What’s for dinner?
Does that question inspire dread?
Somehow kids always love to know this answer, and I’ve got to be honest, it’s super frustrating when I don’t know the answer. Whether it’s because I was too busy, we were out all day, or I just didn’t want to plan another thing, meal planning is just the last thing I want to do.
This leads to more frustrations because every night dinner must happen (and breakfast and lunch to). This makes everything hurried and stressful as we try to pull meals together for our families but we don’t feel like we have anything to give (pb&j anyone?)
But here’s the thing…
It doesn’t have to be frustrating and stressful to get a meal on the table.
Why Meal Planning Is Important
There are a couple different reasons why meal planning is important.
First – meal planning gives you the peace of mind about what everyone is going to eat in your household. There’s no more panic about how you need to make dinner, but your school day is running late and you have a sports activity tonight as well.
With a meal plan, you would have already accounted for all of these things, and would not be stressed and forced to pay way more because of last minute shopping and eating out.
Second – meal planning takes the chaos out of cooking. It means you will have everything you need on hand to make your meals and not have to worry about running out of things.
This is one of the top things that happen to me when I don’t meal plan. I will forget I ran out of something and then it’s an extra trip to the store so I can get what I need, plus it’s going to cost me about 45 minutes in time as well.
It also means because you know what needs to happen you can enlist help from other people in your family. Children love to help cook in the kitchen and bonus points, they are also more willing to eat whatever it is you are making.
Getting your kids in the kitchen is a great way to spend time with them, teach them skills they will need and get help so you don’t have to do all the work alone.
Benefits of Meal Planning
There are many benefits to meal planning. Here are 4 big reasons why should start meal planning today:
This is probably the biggest reason to start meal planning, it saves you money. Food is one of the biggest expenses in most households and it is also one of the easiest to control.
Menu planning allows you to know exactly what food you need to buy, and know when you will use that food. Instead of forgetting that you bought hamburgers, you will know that you have them and when you are going to use them.
It also helps you to stop wasting money on food that goes bad because you have a plan for when you will use it, it wont still on your countter or in your fridge until you remember it. Your menu plan tells you exactly what day you will use it before it goes bad and you have to throw it away.
Do you know what wastes time? Going to the store everyday or multiple times a week.
Even in our small town it’s at least a 15-20 minutes roudntrip to drive ot the store, let alone the time spent in the store.
And if you are stopping there at the end of the day it’s likely to take more time as everyone is there like you. Meal planning allows you to shop weekly or biweelky eleminating your need to visit the store so often.
Think about all the time you used going to and from the store this week, as well as how much time you were in the store. When you add it all up I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 1-2 hours.
What could you be doing with that time instead of spending it at the store?
We touched on this one already, but meal planning reduces waste. If you plan ot use all the food you buy and plan the leftovers you may have from dinners, it keeps you from having to throw food away.
Throwing food away is throwing money away. Now sometimes we can’t help it because things will expire or mold quicker than we planned, but meal planning saves us from throwing away food that we forgot about and didn’t use.
Meal planning allows you to eat healthier. It’s so easy to stop for fast food on busy nights, but we all know it’s not what our body needs. Meal planning allows you to have a plan every night for dinner so you can choose to make healthier foods.
If you know you have a busy night you will be able to plan ahead so you can get on with your busy night and feel good at the same time.
How Do I Make My Weekly Family Meal Plan?
Meal planning is definitely a skill that you can learn to do. So don’t feel like you should naturally be amazing at it. Another thing to keep in mind is to start slowing if you’ve never meal planned before.
While having a month long schedule looks appealing, you don’t want to get discouraged if you only come up with two weeks worth of meals and then get stuck.
Look at your schedule
The first thing you want to do when making your menu plan is to look at your schedule. This allows you to see what is happening in the week or weeks you are planning and be able to make your menu plan fit your schedule. For example, if I see that we have a couple busy days with school activities and things going on after dinner, then I know that whatever I am going to make needs to be in the crockpot. If I know we will be gone somewhere around lunch, I will know to buy things we can pack to bring with us.
