Is meal time a hectic, all-hands-on-deck time in your home? This used to be the most chaotic and stressful point in my day, until I discovered how efficiently meal planning could transform the 5 o’clock hour into a well oiled machine without stress or scrambling to search through my pantry. Meal planning takes the guess work out of your evenings and makes grocery shopping a breeze – not to mention your budget will thank you! Learn how to meal plan with these seven easy steps.
I was never much a meal planner before I had kids and the term actually wasn’t in my vocabulary pre-babies. “Back then” I had time to run to the grocery store, shop for ingredients and take my time reading labels, and stretch out preparing dinner and having a glass of wine while I chopped and stirred.
Nowadays with hungry kids underfoot in the kitchen, it’s a mad dash to pull something out of the freezer or whip up a healthy meal in less than 15 minutes.
In all honesty, I had never heard of meal-planning until I was a parent but once I dipped my toes into this wise way of preparation, there is no way I could ever go back to winging it. Especially with five hungry mouths to feed every night.
With kids in school, activities in the evenings, juggling work and my husband’s busy work schedule where I’m solo on the meal making front, the importance of meal planning has never been more essential.
WHAT CAN MEAL PLANNING DO FOR ME?
Meal planning takes the guess work out of what you’re cooking each night. Trying to scrape together something partially edible from your pantry will become a welcome part of your past. Have a particularly busy week or early mornings where getting out the door on time is a challenge, meal planning will help you organize your grocery shopping and meals to save you time, energy and makeover your mealtimes from stressful to stress-free.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a handle on your grocery budget, or need something more efficient than throwing things together last-minutes, these steps will make meal-planning a breeze and you’ll never go back to your old ways once you realize how more efficient your house will run.
Note: These meal planning steps are based on a weekly meal plan, but you can also do two-week blocks and a month as well. It depends on how frequently you want to grocery shop.
1) Make a List of the Meals Your Family Enjoys
Write down as many meals as you can, that you know your family enjoys eating. Aim for 30 – 40 meals and continually add to this list when you find a new favorite.
I know families who do pasta on Mondays or pizza on Sundays, so if you have a set day every week where the meal is the same, this will cut down on your weekly planning.
2) Look at Your Weekly Calendar & Write Down Meals for the Week
Pencil in the week’s meals you’ll be making each day. If you’re focused on planning dinners, your schedule may look something like this:
- Monday – Spaghetti with Garlic Bread
- Tuesday – Tacos with Rice & Beans
- Wednesday – Grilled Salmon with Caesar Salad
- Thursday – Chicken Noodle Soup with Crusty Bread
- Friday – Homemade Pizza with Salad
- Saturday – BBQ Chicken with Corn on the Cob
- Sunday – Pork Chops with Cous Cous and Green Beans
If you want to add in breakfast options and lunch, throw these on your meal planning calendar as well.
3) Group Similar Meals Together or Plan for Leftovers
If you are using the same ingredients in one meal – for example, you’re making grilled chicken on night and chicken burritos another, group them together so you can use the leftover grilled chicken in the burritos the next night.
Another way to tackle meal planning is to make an extra portion while you cook in order to have leftovers to take with you the next day. My husband brings leftovers almost everyday to work and this is a huge timesaver from packing a lunch or worse, spending money everyday to have lunch.
4) Write Down All the Ingredients You Need
For every meal you plan to make during the week, write down every ingredient you need in order to make every meal, including sides. Think of the ingredients it takes to season items, the sauces and condiments you might need and baking items such as flour, oil and sugar too.
5) Go Shopping In Your Own Home
Go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to check off any items you already have in your own home. There’s no need to buy more than you need, when you already have it.
6) Check the Local Ads & Coupons Before You Shop
Before you go, be sure to check the local grocery ads and coupons. If something you have scheduled is on sale, consider buying more while it’s on sale and then freezing the second portion for next time. You may also want to consider swapping out one more for another that’s on sale.
7) Prepare Meals for the Week Right When You Get Home
Once you get home from grocery shopping, bundle your meals with all the ingredients you need together in the fridge. You can either set them together in the fridge or slide into a tray with a note of what meal it’s for. This will help keep other family members from using items you need for later. Freeze any items you’ll need later in the week to ensure they don’t go bad.
We use a chalkboard calendar in the kitchen to write down the week’s meals. Since our family goes through produce quickly, we were wasting it trying to plan for two weeks out only to find the broccoli had turned brown when the time came to use it.
Also, if you know one night a week is super busy with activities or school obligations, plan ahead with simple crockpot meals, so you can turn it on before you leave and walk into a read-to-eat meal when you get home.
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