If you’re a meal planning beginner, here is a super simple meal planning routine – or Meal Planning 101! – to get you started. Read on so you can spend 30 minutes to save 5 hours too…

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I need 25-hour days and an extra day on the weekend. Who else feels like that???

If I added up all the time I spent each day thinking about what to feed the kids, who eats what, and staring at the fridge hoping something would jump out and say “eat me!”, it would be at least an hour a day! And don’t forget all the time wasted at the grocery store going up and down all the aisles! I wanted that time back, and by golly meal planning has done it for me.

As a single mom, I needed a way to save time…and my sanity!

EASY MEAL PLANNING FOR BEGINNERS

Yes, meal planning can help you can save money, waste less food, stick to a healthy diet, etc.

But moms have a more important need to meal plan: we simply need more time in our day. And just a touch more sanity.

Rewind 5 years:

I worked full time and had a teenager waiting for me at home, dinner time was always nuts. He would be hungry (or worse, he would be eating snacks as I walked in the door) and it was always a scramble to figure out what to make.

Half the time we weren’t eating until 7 pm and the other half I just gave up and ordered pizza. Oh, and the nights we had to rush to baseball practice or a game – forget it!

When I started meal planning back then, I noticed a big difference in the weeks I did it and the weeks I didn’t. Not just in time but in my stress level. It was one less thing to think about!

RELATED: How to Use Trello to Organize Your Entire Life

It’s proven that the less decisions you make in a day, the more productive you are. I didn’t want to waste brain power on thinking about what to make, or the stress it was causing. I mean, I only had a few hours after work to spend time with my family, who wants to waste them on stressing over chicken and green beans?!?

Here’s the bottom line:

YOU NEED AN EASY MEAL PLAN.

PERIOD.

It really doesn’t matter if you work full time or are a stay at home mom (or somewhere in between…)

Now that I work from home, the teenager is in college, and Thor is in kindergarten…you would think I have all the time in the world to make a healthy breakfast, lunch AND dinner. But it seems like I have even more to do each day, if that’s even possible.

A very wise woman once told me “time is like money. The more you have, the more you spend”. So true. Well I don’t want to spend that time on stuff, I want an extra hour to play with my Thor (in my defense, he is the cutest!).

I feel really fortunate to be able to provide for my kids, and I not only want to give them healthy meals but I want to be present, and fun, and less stressed out when I’m with them. I don’t want them to remember dinner time (and especially Mommy) as stressful, tired, and HANGRY.

Ya know? So take a half hour or so on Sunday night and plan for the week.

MY EASY MEAL PLANNING TEMPLATE:

LET’S DIG IN! (pun intended!). Grab and print this meal planner… or just use a sheet of paper!

1 A little pre-meal planning prep work

  • Print out your planner AND grab a blank sheet of paper.
  • Take a peek at what you currently have on hand (a jumbo pack of chicken, a big bag of spinach, etc.)
  • Grab your recipe box, binder, cookbook, or good ole’ Pinterest!

2 How I brainstorm some easy meal planning recipes (on the blank sheet):

  • Start with some recipes that will use up what you have.
  • Then jot down your favorites, things you can make without thinking too much (spaghetti, tacos, burgers, a family favorite, you get it). Add a garden salad to make veggies easy.
  • Use the slow cooker and grill as much as possible to save yourself clean-up time!
  • Now look for some easy weeknight recipes – my favorites are slow-cooker, soup, and sandwiches.

3 Grab your easy meal planning template and:

  1. Check your calendar and notate days you won’t be home, or if you’ll need a super quick dinner.
  2. Note the weather. Nobody wants to make meatloaf in a heat wave or grill chicken legs in a downpour.
  3. Write in a leftovers day (or two). Unless of course you plan to eat them for lunch, then good for you! I stink at remaking leftovers into different meals but it’s something I definitely want to learn more about.
  4. If you also want to grocery shop less, put the meals that use fresh produce in the beginning of the week and more pantry meals towards the end.
  5. Now start plugging in recipes for each day. You’ll probably have more recipes than days, just save those for next week!
  6. As you’re writing in each recipe, jot down ingredients you’ll need in the Groceries section.

Meal Planning tips…

– It gets easier AND faster! Give it a few weeks and don’t give up.

– And remember, this is a plan, a goal, an IDEA. It’s not set in stone. If you end up eating out and you move dinner to the next day, no biggie. If you feel like having Thursday’s dinner but it’s only Monday, just swap ‘em.

– Now, if you’ve never meal planned before but you want to try it, start SMALL. Especially if you’re currently a stop-on-the-way-home-from-work-and-get-inspiration-for-dinner-while-in-the-produce-section kinda gal. (Raise your hand if that’s you.)

If so, do NOT go and make a 6-week meal plan. A week, just do it for a week. Write down a few of your favorite meals, stuff you eat regularly, and one simple recipe you’ve always wanted to try.

– If you want to save even more time, stop grocery shopping! There are so many options now to order food online– your local grocery (maybe?), Amazon, Thrive, etc. And I believe these will also save you money by not roaming the aisles and buying extra stuff (especially with kids!).

and my favorite meal planning tip for beginners ever…

– Take a picture with your phone after it’s done so you can refer to it later in the week. Trust me, you’ll need to.

Alright mamas, I hope this will help you free up some time during the week, save you some money, and keep you from going crazy at dinner time! Go have fun with your little (or not so little) ones and don’t forget to grab the Weekly Dinner Planner!