So figure out what your family’s schedule will be and how your menu plan will work around it.
Plan with sales flyers
If you are really looking to get the most out of your money with menu planning, check your store sales flyers. Knowing what is on sale that week is a great way to stretch your money.
I will usually shop between 2-3 different stores each week based on what they have on sale. I then plan our meals around what is on sale.
Plan Out Your Meals -even if you are eating out
Now is where we start planning out our meals for the week. There are 3 meals a day – 7 days a week, which means you need to plan 21 meals. If you know you will be eating out or somewhere else, write it down too so you can see it.
Things to think about when meal planning:
- If you have busy nights or mornings, plan quick meals. If you are going to be gone or busy all day, make that a crockpot day, so you don’t even have to worry about dinner.
Breakfast are usually the easiest to plan out so start with those. It may be as simple as saying you are going to have cereal every day that week, then you will need to approximate how many boxes you will need to last the week.
For us, I make a list of breakfast that we rotate through and we just make what we like that morning. Usually oatmeal, eggs, and bagels are what get eaten so we have them all on hand for each morning.
I’ll be honest, since I wake up most mornings with headaches, it’s nice to know that if I can’t make what I’ve planned, there are still options that I can make quickly or the kids can make themselves.
Lunches come next. Again I like to keep this super simple by rotating through the same lunches about every two weeks.
Find meals that work for your lifestyle. If you eat at home you will probably have the time to make an acutal meal vs. if you an the kids will be gone all day and need quick and easy options.
Another great option for lunches is to use leftovers. You could either eat them as they are or turn them into something new.
Check your pantry
Now that you know exactly what you are making this week, head over to your pantry to see what items you already have and decide what you will need to buy at the store.
This will help you to reduce waste by not over or under buying. You want to be able to buy what you need to use.
You now know exactly what meal you will be making this week and what ingredinats you will need to get at the store. It is time to go shopping. Make sure you plan the time you will need to go and get all your groceries.
It’s easy to push aside that time for something else and then feel frustrated later because you only have time to go to one store instead of three.
To make for a smoother week, you want to make sure you will have everything you need, so make that time.
*Bonus tip: If you grocery store as grocery pickup available, use it! It will significantly drop the time you have to dedicate to shopping each week. If a store you are visiting deson’t have it avaiable, shop there while another store is filling your order. You will still get all your shopping done, but in half the time.
Another great option is to have groceries delievered. If you run out of time and there is room in your budget, having your groceries delievered will still allow you to stick with your meal plan, even when you couldn’t go shopping.
Now that you have all the food you need for the week, take a look over your week and see if there is anything you need to prep. Things like soaking beans, defrosting meat, repackaging bulk foods might need to be done so you will have everything you need ready.
Repeating this process each week you need a meal plan. As it becomes easier and quicker to plan and shop for your meal you can start adding in more weeks to your planning sessions.
Having a two week or montly plan will cut down on the time you need to spend planning. You will still probably need to visit the store multiple times, but you will know exactly what you need ahead of time, which means you will be less tempted to pick up extras.
Meal Planning Tips
Planning that many meals can seem daunting. Here are some tips to help you meal plan successfully.
List your families favorite meals
Instead of keeping a running list of meals your family likes in your head, write them down. I bet you will easily be able to come up with 15-25 meals that your family always enjoys.
When you are stuck on what to plan, use this list for inspiration or a jumping off point to help you fill in all your meals.
Use theme days
In order to come up with the necessary meals giving each day of the week a theme can help you quickly plan out more meals.
For example, if Saturday became soup night, you would only need to find 4 or 5 soup recipes that your family enjoys and then you have Saturday done. Likewise, Taco Tuesday, could be Mexican Night and each Tuesday you can make a different mexican dish. There are another 4 or 5 nights out of the month done.
Here are some more ideas for theme to use in your planning:
- Wraps (Use different meat/cheeses each time)
- Breakfast For Dinner
- Meat ( beef roast, pork roast, chicken roast)
Hopefully these themes can spark ideas to help you come up with different meals for each day of the week.
