and drives the next list of meals. For example, if I have Red Hot sauce, chicken, buns, and leftover fruit salad from the previous day, I'll plan for buffalo chicken sandwiches and fruit salad on “grocery day”, so I'm able to plan ahead even when the inventory seems impossibly low.

Sometimes, we'll just simply use that day as our “Order Pizza” day to avoid the scramble after a long day of shopping with my four little ones.

2. Draft your two-columned list.

On the lefthand side, I have the day/date. On the right hand side, I have my list of 18-22 meals usually. I shop every two weeks, typically, so having a few extra options on my list gives me the flexibility to change my mind or roll meals over to the next list. I save all of my previous lists as inspiration, and I also rely on Pinterest, other bloggers' recommendations, (affiliate link) my favorite cookbook and a catalog of longstanding family-favorite recipes.

My list always looks like this:

meal planning for moms meal plan list

3. Prepare to shop at the grocery.

Using my list of possible meals as a guide, I create my grocery list based on what I already have and what I still need. I create my list using versatile meals that can complement one another in the event that there are leftovers.

For example, if steak and mashed potatoes are an item and fajitas are an item, I will plan to use my leftover steak as my fajita meat that week. By using leftovers effectively and creatively, my family doesn't get bored with what I am serving them, and I am almost never wasting food. If I make spaghetti and meatballs, I'll leave a large portion of meatballs plain to be thrown into wedding soup or meatball subs that week. By planning meals in this way, you are saving time, money, and sanity.

Trust me.

4. Keep it consistent and basic.

I keep my list simple. I won't go into great detail for multiple reasons. I'll write grilled chicken. It may end up being a pasta dish paired with french green beans and garlic lemon butter sauce, or it could become chicken fajitas. Fruits and fresh and frozen vegetables are staples in our house. The day before or the morning of, I will make a more detailed decision on the dish, depending on what I have left and its state of freshness.

I love this meal planning system because it is so easy to take a quick glance and create a plan for each day. If I open my refrigerator and see that the strawberries won't last much longer, I'll choose that night for a chicken and strawberry salad with poppyseed dressing. I may even have my husband grill a double batch of chicken and plan to use it later in the week. Work and plan smarter, not harder.

5. Keep track of meals prepared using this simple number system.

If chicken parmesan is #7, and I am making it on November 8th, I simply write #7 next to November 8th, and I cross it off the list on the right-hand side. I know that I am taking a meal to a family with a new baby on November 12th, and stuffed chicken breasts seem like a good choice for that, so I will make it for us as well. By coordinating our inventory, what we like, our budget, and our plans, I can easily make a realistic meal plan that spans each two-week timeframe.

6. Include “the usuals” and the special events.

We have a pizza night, an eat-out night, and a date night scheduled on each plan. We don't get to have those consistently, but that doesn't keep me from planning for them. Also on my meal plan, I assign other dinner events their own number. Birthday parties are held at dinner time, get-togethers with friends, and all gatherings held at dinner time are assigned their own number.

Using my meal planning list in conjunction with my monthly planner/calendar helps me in making the best possible plan for our family. By using this method, I no longer find myself standing at the pantry door hoping that items will jump out and start making themselves because I don't know where to start. Flexibility and simplicity make this technique ideal for our family and I think you'll find it will work for your family too.

7. Keep your lists.

Like I said earlier, I save all of my previous lists – both paper and electronic copies – to refer to later while meal planning. This allows me to create a library of meals that will make planning for the next month of meals easy. You can do this with a binder, an envelope, or simply by tucking them in your cookbook. I also take a picture of my lists so that I can reference them quickly on my phone while I'm grocery shopping or if I lose my paper list.

Free Printable Meal Plan Template

Again, work smarter, not harder, and you'll never ask “What's for Dinner?” again!

what's for dinner instant pot

Want more resources? Check out Amiyrah from 4 Hats and Frugal. She is a meal-planning guru. Her course, Meal Planning Rockstar will change your life.

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Kristi is a former elementary teacher and ministry school graduate turned SAHM mom to four spunky blondies (and one sweet Heaven Baby). She writes about faith, family, food, and occasionally, random DIY projects if she can convince #mrkloverhouse to surrender his better judgment to her eclectic whimsy.

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