By Kathryn Trudeau
Meal planning is often discussed in regards to weight loss. It’s a lot easier to lose weight when your healthy meals are already planned -- goodbye snack attacks!
However, the benefits of meal planning aren’t limited to just weight loss. Meal planning for your entire family can help you stick with your grocery budget, limit wasted food, and help you avoid the dreaded “nothing-is-made-for-dinner-so-let’s-just-get-take-out-for-dinner” conundrum.
I wasn’t always a family meal planner. I liked the spontaneity of making last-minute decisions for dinner, but as our family grew (and became busier and more chaotic), I quickly realized that meal planning for families was essential… if i was going to stay sane.
If you’re new to family meal planning, then keep reading. This guide will break down everything you need to know to get started.
Benefits of Meal Planning for Your Family
First things first: meal planning provides many benefits for you, so before we dig into the tips to make your meal planning more successful, let’s first call to mind WHY we’re doing this in the first place.
- Saves you money by avoiding duplicate purchases, cutting out impulse purchases, reducing the need for multiple trips to the store, and allows you to incorporate weekly sales.
- Saves you time both while shopping and trying to decide what to make each night.
- Helps you stick with your budget by reducing your urge to order fast food or other take-out as well as taking advantage of weekly sales.
- Helps you plan and eat healthier meals.
- Reduces stress around meals -- the best benefit in my opinion!
Now that we’ve covered why you should create a meal plan, let’s explore 10 tips to effectively integrate meal planning into your life.
10 Tips & Strategies for Successful Meal Planning
1. Start with a Master List
While you don’t have to make a master list, it’s quite helpful. Your master list should contain anywhere from 10-30 of your tried-and-true, hands-down favorite meals. When you are making your weekly meal plan, you can refer to this list when you need ideas. You can use only recipes from your master list, or you can do a mix. For example, you might use 4 dinner recipes from your master list and then add 3 new recipes -- for variety.
To make your master list, sort your recipes by type: beef, chicken, slow-cooker, instapot, soups -- whatever makes the most sense to you. It’s helpful to have easy recipes, or at least, recipes that use pantry staples.
You can keep your master list in a notebook or on a Word document on your computer. I write mine in a blank journal and then keep it with the rest of my cookbooks in the kitchen.
2. Write Your Meal Plan Down
For the best success, write your meal plan down. You can write your weekly plan on a blank calendar, on a piece of paper on the fridge, in an app, or on a dry erase board. Whatever method you prefer is fine, but just make sure it’s written somewhere. Keeping a meal plan in your head isn’t always ideal.
My method: write the meal plan on a dry erase board that hangs in the kitchen -- so everyone can see it. Then, I write my grocery list on a separate piece of paper.
3. Don’t Just Focus on Breakfast
Meal planning isn’t just for dinner. If you plan for breakfast and lunch, you’re less likely to skip your meal -- or go through the drive-thru. Breakfast and lunch don’t have to be elaborate. You might include easy meals like hard-boiled eggs, overnight oatmeal, or leftover chicken on a roll. All of these meals are super easy, but require a little bit of planning. You can’t eat overnight oatmeal if you didn’t plan for it the night before, right?
4. Consult the Family Calendar First
Do you have to work late tonight? Do your kids have any late sports practices this week? Do you have any early morning meetings? Taking your family calendar into consideration can help you work meals around your plans -- without sacrificing nutrition.
Once you know your family’s schedule, plan accordingly. For example, plan for a crock-pot night if you have to work late, or make overnight oatmeal for busy mornings.
5. Use What You’ve Got
If you just start reading through recipes on Pinterest, you might come to a quick conclusion: if you make a new meal from scratch every night, your grocery bill is going to skyrocket. But you don’t need to make a from-scratch meal for every single meal.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Use what you’ve got (e.g. if you have a lot of canned beans, plan for chili! No need to restock your pantry before you’ve emptied it)
- Plan your meals around the pantry items you already have
6. Plan Your Meals Around Your Grocery Store’s Weekly Sales
Check with your local grocer and see what sales they run each week. You might score a good deal on meat or produce. Use that to inspire your weekly planning.
Tip: If you see something on a crazy awesome deal, buy two and throw one in your freezer. Then, when you plan for the following week, you can take advantage of tip #5: use what you’ve got.
7. Buy In-Season
Purchasing the produce that’s in season provides a few benefits;
- In-season produce tastes better than out-of-season produce
- It’s cheaper
- It can inspire your menu and add variety
8. Save One (or Two) Nights for Leftover Night
When you’re meal planning, it’s important to know that you don’t have to cook each night. Reserve 1-2 nights for leftovers. This number can vary depending on how much you typically have leftover. Leftover night can reduce your food waste dramatically.
- Repurpose your meals: Turn roast chicken into chicken tacos
- Think beyond dinner: Leftover dinner can be transformed into brown bag lunches the next day
9. Make Double Batches
Double batches are a thing in my house, and if I’m being really honest, it’s usually more like triple or quadruple batches. Having home-cooked meals in the freezer makes busy nights so much easier.
Here’s a few examples:
- Waffles (this is the one we always quadruple batch… place in Ziploc bags with parchment paper between each one; to reheat, just toss them in the toaster, and voila! You’ve got tasty (and cheaper) frozen waffles.
- Pasta sauce (Cook your noodles fresh though)
- Most soups
10. Block Out Your Meal Planning Time
Meal planning for the week takes about 30 minutes, and that includes writing out your grocery list too. I like to meal plan on Sunday nights. After you get your baby into his pajamas or sleep sack, head to the kitchen and grab your master list.
Brew a warm cup of tea and enjoy your meal planning time in peace!
What About You?
Do you create a meal plan for your family? What are some of the best time and money-saving strategies that work for you?
Kathryn is a self-proclaimed book nerd who has a passion for natural parenting and writing. As a homeschooling mother of two, Kathryn understands the dynamics of busy family life. She is the founder of the Cor Domum movement, a mission that guides families through life so that they can parent with joy. Read more at www.katietrudeau.com
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