7 Easy Steps for Meal Plan Beginners

Meal plan beginners can have it rough- figuring out how to start can be overwhelming! Here are 7 tips to get you started where you need to be.

Meal planning and meal prep can feel overwhelming if you’re new to it, and believe me, I’ve been there! Here are 7 easy steps any meal planning beginner can sink their teeth into, without feeling totally lost in the process.

When I first started out meal planning, I was confused. I felt ‘tied down’ to some random list of recipes that I had arbitrarily decided on earlier that week.

I’d write my meal plan on Saturday, and then by the time I got to Wednesday I would just throw the whole thing out the window and pick up the phone for takeout.


But alas, our budget is not to be trifled with, and this whole meal plan disaster thing wasn’t doing me any favors in the wallet or waistline. So I sat my butt down, and I read everything I could on meal planning, and eventually, I crafted myself an awesome little plan that worked gangbusters for our family.

Are you new to meal planning, like I once was? It can feel archaic, and boring, I know, but that’s only if you’re using yo’ momma’s old school meal plan, and let me tell you: it’s a new century, bud, and meal planning has come up along with it.

However, I also know that once there’s a solid plan in place, meal planning for beginners can usually just mean following a certain strategy of steps.

And before you know it: you go from a meal planning beginner to a Master Meal Planner.

Meal Planning Queen, if you prefer.

Meal Planning Messiah.

(Too far? Ok; we’ll stick with ‘master’)


But don’t take my word for it! I checked in with 6 other awesome bloggers and asked their advice for how to start meal planning if you’re new to it, what steps should you take first, and what to do once you’ve started to pull together a plan.

They’ve all got awesome advice, some have handy printables, and they’re all in your corner.

Here’s what they have to say!

If you’re a meal planning beginner, start with the basics.

(Yep, the first one is ME!) this is one of my favorite posts about meal planning on this site (and I have quite a few!). I break it down, step by step, how I started meal planning and what you can do to get your feet wet, too. Read: My Top Three Meal Planning Basics

Even if the recipes says it’s 30 minutes, figure out the real amount of time it will take.

Shelley, from Two Healthy Kitchens, knows the pain we’ve all felt when dealing with a “super quick omg!” recipe: it doesn’t always take the amount of time it says it will. So, figure out how to “read” a recipe right, work that into your timeframe, and you’ll have a better idea how to plan appropriately. Read: Estimating REAL Prep Times

If you hate writing meal plans, try theme nights.

I love this take from Tracy at Simple Living Country Gal. She says to keep a “go-to” list that she can refer to whenever she’s pressed for time. Don’t have a list written out? Ask your family’s input- they might remind you of a dish you can make super quick! Read: Make Dinner Time Easier Without a Meal Plan

Get your kitchen in order to make things run smoother

Jenny, at the Jenny Evolution, has a great list here of how to get your ducks in a row before you even put pen to paper; after all- what good is a meal plan if you can’t find your ingredients or cookware? Read: Easy Meal Planning For Busy Moms

Start with an easy-to-follow printable to write your meal plan on

Lena, from What Mommy Does, knows the basics of meal planning starts with actually writing the dang thing! I love her simple, easy-to-use meal planning printable with clearly defined spaces. Just click to save and download! Read: Free Printable Weekly Planning Template

When it comes to accommodating different family members, roll with it.

Rachel, at The Mashup Mom, touches on a pain point I think a lot of us have: what to do when your entire family isn’t down with the same eating schedule, diets, or preferences. She spells out steps you can take to mitigate the mess of trying to figure out what to feed everyone.. when everyone has different food needs! Read: How to Modify a Meal Plan for Your Family

Skip the processed stuff and work real food into your meal plan.

Elaina, from The Rising Spoon, has a list of 10 ways you can make sure your meal plan isn’t full of over-processed junk; without taking tons of time out of your week! I love her tip for leftovers (which are my fave, too!) Read: Ten Meal Planning Tips for Beginners Using Real Food

There you have it: 7 awesome tips for meal planning beginners, all designed to help you get groovin’ on your meal planning schedule!

Which was your favorite? I’m excited to get digging into my meal planning routine now!

If you want to take a peek into what I’m cooking each week, don’t forget to sign up for my Meal Plan Buddies weekly email!

