Meal planning is important for several reasons. First, it saves you TIME. How much time do you spend going to the store every day or two? Wondering what you're going to feed your family tonight? Cooking? Second, it saves you MONEY. Convenience foods are not only unhealthy, they are also super expensive. I don't know about you, but feeding just my family of four can cost several hundred dollars a week if we don't meal plan. Finally, it saves you PEACE OF MIND. I mean, really...it's just blissful spending all week knowing exactly what's coming and how to take care of it!
I meal plan breakfast, lunches, snacks, and dinner...but I'm just going to show you dinners here. Baby steps :o)
I already showed you how I stay organized. I'm going to repeat something that I said in that post...what I do might not work for everyone. It works for my family (of non-picky eaters for the most part) who lead fairly busy and active lives. BUT, I really believe that you can make meal planning this way work for just about every family.
First things first...in order to have a meal plan, well, you need meals, right? I get mine from a variety of places...cookbooks (obviously!), magazines, and of course, Pinterest. You can click on the P button in the upper right corner OR here are a few of my food boards for your viewing pleasure :o)
Second, you need to know your schedule for the week. Like I said in this post, I like to plan Monday-Sunday (Sunday night is my planning night). I plan my week and to do lists, and I also plan my meals. I try to fit crock pot or fast meals on nights when we have lessons or practices and save new recipes or complicated dishes for nights when I have more time/energy.
***A word about coupons and grocery store ads*** I don't generally use coupons. Mainly because it's rare that they are for something that I buy. I do check the weekly ads to see if something worth stocking up on is on sale (chicken, pasta, etc.) But generally, I don't take ads or coupons into consideration when I shop.
So, when I sit down with my planner and start thinking about meals, I look at my upcoming week. Right now, my girls are both playing soccer and have practices right before the dinner hour several nights a week. So, those nights I rely on either a crock pot meal or leftovers. For the (rare) nights when we don't have practice or class near dinner, I pick a new recipe or something tried and true that is not to hard to make. Weekends are for something that is more elaborate!
Here's my general formula for the week: 2 crockpot meals, 1 leftover night, 1 new recipe, 2 tried and true, 1 fancier/lengthy recipe.
The next step is something that I think a lot of people forget - ask your family what they want for dinner! I hear from a lot of people that their families are picky...so ASK what they like and try to make something that fits that each week. For example, my kids will eat tacos like they are going out of style, and will eat them in just about every incarnation. So, we have some form of taco (or burrito) every week. My husband Asian cuisine, so I try to add something Asian as well. We all like fish, so we have that once a week too. And don't forget my favorite meal - breakfast for dinner!
It's important to assign your meals to your days. Coming up with a list just doesn't cut it for most busy families. You'll still be scrambling at some point to decide what to make, and that takes too much work!
When you've made your plan, write your grocery list. Don't forget to add things that you've run out of during the week, as well as things for lunches and breakfasts. I do a column for produce, one for meats, one for dairy, and one for the middle of the store. There are a ton of printables out there, and some of them have room for your meal plan AND your grocery list - easy peasy!
Finally, if your family is anything like mine, they are constantly asking, "What's for breakfast/lunch/dinner?" I got this great meal plan decal from the Martha Stewart Line at Staples...I think it was about $10. I don't see it on their website, but there were several at my local Staples last week, so I know they are still in production.
Sorry...I never realized that I write like a 3rd grader!
Anyway, you can see the plan for morning, noon, and night, and I put the snacks I plan to make in that little side box. I really like the tablet it comes with to list what we're out of - my husband and 3rd grader already know to write things down when we run out.
To wrap up, here are the key things that I think are important in meal planning:
- Make sure you plan your meals to fit your week! Don't plan a detailed dinner on a night when both kids have soccer practice at the same time on different fields...keep it simple!
- Write your grocery list at the same time as you meal plan - and don't forget to add the things you ran out of last week.
- Get your family involved! You're feeding more than yourself, so ask what they want! It helps stave off the "I don't like this!" if they feel that they have a choice in picking what they are eating.
- Post your menu somewhere in your kitchen. It will help keep you on track, and it will help your family know what to expect. And maybe it will help your spouse know that he or she can help you out ;-)