Meal planning for beginners? It’s hard to know where to start isn’t it?
Yet meal planning is the cornerstone of many peoples frugal budget. But it can take years of practice to meal plan successfully.
Meal planning for beginners can be a bit of an uphill struggle, where to start, how to do it the right way (what is the right way?), when you don’t have much money?
When you are on a tight budget, meal planning can also come with added stress.
Stress to make sure you actually stay within budget.
Stress trying to find meals that you like and are not too expensive.
So it’s no wonder there are many people who just dislike the whole meal planning process.
I’ll say again though, meal planning is the cornerstone of a frugal budget.
If money is tight, your grocery budget is often one of the only spending areas where you have flexibility in how much you spend.
And tight budgets need meal planning in order for you to keep within budget and be able to feed everyone.
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Meal Planning For Beginners, Where To Start?
Meal planning can be like starting with a blank piece of paper and the question “what shall we eat this week?”
That, in my opinion is asking for trouble.
Firstly, I dislike blank pieces of paper – they give you no boundaries.
Tight budgets have boundaries so it’s best if you have a strategy you can work to when you are meal planning on a budget.
Secondly, there is a whole world of food and recipes out there. You need some way of reducing the choice.
Because if you don’t you are going to waste a lot of time trying to create your perfect meal plan.
And spending too much time creating your meal plan means it’s likely to stay as just a plan and not make it into reality.
These 7 strategies are exactly what you need when you are in the meal planning for beginners category and make it a success.
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Meal Planning For Beginners: 7 Strategies
1. Using Your Current Knowledge
Everyone has a meal planning strategy even if it is just to do what you’ve always done.
And use recipes you have always used.
Perhaps you stick to the meals your parents made or perhaps you have a top 5 you return to week after week.
There is nothing specifically wrong with this strategy but you might want to consider stretching your cooking wings by looking at one of the other strategies.
Pros – You know what you are doing. Everyone likes what you make.
Cons – It can get very repetitive. There is little opportunity for you to cut costs.
Related reading: 9 Meal Planning Mistakes You Need Solutions For
2. Freezer Meals
I am a great fan of having a freezer full of ready meals.
Of course I’m not talking shop bought ready meals, I’m talking meals you have prepared yourself for busy nights.
There were times when we had freezer meals every school night, they just make life simpler.
But what to make, and how to save time both during the week and on your precious days off?
Myfreezeasy is a personalized freezer meal plan to suit your time, tastes and budget.
Make 10 meals in just an hour. With recipes that require little to no pre-cooking, you can quickly and efficiently get them ready to freeze.
Myfreezeasy meal plans come with videos, shopping lists and simple to follow directions to get your bulk meal prep done in no time at all.
Pick your own freezer-friendly recipes and serving sizes so you are only making what your family needs.
Myfreezeasy is not a done for your meal plan, it’s a program where you are always in control.
Choose the freezer meals you want to prep with their simple drag and drop tool.
You can even use their mobile apps to do this. Do your choosing while you are queuing some place else.
There are new recipes and themed meal plans every month along with recipes, shopping lists and instructional videos.
All the freezer meals are budget friendly recipes.
But not only are they budget friendly, having a stash of freezer meals means you need never resort to takeout and you cut right back on food waste.
Pros – You choose both your recipes and portion sizes. Shopping lists, pre-prep steps and instructional videos make Myfreezeasy perfect if you lack confidence in your cooking.
Cons – You need to set aside an hour or so to batch prep 10 meals at a time. You’ll need a good supply of ziplock or similar bags.
Join the Free Freezer Cooking 101 Workshop and learn about the benefits of freezer cooking, what freezes well (and what doesn’t), how to prep, thaw and cook your meals.
You’ll also get all these great freebies:
- Free freezer meal plan to test out
- List of what to freeze and what not to
- Printable freezer inventory list
- Printable most popular meal plan and shopping list
3. Monthly Meal Plans Done For You
Do you worry that your meal plans are not going to be up to scratch?
Or rather that you’ll start off doing okay but within a couple of weeks you’ll hit a brick wall of ideas and end up having takeout?
Help is at hand as $5 meal plans will send you a meal plan and a shopping list every week.
All you have to is buy the ingredients listed on the shopping list and follow the recipe instructions.
What’s more, all the meals are nice and frugal at $2 a portion or less.
If using $5 meal plans stops you from visiting the Drive Thru just once a month then you’ll have saved money, because let’s face, how much does takeout cost for your family?
I know for just 2 of us takeout will cost a minimum of £10 ($12). If it stops you more often than that then you are saving so much more.
Your weekly menu will always include one slow-cooker meal, a 20 minute meal (my favorite) and a freezer-friendly recipe.
There is a gluten-free option too if that is what your family needs.
Additionally they offer 4 specialty plans, you can choose from 30-minute meals, slow cooker meals, paleo and vegetarian meals so everyone is catered for.
NEW! They now have a drag and drop meal plan builder so you can customize your meals according to your family’s personal preferences.
It’s easy to use (just drag and drop), and stops any complaints about meals.
If you dislike meal planning but enjoy cooking then $5 meal plans are the perfect choice.
Pros – done for you meal plans. Shopping lists provide and recipe instructions.
Cons – Focus is on dinner recipes so you still need to think about breakfast and lunch (but these are so much easier aren’t they?)
4. Researching New Recipes Each Week
Researching new recipes is fun! So many gorgeous pictures to look at.
New recipes give you the opportunity to try different cuisines, different spices and different ingredients.
You can research new recipes in a variety of ways.