Each week I send out my full family meal plan, complete with recipes, our grocery list, and tips and tricks to get your meal plan rockstar status up. There’s even an exclusive Facebook group you can join, where I’ll dish on all things meal planning.

Leave your info below to join, and I hope to see you there!

Heck yes, that sounds awesome!

Sign me up to the Meal Plan Buddies weekly email, and get your free weekly meal plan, grocery lists, and more.

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Pick and Choose Chart for Kid’s Packed Lunches

Use these ideas to get your kid's packed lunch ideas flowing! Pick one thing from each section for each lunch packed and be sure your kids cover their food groups and enjoy their lunch at the same time. There's even space to add in your own favorites!

I may be new to the ‘kid’s packed lunch scene’, but it doesn’t mean I’m full of fresh ideas as to what I’m supposed to pack!

“Will she eat this? Is this even healthy? Wait, am I including enough food groups?” Seriously, packing a kids’ lunch shouldn’t be this dang stressful. And yet it’s one of my most dreaded chores.

My kids aren’t school age yet (my son is 1 and my daughter is 3) but three days a week, they go to a babysitter/daycare situation from 9-5, and they bring a packed lunch with them on those days.

I do this so I can actually get, you know, work done.

I send them off (despite working from home) so that I can actually work, instead of, say, losing my mind or temper or plonking them in front of the T.V. for eight straight hours. It’s a win-win for everyone, and they absolutely adore their babysitter.

I make their packed lunches the night before, while I’m cleaning up after dinner but before I put leftovers away. I find that if I try to cram in packed lunch prep in the morning, I usually forget something – plus, it’s way too stressful! We have enough morning time battles to fight, such as trying to brush my daughter’s hair without her running away from me. Ain’t nobody got time to deal with lunch making, too.

Use these ideas to get your kid's packed lunch ideas flowing! Pick one thing from each section for each lunch packed and be sure your kids cover their food groups and enjoy their lunch at the same time. There's even space to add in your own favorites!(click the image to pin straight to Pinterest!)

I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way regarding these packed lunches:

  • Try to only have one food group item at a time (so, say- one piece of fruit, one vegetable, protein, etc)
  • Cheese sticks are my very best friend
  • Those reusable baby food pouches I bought too many of when my daughter was just getting into solids? Those are the perfect vehicle for applesauce.
  • My daughter tends to try more things at the babysitter’s house, so this is prime time to add in things like green beans, roasted broccoli, dried apricots, etc. She lives by the credo, “If it’s from mom, it’s gross. If it’s from the babysitter, I should try it!” So, I totally take advantage of this.
  • Leftovers are my other bff after cheese sticks. The nights before the kids go to the babysitter, I try to cook a dinner that is easily ‘leftover-able”. This saves me time and money, stretching a meal out this way!

Want some great ideas for a simple recipe you can make at home that works fabulously in kids’ packed lunches?

Check out this Facebook Live I did, where I made 15-Minute Peanut Satay Chicken Skewers and Broccoli Pesto Pasta.

Percolate Kitchen on Facebook Live: 2 Easy Back to School Packed Lunch Ideas

( Plus, I share my faaaaavorite reusable food containers, from Kids Konserve. They’re leakproof and practically indestructible! )

But wait! I went one step further, and created this handy little ‘Pick and Choose Packed Lunch’ cheat sheet for you! 🙌

Guys, this takes SO MUCH of the thought process out of planning and packing kid’s lunches. Add in a few extra options that your kid’s like; make it personal to you and your family.

Then, when it’s time to take care of the kid’s packed lunch, just pick one item from each section on the chart. Add it to the lunchbox, zip that sucker up, and toss it in the fridge or backpack.

It could.




Well, easier if you had like, a maid to do this stuff for you. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, the download’s FREE!! No strings attached, no email to hand over. Just click and save and go about your merry little lunch-packing way.

Enjoy the school year!

Click here for the straight-up pdf version. Or, click the image below to download!

Use these ideas to get your kid's packed lunch ideas flowing! Pick one thing from each section for each lunch packed and be sure your kids cover their food groups and enjoy their lunch at the same time. There's even space to add in your own favorites!

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The 5 Minute Meal Plan (Quick Cooking Tips #1)

This Is The Best Way to Begin Meal Planning, If You’ve Never Done It Before

I used to think meal planning was a waste of time. Wrong! Read on for steps you can follow to begin meal planning, the easy way!

