How to Meal Plan for Beginners

July 13, 2020

Food is probably one of my most favorite things on the planet. My Mom is from Texas and spent a large amount of her childhood in Hawaii, is an amazing cook because of that, and was always in the kitchen making something for the family to eat. I was a kitchen manager at a summer camp for about three years and got to really hone in on being my creativity in the kitchen and love for cooking. 

In the present day, I live a pretty full life. I work full time as a bartender. I’m a newlywed of seven months and a mom to two kitties. Because my husband and I typically both work long shifts, we don’t always want to cook or have energy to decide on what to eat. Most of the time, we end up just ordering something from GrubHub, which tends to add up when you do that six to seven times a week. 

While I love food, I don’t really have a great relationship with it. I have been struggling health wise over the last couple of years. I have really bad depression and anxiety, which makes it difficult somedays to get out of bed or shower, let alone decide what I’m going to eat that day. I am also 1000% an emotional eater. I have an insane sweet tooth so if I’m having a bad day or if I’m depressed or if something happens, I tend to just snack all day on sugary things instead of eating real meals.  

While I had experience planning menus for the summer camp I worked at, I didn’t really discover personal meal planning until April of last year when I started doing the Keto diet in preparation for my wedding in December. I was at 215lbs and was unhappy with how I looked and felt in my own body and didn’t want that energy to be present when I married the love of my life. 

I decided to do Keto because a bunch of my friends had done it and it had worked well for them, but Keto requires a lot of discipline. You can’t just roll out of bed and eat three pieces of toast for breakfast because you don’t feel like cooking anything. I had to do the work in order to see the results, and part of that work was sitting down on Sunday and planning out what I was going to make and eat for that week. With meal planning, a little bit of exercise, and consciously making an effort to live a healthier lifestyle, I ended up losing 40lbs before my wedding. 

Meal planning is pretty straightforward; you plan your meals. The reason why a lot of people struggle with it and have a hard time sticking to their meal plans however, is because they aren’t willing to put in the prep for their meal plans. You have to be willing to do a little bit of set up and be the bad guy who tells yourself “No, this is what we’re eating today.” even if something else in your fridge looks more appealing at the moment. 

The steps on the list are the meal planning system that I have perfected over the last year that helps me save money, time, and energy. It also works really well if you’re trying to be healthier and be more conscious of what you’re eating because it forces you to take a look at what you have, what you’re going to buy, and what you’re going to eat. 

See What Food You Have

I start by looking through my fridge, freezer, and pantries to see what I actually have in my house meal wise. Don’t necessarily focus on individual ingredients, in this part we’re more focused on what complete meals we already have. I like to do this before I go grocery shopping just so I can get an idea of what needs to be eaten before it goes bad. You don’t only have to plan your week from what you have, but it’s a good place to start. 

While you’re doing this, write down and make a list of all of the complete meals you have in your house. I categorize them into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks. Personally, I don’t include snacks into my actual weekly meal planning, but it’s nice to know what all of my snack options are. 

Decide on the Easiest Way for You to Follow a Meal Plan

After you’re done making a list of meals you have in your house, now it’s time to start actually meal planning and the best way to do that is to write it all down. Some people like to do it in list form whereas other people like to have fancy templates (you can download some from Pinterest or Google). There are meal planning apps and websites. Whatever works best for you and is going to help you stay on track, you should use. 

If I’m trying to stick to something, I like to write them down and put them on my fridge so I can see it all the time. I use a template from Mind Over Meds. She has a meal planning template as a freebie from her email sign up and it’s super easy to fill in, plus there’s a column for snacks. 

Look at Your Schedule for the Week

This is important because you don’t want to plan to cook something a little more complex if you’re at work or busy, but you don’t also want to plan to have a protein shake if you’re at home that day. If you have a particularly busy night, maybe that’s a night to order something or eat something easy like pre-made frozen meals. For the nights that are more clear, that’s when you would plan to try out that new recipe or pull out something that has more components and takes more time. 

Plan Your Eat-Out Days

No one ever said that meal planning meant that you have to cook every single meal for the week. The nice part about meal planning is that you can pick out the days you’re going to eat out, and then when your spouse or your kids start bugging you to go out to eat instead of cooking, you can point to the meal plan and be like “Wait for Tuesday.”  

Plan for Leftovers 

If you’re anything like me and always seem to run into having way too much food leftover after cooking, put that into your meal plan! If you make pasta for dinner and know you’ll probably have a serving or two leftover, plan to eat it the next day for lunch. If you go out to eat one night and don’t usually finish your food when you go out, plan to eat that the next day or the day after. Obviously if it’s things like fried food, it’s gonna be gross the next day, but there’s no need to waste food if it’s something you can save! 