I’ve got cook books that I have had for many years, you might have books handed down to you by your parents.
You’ll also find recipes in many magazines, newspapers and store flyers.
Recipes aren’t just in printed form though. You have the whole internet to trawl through.
Searching for recipes on Pinterest is fun (people take such amazing pictures) but it’s a rabbit hole you can fall down for hours.
There are also a million and one recipes sites that you can tap into. I have lost countless hours in the past on:
And so many others!
Researching new recipes is a great way to find cheap and tasty meals your family will love.
Pros – You can find new recipes. You can focus on cheaper recipes when your budget is tight.
Cons – It can be incredible time consuming. Recipes are untried and have no guarantee you will enjoy them.
They often come with expensive and exotic ingredients.
5. Using Sale Prices
Most stores have loss leaders each week.
Loss leaders are products that are on a deep discount making them a bargain for you to buy (and potentially stock up on) and use for planning meals around.
You can find these deals either through your stores sales flyers, checking their websites or whilst you do your shopping.
Although that is less about meal planning and more about filling your trolley!
Planning meals around loss leaders ( especially if you can find a coupon to discount it further) can be a great way to reduce your grocery spending.
By both using the items in this weeks meals and possibly stocking up for a future week.
Pros – You’re getting the best price for these items. Loss leaders usually differ each week so you get variety in your meals.
Cons – they tend to be focused on meat (or processed food) so no good if you are vegetarian. Having the same meat (or processed food) multiple times a week is not for everyone.
Loss leaders often go out of stock very quickly, leaving you without a meal plan if you cannot buy them.
6. Using Your Stockpile
When you have a large pantry stockpile it makes sense to actually use it instead of just storing it forever and a day.
Stockpiling food done right is a great way to get your regular foods at the best price.
And you know you always have enough food in the house in order to feed the family.
Especially helpful if you have terrible weather or get hit by an unexpected drop in income.
I am a big fan of everyone having a reasonable stockpile – say 2-4 weeks of supplies depending on your location.
2 weeks if you live in town or very near to one.
4 weeks if you are more rural and going to the store is an event that needs planning.
For those of you who live super rural (I am thinking living 50+ miles from your regular stores) then 4 weeks might not be enough.
For me a pantry stockpile doesn’t just include food in your cupboards and pantry.
It also includes your freezer because we all have one these days don’t we?
And freezers allow us to store meat, fish and vegetables in their natural state (albeit frozen!) whereas cupboard storage means canning, drying and the like.
Pros – Using your stockpile to meal plan for a week or two is a great way to reduce your grocery budget.
Indeed if your stockpile is a little on the generous size I would recommend this method.
Starting with your cupboards allows you to ensure you get proper rotation and the goods you are storing shouldn’t go out of date.
Cons – Unless you had a 6 month supply and only need 4 weeks, you are going to need to restock supplies regularly so still need to shop.
Pantry food can become boring quickly as we all tend to stock too much of one thing.
I’m talking endless canned tomato, tuna and pasta recipes.
7. Theming Your Meal Plans
Most of us have nights where we fancy a theme – I am talking curry night, pizza night and the like.
Creating a meal plan based on your favorite themes helps you quickly identify what your likely recipes are going to be for each individual theme.
There are so many themes you can tap into that you don’t even need to stick to a 7 day themed meal plan.
Depending on how adventurous your palate is you could have a different theme for 14 day or even a 28 day meal plan.
Pros – Great variety of recipes, each day can be very different.
Everyone can get involved in choosing their favorite themes.
Cons – you can get stuck in a rut with the same recipes for the same themes.
Can become expensive as different cuisines require many different ingredients.
Themes can include:
- Soup & pudding night (great for a sweet treat midweek)
- Meatless Mondays
- Slow cooker meals (perfect for busy or late nights)
- Toast Tuesdays (toast pizza, cheese, eggs, beans, sardines or tomatoes on toast take minutes)
- Fish Fridays (UK favorite is fish and chips/fries)
- Leftovers night
Our Theme Weeks
We used themes when our girls were younger.
With both of us working long hours and various out of school activities to plan around, themes helped us enormously.
Less thinking and planning.
Our theme weeks looked like this:
- Monday – leftover night (using meat from Sunday roast)
- Tuesday – slow cooker meal (late night working)
- Wednesday – pasta night (pasta is so simple and quick when you have kids)
- Thursday – slow cooker meal (because they are just so easy)
- Friday – fish night, (inherited from our parents – not sure why?)
- Saturday – curry night, homemade or shop bought (when we were feeling flush or lazy)
- Sunday – roast dinner (usually chicken or pork because they are the cheaper meat joints)
Meal Planning For Beginners And Everyone
Meal planning has many benefits for everyone.
Whether you are a large family or a single person, meal planning helps you plan.
You can adjust your meals to suit busy lives and all your commitments.
Your grocery budget is a very flexible part of your spending and meal planning helps you drive it down, helpful if money is tight.
We all have the temptation to buy takeout or go out for a meal when you are in that mood – can’t be bothered to be creative.
When you know what you’re going to be having that mood doesn’t hit you so hard. You can crack on and make the meal.
My personal favorite benefit is that you don’t need to decide what to have for dinner coming home after a hard days’ work.
You already know and that was something I found priceless on many an occasion.
Especially if it were slow cooker night because the meal was already made!
For more help with managing your grocery spending why not subscribe to my free 7 day Grocery Budget Bootcamp?
Learn how to take back control of your spending on groceries in just a week!
Last Updated on 5th April 2023 by Emma