I used to think meal planning was a waste of time. Wrong! Once I nailed meal planning, our lives got easier! Read on to find the steps you can take that will get you planning like a meal planning master.

Real talk: I used to think meal planning was stupid and a waste of time.

When it came right down to it, my biggest problem was that I really didn’t know where to even begin meal planning:

What if I didn’t want to eat what I had planned?

What if I made too much food?

What if we decided to meet friends that night instead?

What if something else sounded better at the grocery store? 

Couldn’t I just wing it?

Now, I look back at myself and laugh; meal planning has, if anything, made my life easier! Now I know what I will be spending that week at the grocery store, I know what we’re having for dinner that night, and I know just how I can ‘pivot’ to a different dish if something comes up or we change our minds last minute.

While I thought meal planning was hemming me in, it was really freeing me up in ways I could never have expected.

I’ve been writing on this page about just how I plan meals for our week since I started it, in 2016. But my meal planning journey began after my first daughter began eating solid food, when I was tired of throwing meals together at the end of an already long day, and hated how I would sometimes reach for the easiest thing to give her when I didn’t feel like cooking (she ate a lot of banana and avocado dinners back then)

In this post, I’ll be dropping all that knowledge into one big, fat list.

If you’re new to meal planning, there’s info here to get you going. If you’re in a rut, I got you covered there, too. And if you just need some inspo to figure out what the heck you’re actually cooking this week, I have cheat sheets and idea lists galore!

Getting Out of a Meal Planning Rut with Tiffany from Don’t Waste The Crumbs

Welcome back to the next post in my “Ask an Expert” series!

This week, we’re talking about: How do you get out of a meal planning rut?

Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs has a few good ideas on how you can jumpstart your creativity when you’re feeling stuck!

Her site is awesome for those who are trying to save money, utilize everything we’ve got in our fridges and pantries, cook fresh, wholesome (mostly organic) foods for our families… and not break the bank in the meantime!

I love Tiffany’s email newsletter because she’s always sharing something that is actually helpful.

If you’re not signed up for her emails, I really recommend that you go do so right now. I’ve been a subscriber for a while now, and I genuinely look forward to her emails! It’s never just an update or a pushto buy something, but genuine ideas to get you cooking fresh food and while saving money, too.

And I love her idea for banishing the meal planing rut, down after the jump. I’m totally going to start doing her idea now!

 Please note this interview has been edited slightly for clarity.


The 5 Minute Meal Plan (Quick Cooking Tips #1)

How I create my '5 minute meal plan' each week, using a super simple system! Once you have it set up, you won't believe how easy it is to use.

I’m spilling my favorite secret today with my ‘5 Minute Meal Plan’ tip!

Today I thought I would share one of my favorite time saving, quick meal planning ‘hacks’. It’s Evernote, the cloud-based note-taking app! I’m going to break down, step-by-step, how I use this super simple app and program. Then you, too, can work a super quick 5 minute meal plan! 

My Evernote system is something I use regularly when I’m making my own family’s meal plans, and I also use it when I create my customized, bespoke meal plans.

It’s nothing special or crazy or complicated, but you do need a smartphone to fully pull it off.

I use Evernote to store all my recipes.

No binders or recipe card boxes here!

If you’ve never used or heard of Evernote, I urge you to check it out! It’s a cloud-based list making app, and it is so powerful. Since it’s based in the cloud, it will take up very little room on your phone, tablet, or computer. Yet it has the capacity to store thousands, if not millions, of your recipes!

Here’s a quick rundown on how I have my Evernote set up:


How to Start Meal Planning: A Convo with Angie Trueblood from MealPlanningMama.com

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of getting together with Angie Trueblood, of mealplanningmama.com! Angie graciously let me pepper her with questions about how she got her start meal planning, where she gets her inspiration, and what she does on those nights when the whole plan falls apart (hint: it’s not ordering takeout!)

Ruthy: How do you decide what to cook for dinner each night? Do you have a binder, a list, “theme nights”, etc?

