3 Simple Ways to Plan Your Dinner Meals: A Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve never planned your dinner meals ahead of time, this is for you. I was in this camp most of my adult life, but have finally learned how to plan meals ahead now. See if these 3 simple ways to plan your dinner meals help you!

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Ever Googled meal planning? Or just heard the concept somewhere? Supposedly it can reduce stress, balance your bank account, help you lose weight, and save you time & money.

prepared lunches in containers

But what the heck does it mean, exactly?

If I eat roast every Sunday night, is that meal planning?

Well, yeah, pretty much.

I like to keep things very simple, and there are some complicated systems out there.

And if you’ve tried meal planning before and thought it wasn’t for you, I have some ideas that can hopefully get you started.

And heck, maybe you will have some ideas I haven’t heard of! If so, please share in the comments.

What Exactly Is Meal Planning?

At its most basic, meal planning is deciding what you’re going to prepare and eat for more than just one meal.

In other words, NOT standing in front of the pantry or refrigerator every day and saying, “well, what are we going to have today?”

Based on that definition, it’s fairly easy to get started. For example, you can decide to plan only your dinners for a week (or just two or three days if you want to go for baby steps).

If you have never really planned your meals in your adult life, take a little time to think about what sorts of things you (and your family) like best and how involved you like your meals to be, etc.

For example, if you have evenings with activities, those may be times you use your slow cooker, or Instant Pot.

If you don’t like a lot of preparation work, you find simple-to-prepare meals.

Or maybe you grew up eating pot roast on Sundays and you want to continue with that trend, or perhaps you want a few meatless dinners.

There are literally dozens of ways you can go about this, but if you’re just starting out, keep it simple. You can always experiment later with a meal here and there.

Don’t Forget To Plan For Leftovers!

It’s even nicer if one or more of your weekly meals yields some leftovers for a second meal, one to freeze, or even a couple of lunches to pack for work or school.

Especially if you’re making something like a pasta sauce for spaghetti…make an extra-large batch and then plan to use the same sauce for other dishes, like stuffed shells.

This option makes great freezer meals!

Three Examples of Simple Ways To Plan Your Dinner Meals

With that short introduction, what are some simple ways to plan your dinner meals if you’re just starting out?

1. Theme Nights

I always thought this sounded kinda corny.

However, I do repeat meals a lot (and make a lot of chicken meals).

So when I read about it for the umpteenth time, I thought why not try?

And guess what? It’s pretty helpful, especially if you’re idea πŸ’‘ and creativity challenged like I am.

At least it gives you a starting point, and I definitely needed a place to start.

I used to prepare the same thing every Monday (spaghetti), Tuesday, (beef tips), Wednesday (tacos), etc.

I mean the exact same meal each and every week. No variations whatsoever. I don’t crave a LOT of variety, but I could see the value in having something like “Italian” night instead of spaghetti night.

3 delicious tacos for dinner

Here are a few ideas to spark YOUR creativity!

  • Meatless Mondays (not happening around here).
  • Taco Tuesdays
  • Whatever Wednesdays (leftovers?)
  • Italian Thursdays
  • Asian Fridays
  • Steak Saturdays

I am fortunate that my dear husband is also a stick-in-the-mud person who doesn’t require lots of variety in his meals, but he seems to appreciate a bit of it as well.

2. Main Ingredient Nights

barbeque baked chicken with dip
Chicken Night!

This idea works really well for me, partially because of the chicken thing.

Chicken night πŸ— is more than one night a week in my house!

I LOVE chicken and don’t think anyone could possibly have too many chicken recipes!

Here are some examples of other main ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Pasta
  • Ground Beef
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Roast
  • Pork
  • Fish (not in my house)
  • Vegetarian

3. Cooking Method Nights

This one also works for my tastes and style, too (and my husband’s).

instant pot due 6qt
Instant Pot

3b. Combination of 2 & 3

You can even mix and match the cooking method with main ingredient.

So you could have stir fry/shrimp, instant pot/chicken, outdoor grill/beef, casserole/pasta, etc.

In this way, you can enjoy a wider variety of dishes if you and your family like that better than repeating more often.

This combo idea is a little bit more advanced, so you may want to keep it in the back of your mind once you have a few weeks of straight dinner planning under your belt.

Will You Try Some Dinner Meal Planning?

If, like me, you’ve never been too adept at navigating the organizational waters of your life, I hope these simple dinner meal planning ideas will whet your appetite.

If you found any of them helpful, or you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment!

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