momAgenda Meal Planning 101: Getting Started

momAgenda Meal Planning 101: Getting Started

The following is a guest post from momAgendaCOMM blogger Julie Meyers Pron.

Meal planning takes a while to become a habit, but once you have it down, it comes with ease. When I first dipped my toe into planning my weekly dinner menu, I started by studying others’ meal plans that I found online. I found subscribing to a service was a great way to make it become habit, and then slowly, I created my own plans. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve finally developed an annual plan that I share monthly on Julieverse. If you’re new to meal planning and ready to dip your toe, here are 5 tips to get you started.


1. Prepare a calendar for the week.

A meal plan is based on plans on your calendar, so before you can even begin to determine which meals are best, you’ll need to have an idea of who you’re cooking for and which days you will be ready to cook. Every Sunday I sit down and transfer all of my plans from my day planner, my husband’s calendar and my kids’ calendars onto a MomAgenda Family Planner. After the weekly details are entered on the calendar, I can determine which nights I’ll have the family home at dinner time, as well as which days I’ll be able to prepare dinner. While you’re planning, don’t forget to allow a night or two for leftovers. (I’m learning that the planning and finding time for family meals — and cooking — gets harder as the kids get older.)

momagenda family meal planner pad

Find a few recipe and meal planning resources you love.

Now that you know which nights you’ll be able to cook, pull together a meal plan that will work for your family. Real Simple magazine publishes 5 meals each month, and Rachael Ray magazine hosts a monthly pull-out. Many bloggers participate in Menu Plan Monday, where they post their plan for the week. Additionally, there seems to be an infinite number of recipes just dying to be found throughout the internet and Pinterest.

At Julieverse, I publish a monthly meal plan calendar with 4 or 5 meals a week, and encourage my readers to adapt it to fit their schedule.

2. Choose your meals and work them into your weekly calendar.

This next step is easy, select 4 or 5 meals from your resources and write them on your calendar for dinner. I love that the Family Planner has lines for a Family Meal Plan each day, so you can fill in your dinner plans there. To keep your family healthy, make sure to balance your meal plan. I try to make sure each week includes 1-2 poultry, 1 vegetarian, 1 fish and one red-meal dinner.


3. Create your grocery list. 

Now that you have your plan in writing, look up each recipe and write your ingredients list. My list is categorized into sections that match my grocery store: deli, meats, breads, produce, dairy, snacks, condiments, grains, frozens and others. The MomAgenda Weekly Menu/Grocery List works as a great organization option.

Warning: When I first began meal planning, I failed this area in two ways:

●     I didn’t check the refrigerator and pantry to compare my list to what I already had.

●     I forgot to include basic breakfast, lunch and snack necessities.

Quick fixes: After realizing my errors, I now do the following after making my list:

●    Take the list to the pantry and refrigerator and quickly check inventory before heading to the  store.

●    Have a basic lunch, breakfast, snacks and necessities list that needs replenishing each week. This includes things like deli foods, loaf of bread, pretzels, milks and yogurts.

Go to the grocery store only once a week.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? It’s not going to happen overnight, but as you become more seasoned in meal planning, you’ll begin to notice that you’ll cut-back on your grocery store time

and money-spent, because you’re better prepared each week. Usually, I’ll create my plan, write my list and shop within about an hour and a half each Sunday. (But it’s taken a few years of making this a habit to take it down to such a quick job.)

Once you’re in the groove, you’ll find that not only are you eating healthier, but your afternoons are less stressful, because you never have to stumble to answer the dreaded “what will we eat tonight?” question. You should also notice savings in terms of both time and money.

4. More tips for meal planning:

●    Menu Planning Strategies delves deeper into the concept of menu planning and offers assistance in how I plan meals each week through a video blog.

●    The Importance of Timely Meal Planning discusses why it’s so important to align your meal plan with your calendar.

●    No one is perfect, and Dinner Time Isn’t Always Easy proves that no matter how planned and focused you are, things will go wrong. Here are solutions to help you wiggle out. So, put on a happy face and read one of my meal plan fails.

●    Questions and Answers about Menu Planning

Resources for finding meals:

●   Real Simple’s Recipe Collections offers 5-10 recipes around seasonal themes.

●   Rachael Ray’s Recipe section includes 30-minute meals which are great for busy parents.

●    Johnson’s Right@Home’s Recipe section offers a searchable database (as do most  food-brands).

●    Use my Meal Planning Pinterest board to find dinner recipes from many companies, bloggers and chefs.

●    The Julieverse Monthly Menu Plan is reposted each Monday.

*Notebook image courtesy of Gualberto107 /

Julie Meyers Pron is a suburban Philadelphia mom of 3. She is The Chief of Everything at Julieverse sharing her knowledge, lifestyle tips, business-savvy suggestions and real life stories to help readers parent confidently while remaining their stylish self.

Connect with Julie on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.