Angie: I have all of this. 🙂 I have a binder that has a one-month rotation of our ‘theme nights’ that I use as the starting point for our meal plan. Then, for each theme night, I have a list of our favorite meals and recipes. My goal is to cut down on the decisions I need to make when choosing our weekly meals, so having these decisions already made saves me time AND brainpower (a hot commodity, these days). 🙂

Ruthy: When did you start meal planning? What motivated you to figure it out?

Angie: Really, not until I had my daughter, my first child. My husband and I were both working full-time, and we’d rush in the door after work and be torn between wanting to spend time with her while also needing to feed us all. Doing that without a plan made for a cluster of a night and I knew there had to be a better way. So, true to form, I created a system that worked for us.


Ruthy: What’s your favorite ‘pivot’ dinner recipe? (I love how you refer to them as ‘Plan B’ meals!)

Angie: I always keep shrimp, frozen veggies, and a great sauce on hand, so I can do a super simple rice bowl. The key to not having to run out to dinner when I don’t really want to (and honestly, if the day is requiring a last-minute pivot, I’m usually not in the mood to go out anyway!), is to have quick-cooking items on hand that make a meal that you’re somewhat excited about. 🙂 Keeping shredded chicken or meatballs on hand in the freezer are also great go-to’s and can be turned into a meal in no time.

Ruthy: Do you have a favorite ‘use up the leftovers!’ type of meal?

Angie: It’s not super sexy, but I can make a hearty meal out of quesadillas most any night. Most nights, I purposely cook more food than we’ll eat at one sitting, so we have leftovers for lunch and usually another meal where I’ll ‘repurpose’ the meal into something else. Any leftover meat or veggie is game for stuffing in a quesadilla and since we always keep rice and black beans on hand, it’s easy to make a complete meal out of it. Grilled sandwiches and soups are also great ways to repurpose leftovers.

Ruthy: What would you tell someone who feels overwhelmed about where to start meal planning?

Angie: Just start. Don’t worry about creating a complicated system that is going to work forever. A friend of mine recently wrote her first weekly meal plan EVER on a pink index card. Having that plan gave her more peace of mind than she had ever had at dinner simply because that major decision of the day was made. Don’t invest in digital meal plan subscriptions or go out searching on Pinterest first, either. Those can come in time to add variety but, first, start with the meals you know your family will eat and go from there. Obviously, if you need help, I’d love you to check out my course, What the Fork is for Dinner? In it, I walk you through the steps of creating a simple system that works for your family and your schedule through video tutorials, a detailed workbook, and printable planning sheets.

Bonus! Angie is offering her course only to Percolate Kitchen readers for the discounted price of $47 until Saturday, May 27th at midnight! Enter the coupon code RUTHY to snag your deal; after theat, the price shoots up to $67!

Ruthy:  What’s a good way to get out of a ‘planning rut”?

Angie: First off, give yourself permission to take a break. (Ruthy: I freaking love this)

Seriously. No one needs to be making 7 dinners from scratch every night of the week for months on end. 🙂 Plan in some ‘kitchen closed’ nights where you DO go out or nights that are super easy. I love doing meat and cheese boards at home and they’re a hit for the whole family. We put a couple of different meats, cheeses, fruits, crackers and jam out and we’re done! Usually, once I come up with a couple of fun ideas, I’ll get excited again. Recently, a friend shared the idea of a ‘Takeout Fakeout’ night and it’s now my mission to recreate some of our favorites!

Ruthy: You’re big on finding simplicity in life. What’s your favorite tip for someone who feels they need to simplify things in their life a little more?
Angie: I am. And, I’m big into simplifying so that I can enjoy the people that matter. I would say first, get clear on your priorities and start evaluating how your actions reflect those priorities. If work is not a huge priority, but you’re spending 10 hours a day there, something needs to change. For me, eating dinner at home is a top priority, but cooking everything from scratch is not. So, I serve healthy meals any use plenty of shortcuts to get there. Seriously…the rotisserie chicken is better than sliced bread in my opinion. 🙂

Guys, honestly- how helpful is Angie!? And I’m in love with her site, too. It’s full of helpful tips, simple recipes, and meal planning support. Definitely my kind of website!
Don’t forget to snag Angie’s STEAL of a meal planning course, ‘What The Fork Is For Dinner?‘ for just $47! This price is only valid until May 27th, 2017 at midnight. After that, the price is $67! Use coupon code RUTHY at checkout to claim that price.

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