Blog Meal Planning

My Top Three Meal Planning Basics

Looking for tips to begin meal planning on a budget? Not sure where to start? I’ve got my three fave tips for beginner meal planners, PLUS a handy printable meal planner template.

Before we begin, though, I gotta tell ya: my top three meal planning basics are juuuuuust a little different from what you might normally see online when people recommend you start a meal plan!

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in trying to figure out how to create the best meal plan for my family.

When I was just beginning to get into meal planning, I would read every blog article, post, or piece of advice I could get my hands on.

Eventually, I figured out how to piece together the best budget meal plan for my family.

After some trial and error, I eventually honed my meal planning efforts well enough that we could see not only a marked difference in our grocery bills, but my overall stress level as well!

I’d love to share with you today my top three meal planning basics, which I turn to every week as I sit down to plan out what we’ll be cooking and eating.

Here’s how you usually find advice for beginning to meal plan:

-Go through your recipes and decide what you want to eat this week

-Keep a recipe box or binder of your favorite recipes as go-to’s

-Buy groceries (in bulk if you can)

-Above all else: stick to the plan

The biggest problem for me was that “the plan” so often wound up resorting to overly processed food in order to be made quickly enough to get on the dinner table.

I wanted to make fresh, homemade food for my family that didn’t rely on canned soups, seasoning packets, or other flavor boosters that take the place of longer cooking times.

We’re a meat-eating, dairy-loving, no-allergy family with zero special diets to consider. If I had a hard time figuring out what the heck to make for us, I can’t even imagine what it would be like for people and their families who are on special diets or living with allergies.

Something had to give!


Why I Love This Super Easy Meal Planning System for Busy Moms

Taking the First Step in Meal Planning: Here’s How

So I pieced together this handy list of my top three meal planning basics!

I’ve been tweaking my meal planning skillz here for a few years now, and I want to share with you today my top three meal planning basics for creating a meal plan for my family that works.

We live in New York City, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, and I usually keep our weekly grocery shop for 4 people to ~$100/under. Don’t think that’s possible? It totally is!

Here’s how I do it:

1. Look at what’s in your refrigerator now.  

Don’t just plan to cook what you feel like cooking; so often this means over-purchasing at the grocery store and food winds up either getting thrown out or shoved it in the freezer to be forgotten about there.

2. Don’t over plan.

Life happens. Try not to plan a full 7 days in advance and purchase food for each day; instead, plan one night for food delivery, if your budget allows, and one night of leftovers.

3. Make sure each recipe – or at least most recipes – in your meal plan can “chain” together.

(This one is my favorite tip!)

Not sure what I mean by “chain”? Check out this meal plan example:
Monday: Weeknight Crispy Orange Beef, served over white rice, with roasted broccolini
Tuesday: Chicken and Rice Soup, with leftover broccolini and leftover white rice
Wednesday: Vegetarian Skillet Chili, with avocado, sour cream and shredded cheddar on top
Thursday: Slow cooker shredded pork tacos, with leftover Vegetarian Skillet Chili on top, avocado, sour cream

and so on!

See what I did there? Each recipe “chains” to the next, for the most part.

 If you plan ahead as you’re cooking, you can use the leftovers from one meal to start the next! Sometimes, it’s the entire dish that’s getting leftover (as with the Vegetarian Skillet Chili as a taco topping), or it’s a component of the recipe (the white rice from the Weeknight Crispy Orange Beef gets reused in a soup the next day).

There are so many benefits to planning this way!
√you don’t wind up with a ton of excess food at the end of the week
√you’re still eating something new and different every night
√your grocery bills get cut down because you’re sharing ingredients between dishes.

Woohoo! Cash money and delicious food for everybody!

You might also like:

“Don’t Throw That Out!” Repurposing Leftover Ingredients

How to Cook ‘Family Meal’ Just Like a Chef

Pantry Essentials Checklist (plus my go-to pantry items)

Ruthy Kirwan

Ruthy Kirwan is a recipe tester and developer living in NYC with her two small kids and hard-working husband. She created Percolate Kitchen in 2016 to help busy people get their act together in the kitchen. Learn more at

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