10 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Meal Planning

Setting up a meal plan for the first time? Don't make these mistakes.

Confession: I always thought meal planning was an easy (maybe even mindless) task that overambitious people did at the start of every week. Two overcooked dinners and one headache later, I quickly learned the hard way just how tough it can actually be. Luckily, I’ve already made all the rookie mistakes—and figured out how to dodge them—so you don’t have to.

Become a meal planning pro with our guide.

1. Thinking there is only one right way to meal plan

Just like people have different methods of cooking in general, there are a lot of ways to plan out meals, too. It’s just about finding the system that works best for you. Get started with these great meal prep ideas.

2. Not preparing the correct amount of food

A family of six won’t need the same amount of food as a household of two. Always be aware of how much a recipe yields, and adjust accordingly so that you don’t make too large of a portion—or worse, not enough for everyone.

3. Repeating foods too often

Sure, kids might find a way to complain about anything you make—but if the main issue is that every dinner that week consisted of chicken, they might be onto something. Always incorporate a variety of meats and produce while planning out meals.

4. Exclusively using packaged condiments

It might require a little more effort, but if you’ve got the time, try and substitute a prepackaged salad dressing or sauce with something homemade instead, especially if you’re trying to plan out more health-conscious meals.

5. Setting unrealistic expectations

Keep other important tasks, life events and your overall schedule in mind before sitting down and drafting up that week’s meals. If you’re extra busy during a certain week, stick to simple, easy recipes you can whip up quickly.

6. Using too many ingredients

Sometimes, less is more. While you should avoid making identical meals back-to-back, it’s smart to stick to a key list of ingredients for each week that’s being planned—it’ll end up being a lot less work for you, and a lot easier to plan out. Produce like onions, lemons, lettuce and carrots are versatile enough to suit a variety of cuisines, without making your grocery list too cumbersome.

7. Cooking more meals than you can actually store

Chances are, you’ll be freezing a lot of the meals you’re cooking ahead of time. So if you don’t have the freezer space, don’t waste the time cooking extra food that can’t be stored properly.

8. Choosing multiple, challenging recipes

As a cook, it can be a truly rewarding experience to prepare food outside of your comfort zone. However, to avoid becoming overwhelmed, it’s OK to prepare just one new or difficult recipe in a given week (or none at all!). For an easy prep, try this 5-ingredient meal plan. 

9. Not giving yourself enough time

If younger children or a demanding work schedule make prepping or cooking multiple meals in one go a total struggle, be sure to set aside a decent chunk of time (after hours, or early in the morning if you need to!) to get the cooking done.

10. Forgetting to keep track of the recipe

Whether you have a Pinterest board specifically dedicated to your weekly meal prep or keep track of it with pen and paper, make it a point to always record the recipes you make so that you can easily access them again in the future. We love these adorable ways to organize recipes.

These recipes let you cook once and eat all week.
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Taylor Murphy
Taylor is a food, parenting and health writer. When she's not writing about the newest Oreo flavor or her favorite kitchen appliance, she can be found searching for her next coffee fix or taste-testing recipes with her daughter.