How to Start Meal Planning

Jen SmithFrugality, Personal Finance16 Comments

Start Meal Planning

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Updated: December 21, 2017

When we make our budget at the end of the month groceries and restaurants come second only to rent. Meal planning has been key to keeping the amount we spend on food in check.

18 months ago I couldn’t have told you the first thing about meal planning. I bought what looked good at the grocery store and ate out when I didn’t feel like cooking (which was often.) Now, I’ll admit I’m pretty obsessed with meal planning.

I spend my free time in Pinterest, pinning recipes and I could write a love letter to Aldi with the affection I have overflowing for that grocery store. I love making my list (and checking it twice) and figuring out how to maximize

My friends know my love of meal planning so the question I get now is where to start meal planning, especially from my single friends. Everyone is on different time constraints, some people hate planning others dislike cooking. One plan definitely does not fit all.

American households throw away $640 worth of food every year and food waste has increased over 50% in the last four decades. Not to mention we eat more than the average person did 40 years ago.

I know ya gotta eat, but the amount Americans (especially millennials) spend on eating out and food waste is embarrassing. The solution to this is to start meal planning.

There are many methods on how to start meal planning from complete DIY to having every meal completely done for you. Paying for this service is absolutely worth it if you’re reusing ingredients on hand and eating out less. Here are a few methods I’ve used in my meal planning journey.

DIY Meal Planning

Doing your own meal planning isn’t hard but it does take a little work. I sit down Sunday afternoon, look at what I already have in the fridge and pantry, determine the nights I can and can’t cook, search recipes on Pinterest, and make a grocery list for the ingredients I don’t have.

On nights I work late we eat leftovers (or a frozen pizza) so I make a big meal the night before. I also plan in date nights if we have a gift card somewhere or if we’re out of town. I don’t follow the plan perfectly every week but if I skip a meal one week it’s the first meal on next week’s meal plan.

I’ve been doing this a while and it takes me a solid hour to go through this process. I know most people aren’t as type A about planning as I am so I highly recommend services that do the planning for you if you find the task too exhausting. Yes, you’ll pay for it but it 100% saves you money in the long run and anything to work smarter, not harder is what I’m all about.


Of all the meal planning services I’ve seen and tried PlateJoy is by far the most intuitive and cost-effective. You start out with a lifestyle quiz so they can take into account your health goals (a nice perk for all those new years resolutions), time constraints, and dietary/ingredient preferences in your plans. And you can change your preferences at any time for free.

They keep track of what you have in your pantry and include meals with those ingredients. You buy less, have less food waste, and mother Earth is happy. You’ll pay $69 for 6 months and $99 for 1 year. Since this service gives you plans for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, it’s the best deal out there. Most plans will give you dinner and make you pay extra for the other meals. You can try it for 10 days free too.

PlateJoy had also partnered with InstaCart to give users $20 off their first grocery delivery. So you can literally have your meals planned, transfer the premade shopping list to InstaCart, and have it delivered to your door whenever you want. Are you kidding me!?!?! No, I’m not.


The MyFreezEasy meal plan is from Erin Chase over at $5 Dinners. If you’ve never heard of her she is the queen of cooking on a budget. You should definitely check out her website for budget friendly recipes and tips to save on your grocery bill.

MyFreezeEasy is different from any other meal planning program I’ve seen. Her plan provides you with 5-10 recipes per month (based on your selections) that you assemble in less than an hour and freeze for the month.

This plan is gear towards busy family but it works really well for busy people in general. I work late 2 or 3 nights a week and I love the easy of pulling something out of the freezer in the morning (I just have to set an alarm to remind me ;)) and having a hot meal in front of me within 30 minutes of walking in the door.

It’s also great if you want to cook meals for friends or family who are sick or in hard times, freezer meals are always an appreciated gift.

You get 5 new recipes each month and access to the MyFreezEasy desktop app that allows you to switch out recipes, which is great for me since I don’t eat meat. There’s also a 20 meals plan that gives you 10 recipes per month. MyFreezEasy is $12 p/m, $36 p/quarter, or $120 annual.

You can see Erin’s free freezer cooking workshop if you’re unsure if freezer cooking is right for you.

Saving on Groceries

Erin also has a free Grocery Savings Workshop that’s open January 1-8. Even with all the things I’ve learned about saving on groceries I still found some great wisdom from Erin who’s been doing this a lot longer than I have. I highly recommend it.

Registration for her 10 week course, The Grocery Budget Makeover, opens January 3rd so if you find that you learn a lot from the workshop then definitely consider taking her Grocery Budget Makeover. 8 years ago Erin went from spending $500 p/m on groceries to feeding her family of 6 (all boys) on $250 p/m.

The course is super legit, it has printables, worksheets, and video demos. So for sure if your goal is to improve your finances or cut food spending in 2018, sign up to receive a reminder when the workshop opens.

My biggest piece of advice on where to start meal planning is to run your kitchen like a business. Make a budget for your food, plan for your meals, and a list for your shopping. When you make this stuff a habit you might find you like eating at home in your pajamas more than putting on pants to go to Chipotle.

How to Start Meal Planning

16 Comments on “How to Start Meal Planning”

  1. I come from a poor country and to see my family waste food… makes me cringe. It’s sad to see so many people just waste food. I only buy what I’m going to use that day and yes I’ll cook it all at once for the week. This is so helpful. Thank you for the wonderful reminder we need to take action to have a healthier life. -Jocelyne from

    1. Thanks Jocelyne! It makes me cringe too. I’ve eaten some questionable things just to avoid wasting 😉

  2. I hate food waste. Since I am a gluten free blogger, I have to cook a lot for the blog. It has a bearing on my meal planning, of course. You know that show “Chopped?” I play that with myself sometimes. Thanks for your reviews of the various services. I really didn’t know there were such businesses out there.

    1. That’s awesome Amanda! Haha. I love that show. You’re welcome too! I love introducing people to things that will make their lives simpler!

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