Balance out your Meals. 

I decide how the rest of that day food wise is going to go based on what I plan to eat for breakfast. If I have a heavy breakfast like pancakes and bacon, I’ll do a salad or soup for lunch followed by fish and veggies for dinner. If I start with a smoothie, I’ll make a sandwich for lunch with pasta or pizza for dinner. 

I personally like to alternate days between starting heavy and starting light. I like to plan out my week so that I’m not ALWAYS eating just heavy or just light in the morning. It helps me find balance and variety in my diet. 

Add Something New

Each week I try to add one new meal, recipe, or even going to a new restaurant to my meal plan. This is a good way to ensure that you’re consistently trying and introducing new things into yours, your spouse, or your family's diet. Plus you might find a new favorite by doing this! 

Go Grocery Shopping

Now that we’ve planned out the whole week for food, it's time to go get anything from the store that you don’t have for the week. The nice part about starting your meal planning with looking at what you already have and what your schedule looks like for the week, this part should be easy breezy because you shouldn’t have to buy a lot of stuff, if anything at all. If you do need stuff, just stick to buying things that are on your meal plan. I’ve learned the hard way that if I deviate from my list of stuff I need for the week, I spend way more money and have a harder time sticking to my meal plan later on. 

Meal Prepping

This is different then meal planning, but I’m going to throw in just because I can. If most of your lunches are while your kids are at school or you’re at work, prepping them either at the beginning of the week or the night before will save you so much time the morning of. Plus, this is something that everyone in your household can be a part of. Have your kids make their own sandwiches or your spouse pack their own lunchbox, and then you have way less work to do by yourself and it’s fun family time too. 

If you’ve got a recipe that calls for something you can do the night before, I recommend getting it done. Pull your meat out of the freezer, go ahead and chop all of the veggies if you have a second, prep your pancake batter or biscuit dough the night before, etc. Doing a little bit of prep ahead of time gives you more time on the day of to spend doing other things than being in the kitchen. 

Well, that’s the system! I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have many many successes with your meal plans in the future. Definitely don’t be afraid of things not going smoothly when you first start out, it took me a couple weeks to work out the kinks and really get into the swing of things. 

Take a shot for all of the ignored meal plans and toast to the successful ones, 




Kristaleagh Walthall is the author of Millennial Whiskey, a blog dedicated to helping millennials connect with one another over shared interests and struggles. She works full time as a bartender in Central Virginia where she lives with her husband Ryan of seven months and their two cats, Dobey and Ember. In her spare time, you can find her in the kitchen trying out new cocktail or food recipes, journaling, watching Netflix, and snuggling up with the kitties on the couch. 

Find and follow her on Social Media

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  1. Haha my version of meal planning is simply writing down what we're eating for the week!

  2. I agree with all of these, meal planning is really helpful most especially in terms of saving time and money.

  3. I love your meal planning and will definitely incorporate this in my own home.

  4. Loved this idea of meal planning..Glad you shared this with us..Thanks indeed for sharing..found it very helpful and interesting...

  5. I am really a spontaneous person regarding meal planning. But we tend to have our favorites. So I buy most of the normal ingredients we use and eat what we are in the mood for. It usually works pretty well. I tend to be out almost daily so we are able to get any unusual ingredients that we need to.

  6. Planning is a huge part of the success. I like these small steps to implement into meal planning.

  7. As someone who has always struggled, these are really helpful tips.

  8. I needed this article! I’m the worst at meal prep but need to start doing it!

  9. Meal planning is indeed a good way to avoid spending time on thinking about what to eat next time. This way is helpful and it'll allow you to be more organized with your eating habits, thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  10. I always just get a bunch of ingredients and then cook whatever I feel like that day. I do really like the idea of meal planning though!

  11. I really liked how your have explained for all about how to do it. Planning and prepping your meals provides a little more incentive to eat the healthy things you've already planned out and cooked. More control over your choices. If you know you have a dinner event or work lunch out, you can simply plan around it. Eat lighter in the rest of the day so you can indulge later.

  12. Kimberly Caines5:27 AM

    I love doing meal planning it is a life-saver for me. and these tips for beginners are really great.

  13. Anonymous8:45 PM

    These are very good tips for those who need to learn the basics of meal planning. It's vital for families on a budget too.
    Elizabeth O

  14. I always try to plan my meals correctly but fail miserably. Thank you for sharing this guide. I will give it another try.


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