Get your family involved
If you are burned out of ideas, get your family involved. Give each person a day of the week to pick out their favorite meals.
Now, you will most likely have to help them think of things they like as the only answers I usually get are macaroni and cheese and pizza. Just tell them to try again and they will start to come up with other options.
This is a great way to get everyone in the family involved and take the pressure off of yourself.
Tools and Resources for Meal Planning
Meal planning template
If you need some templates to get the ball rolling, you can check out templates or examples to help you get started with meal planning, you can start below.
Tools To Make Your Cooking Life Easier
The following tools that get used on an almost daily basis in my house. As if I have all the time to spend in the kitchen cooking 3 meals a day. If you feel the same way you may want to invest in these tools to help you follow your meal plan and also have time for other things.
I love love love my crockpot. Being able to take 5-10 minutes in the morning to throw some ingredients in the crockpot and turn it on and come back to a yummy meal 8 hours later. It is my favorite way to cook. Instead of being frazzled when it’s dinner time, you will have a meal waiting for you.
This is a new to me appliance that I am starting to absolutely love. I don’t make whole meals in here but it is great for sides. I am able to have sides cooking and not have to worry about boiling over or forgetting things on the stove. It also beeps when it’s done so that if I forgot what I was doing, it alerts me to remember what I was doing
Strategies to make meal planning work
Now that you’ve done all the work to plan your meals and buy your food, here are some tips to help you save time in the kitchen and make sure that you follow your plan.
Meal prep means you are doing things before it’s actually time to cook the meal, so that you actually use what you plan. For instance, tonight I am planning to have enchiladas for dinner and I need refried beans. I bought pinto beans this weekend so I can make my own. I need to soak the beans so that tonight I will be able to pop them in the instapot and have refried beans ready to go.
Meal prep also includes things like chopping up veggies you may need, cooking up meat or another ingredient that needs to be cooked before it can be assembled into a recipe. Making sure you take the time to do these things motivate you to stick to your meal plan because you will feel like the work is half done.
Cook once, use twice.
One of my favorite strategies for meal planning is to do cook something that can be used over and over.
Example: I made a roast last night. I intentionally bought a bigger roast, so that I would have leftovers I could use to make another meal. I am planning on making grilled roast sandwiches and the enchiladas mentioned above from a roast I made last night. Now my meat is already cooked for these to meals and I will only have to assemble to make the next meals.
Figure out a way you can do this without causing yourself extra work. There was no extra work in me buying a bigger roast and cooking it in the crockpot. Same with most meats. If you cook a bigger cut you can use the leftovers to make a new meal.
Meal Planning Services
If you are still overwhelmed with meal planning and but want all the benefits, maybe it’s time for you to check out a meal planning service.
These services make meal planning super duper easy because they have done all the work for you. All you need to do is buy groceries and make the food.
Most services include the meal plan for the week, recipes, and shopping lists. They may also include other items, but that will depend on each services.
How Can I Get Better At Meal Planning?
Meal planning can feel so daunting especially if you have never done it before or it’s been awhile. Once you start the habit though, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it all long because it’s quite simple and it really takes away the stress.
Meal planning just seems to make days run smoother. You don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner each night. You spend less money and reduce waste at the same time.
I’m always amazed at how something so simple as meal planning can really affect so many aspects of our lives for the better.
Start small even if it means you plan a couple day at a time and work up to a week. It will get easier and you will get faster the more you do.
Don’t forget to think outside the box. We live in a time where we don’t have to do a bulk of the work if we don’t want to or have the time.
Meal planning services can take the work out of planning and grocery services can shop the ingrediants for you.
The best thing you can do is try different strategies and see what works for your family.
Theresa is a homeschooling mom of 7. An entrepreneur at heart, I started working from home while balancing the responsibilities of homeschooling. My mission is to help other large families moms balance their responsibilities while also living a life they love.