The Basics of Meal Planning

The Basics of Meal Planning

My last two posts in this section have touched a bit on meal planning, but let’s go a little deeper.

First, let’s talk about the why’s of meal planning.

  1. The obvious one – you know the answer to “what’s for dinner.” You can avoid the drive thru, the take out, and the pizza delivery person (unless that’s the plan for that night).
  2. You know what to buy at the grocery store and have a plan to use it, which saves you money. You’re not buying things you don’t need, and you’re not throwing away food that you didn’t end up using. (Or at least, not as much.)
  3. You can plan to use seasonable foods, which saves money since food that is in season tends to be cheaper because it is more plentiful. You can also plan to use inexpensive foods, especially inexpensive cuts of meat.
  4. You’re assembling an overall balanced diet for yourself and your family. Yes, you could eat the same thing every day, but eating a variety of foods ensures that you’re getting essential vitamins and minerals. You also get an over-arching view of where you may need to add more of one food group and less of another.
  5. You have the opportunity to try new recipes or new combinations of food. You can become a more versatile cook and build up your recipe repertoire.

The meal plan at its core is a list of what you plan on cooking (whether all 3 meals a day or just the main one) for a period of time. Usually it’s a week, but some plan up to a month at a time. From the meal plan, you then make your shopping list based on what you need for the meals and what you have in your pantry.

When you’re deciding what to cook, the easiest way to get started is to plan your first week. You can repeat that week again for the next four weeks if you want, changing only the meals that weren’t a bit hit.  Or, you can plan two weeks and alternate. The reason for planning one or two weeks and then repeating for a month at a time? You can change up your meals to take advantage of more seasonal foods. Do you like zucchini? Get your fill during the summer. What about brussels sprouts? Those are usually in season in the fall. If you think you or your family will get tired of repeating meals, change up the sides or substitute chicken for pork or vice versa. Usually you’ll make substitutions – whether for variety or for preference – from the same classification of food. Citrus for citrus, berries for berries, white meat for white meat.

When you have your meals picked out, be sure to note the day before if you need to do any special preparation. Say during the summer you plan on grilling and you want to use a marinade. You’ll probably want to put the meat in the marinade the night before or the morning of. Or perhaps you plan on cooking dried beans. Most of them will need to soak overnight before you can cook them. Write these sorts of things down as a note near the day/meal as a reminder.

My recommendation is to post the meal plan and corresponding recipes where everyone can see it. In an ideal world, that would cut out the “what’s for dinner” question and a family member would be able to jump in and cook a meal in a pinch.

What menu planning tips do you have?


Sewist, knitter, reader, dancer. Wife. Lover of things vintage and retro.


  1. […] The Basics of Meal Planning October 21, 2014 […]