The Single Most Important Step In Meal Planning For Beginners That Guarantees Success
When talking about meal planning for beginners, generally most people describe it as a simple 3 step process.
- Start with lists of days—Sunday through Saturday.
- Write down your meal planning ideas—breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
- Make a grocery list then go shopping.
And magically after a few weeks of pulling together ALL the meal planning ideas—you instantly have meals for a month! Bam! Then just put it on repeat.
Yeah, that simple easy plan…was totally not easy for me.
Why is meal planning for beginners such a struggle?
Even after trying what I thought was the easiest and simplest method, I continually failed at it and was miserable while doing it. I followed all the steps, knew the many benefits of menu planning—like saving money, relieving stress, etc.—but things just didn’t seem to click for me.
If you’re like I was, frustrated will meal planning, you’re scouring the internet for anything that will help you make it work. You’ve probably even checked out Pinterest for that “best tutorial on meal planning for beginners”…
It’s not there. I looked too!
But, no matter where you look…
Trust me, there’s one step everyone seems to skip or even mention. And it’s the single most important step that you need to do BEFORE ever starting to meal plan.
What is it?
You have to understand what what will work for you.
You can’t just assume that what someone else says is simple and easy—will be easy for you.
Simply put, those things that are simple and easy to someone else—is what works for someone else. They can promise you a tried and true method saying it’s “the best method for meal planning for beginners.” But it might not actually work for you.
They don’t know you.
You know you! Your tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and why you’re wanting to do meal planning to begin with.
So…to help you figure out what works for you and remove unnecessary frustration through trial and error, I’ll be walking you through some basic questions.
This really is meal planning for beginners—with YOU in mind.
Meal Planning for Beginners Isn’t What You Think It Is
Like I mentioned earlier, when talking about meal planning for beginners, we often think that it’s just a list that we compile for a set period of time.
But…that’s not really meal planning for beginners. That is meal planning for people who have the gift of administration.
And to be honest—these people aren’t beginners at all. They are impeccable at systems and lists—and have been doing it their whole life! Sometimes it feels like it’s so effortless for them—and it makes you wonder…how? How do they do that?!!
Like one of my old roommates.
She has the gift of administration. And when we lived together, one of the things that always amazed me, was how she kept her closet organized—ALL the time.
And it wasn’t just her closet…she organized lots of things easily… but for me…I always felt like I had to work at it. It was a struggle.
So my point is this…
You and I are the real people that are looking for meal planning for beginners. And for people like us—there’s more to pulling all those meal planning ideas together than just a simple step by step list.
Because…we don’t have the gift of administration, like my old roommate.
But the good news is…you can learn. I did! (In fact, I’m pretty excited to say that picture above…is from my closet.)
What is Meal Planning, really?
Over the past couple of years I had to learn that there’s actually three different ways to look at meal planning. It’s either a strategy, a system, or a combination of both.
If people like us don’t understand the strategy versus system thinking—then we make the mistake of approaching meal planning the wrong way. It won’t work for us. Then…when we get frustrated we feel like we’re failing.
When I first started to recognize this—I was like, “Oh my goodness! Why didn’t I know this before?” This was a HUGE eye opener for me—and it wasn’t because someone was teaching this perspective about meal planning.
I actually was listening to a business podcast about strategies and systems, when I realized that what I was listening to, totally applied to meal planning for me. It became clear that the way that I was trying to do meal planning—wasn’t ever going to work for me.
A basic overview of strategies and systems and how it relates to meal planning is that:
- A strategy usually is singular—it’s something that could be considered a meal planning hack, something that is short lived, or only related to HOW you actually prepare the meals.
- Systems thinking for meal planning—is a process—that generally is a step by step plan for what meals you have for a certain period of time.
This clarification of strategy and system thinking reveals what meal planning style you should be using to be most successful.
So what’s your meal planning style? Well, let’s find out what feels most natural to you!
What is your meal planning style?
When I talk about meal planning for beginners, I will often suggest that individuals fall into 1 of 3 Meal Planning Style categories.
- The Strategists: Individuals who really are only interested in how to do things quicker and faster.
- The Planners: Generally these individuals love the idea of planning, goals, and actually feel energized by them.
- The Strategic Planners: These individuals like plans and are all about doing things simpler by using strategies to make it happen.
So with these categories in mind, here is your first question.
What is your meal planning style?
Are you more of a Strategist or a Planner? Or do you think you might be a Strategic Planner?
Just to recap, I’ve NEVER heard of anyone talk about meal planning for beginners this way. And this is a big key! You need to understand your personal style so that you can start meal planning in the way that works for you.
How do you start meal planning?
Taking this knowledge about your meal planning style, will definitely help you to succeed. So how do you start meal planning with your personal style in mind?
The next part to finding out what will work for you is—to understand your why. Another way of saying it, is—what is the driving factor behind why you’re actually wanting to begin meal planning in the first place?
So let’s start to think about that a little more.
What is your why?
- You want to eat healthier
- You want to be more organized
- Tired of trying to come up with ideas last minute
- It helps your husband
- You want to be less stressed
- You want to save money
The answer to your why—will determine how much time you put into creating a list of meals, what food you buy, how you prepare your food, and whether or not you use a command center or menu board. And many other things.
If you’re not sure what your “why” is…check out my post, Healthy Living Starts With Why. I talk about the importance of creating a goal—and I walk you through how to uncover what that goal might be for you.
And remember healthy living isn’t just about eating and exercise—it’s about the whole you!
How do I organize meal planning?
When developing your process for organizing those meal planning ideas, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Really the best way for you to find success and actually enjoy meal planning is to work along with what already comes natural for you.
Think about it—what are some things that you naturally do when putting together your meal planning ideas?
Do you have some reoccurring tendencies?
When I think of tendencies, it’s that stuff that naturally helps you when you are trying to organize and create a meal plan that works for you.
Let’s take a moment to really explain what I mean and how you can do it too.
Meal Planning Ideas That Really Work For You
To make all those meal planning ideas really work for you—use those things you do automatically—to your advantage.
Like, do you find that you always seem to shop for groceries on the same day? Do you always eat pizza on Sunday nights? Is there a certain night of the week somehow that always for the main dish you make chicken?
For me—these examples are all natural patterns that I have recognized in myself.
Some other things I’ve learned about myself :
- I really enjoy being creative in my cooking.
- Picking a meal last minute based on what I have in the fridge doesn’t scare me.
- Most of the time I buy what’s on sale.
So as I started to recognize these patterns and tendencies, that seemed to “just happen”, then I organized my meal planning around these things.
Monday nights, I found that I was often creating a meal with chicken as the main. So Monday nights have become chicken night for me. It doesn’t lock me in to a specific meal, but it does give me some structure in that I always plan to make something with chicken on Monday nights.
I also noticed that I tended to shop for groceries on Thursdays. So, I started to put together a plan in a way that all my meal planning ideas are in line with Thursdays as my grocery day.
See how that works?
Meal planning for beginners can be easy peasy! And the best part is…
Instead of trying to force yourself into recreating “meal planning ideas that work” based on what someone else is doing.
You’re really doing what works for you.
Meal Planning for Beginners Can Be Simple
We’ve gone over the most important step in meal planning for beginners—figuring out what will work for you!
What I’ve shared may seem really simple—even so simple that you could just skip over it. But, that’s just it—this is so important to think through these questions.
I so wished someone would have walked me through this step first—before I even tried to pin, put together a list of meals, or pretty my walls with menu boards.
How about you?
Have you ever considered to think of you first—before actually trying to meal plan?
What do you think your meal planning style.. or why you’re actually doing meal planning? How about those tendencies and ways that you naturally approach meal planning?
This is a very useful and interesting post. Something i’ve been focusing on recently, so very relevant to me! Thanks for the helpful way of looking at meal planning from a different angle.
I’m so glad you found this helpful—and that it was just the right timing for you, Francesca!