As a busy parent, you understand how important meal planning is. Having a solid plan (and a solid back-up plan ... and maybe a back-up plan to your back-up plan) is often the difference between relying on fast food and serving a home-cooked meal; between having the ingredients on hand to whip up something at home or running out at the last minute in search of something edible.
But the thought of meal planning can feel overwhelming. You might even find yourself wondering where you are supposed to begin, how to know whether you will actually want to make lasagna three nights from now, or wondering if it's really worth all the trouble in the first place.
Don’t worry – we have some super simple, and very flexible, tips that can help make meal planning easier and more efficient.
Ready? Yeah you are :)
Step 1: Think About the Week Ahead
Planning your dinner meals in advance can help you save time, money, and reduce food waste. However, it's important to consider the events of the week before finalizing your meal plan. For example, if you have a busy week ahead with long work hours and evening activities, you may want to plan for quick and easy meals that can be prepared in advance or cooked quickly. On the other hand, if you have more time available, you may want to plan for more elaborate meals or try out new recipes. Additionally, considering any special events or holidays during the week can help you plan meals that are appropriate for the occasion and make the week feel more special. Overall, taking the time to consider the events of the week before planning your dinner meals can help you make the most of your time and create a more enjoyable dining experience for the whole family.
Step 2: Look Back at Last Week's Menu
Considering what you ate last week before planning this week's menu can be a useful strategy for several reasons. Firstly, it can help you avoid repeating the same meals over and over again, which can become monotonous and boring. By reviewing what you ate last week, you can identify any meals that you and your family particularly enjoyed and incorporate them into this week's menu. Secondly, it can help you balance your diet and ensure that you are consuming a variety of foods and nutrients. If you had a week of indulgent meals, for example, you may want to plan some healthier options for this week. Remember, eating a balanced diet is not something that happens over the course of a day - it's longer term patterns (like over the course of a week) that really matter.
Lastly, reviewing what you ate last week can help you reduce food waste by incorporating leftovers into this week's menu. Overall, taking the time to consider what you ate last week before planning this week's menu can help you create a more diverse, balanced, and sustainable meal plan.
Step 3: Check the Fridge & Pantry
Before making a new meal plan for the week, it's a good idea to check the fridge and pantry for food that you already have. This can be useful for several reasons. Firstly, it can help you save money by reducing food waste and preventing you from buying unnecessary groceries. By identifying what ingredients you already have, you can plan meals that incorporate those items and avoid buying more of the same. Secondly, checking your fridge and pantry can inspire new meal ideas and help you get creative with the ingredients you have on hand. This can lead to more interesting and varied meals that keep you and your family excited about eating at home. Lastly, checking your fridge and pantry can help you stay organized and ensure that you are using up items before they expire, reducing food waste and contributing to a more sustainable kitchen. Overall, taking the time to check what you already have before making a new meal plan can save you money, spark creativity, and promote sustainable eating habits! Win-Win-Win!
Step 4: Plan Out Your Meals for the Week
Once you've done all that prep work, it's time to get planning. This might come easy to you - as you put over, or you might feel completely overwhelmed by the idea. The first step to meal planning is deciding what meals to make for the week. To make things easier, I like to rotate through a few recipes that my family already loves. That way I know everyone will be happy with what I serve them. If your family likes variety, you can also try new recipes every once in a while or mix it up by making different versions of old favorites (think tacos with a twist).
Step 5: Create Your Shopping List
Once you have your meals planned out, it’s time to make your grocery list. This is a critical step that can save you time AND money. While there is no right or wrong way to make a grocery list, I like to first review the meal plan I've just created and identify the ingredients needed for each recipe. (Even though I took stock of the pantry & fridge before making the list, I might still need to recheck to ensure that I actually do have everything I'll need for the week ahead. Things like baking powder or capers or ketchup aren't items that I build a meal around, but may be needed in the recipes I've decided to make.)
Next, I organize the list by category, such as produce, dairy, meat, and pantry staples. This will make it easier to navigate the grocery store and ensure you don't forget anything. (I actually used to use this pre-made list, which was a lifesaver for me. This same list has gotten an upgrade in our new meal planner!) When shopping, try to stick to the list as much as possible to avoid impulse purchases. Remember - you did all that pre-work for a reason. Stores are designed to keep you in them, and make you question whether you actually do need another bag of potato chips. If you planned well before coming into the store, the answer is most likely "No, you don't!" Save your money for next week!
Finally, consider buying in bulk or opting for store-brand items to save even more money. By following these steps, you can streamline your grocery shopping process and stay on budget while feeding your family delicious, nutritious meals.
Step 6: Shop Smart
What does that mean: "Shop Smart"? Shopping smart at the grocery store means making conscious decisions about what you buy and how you spend your money. As we've just identified, it starts with making a list and sticking to it because this helps to avoid impulse buys and unnecessary spending. If you've planned your meals and selected recipes that use common ingredients, you can also minimize waste and spending. Look for sales and coupons, but don't be tempted to buy items you don't need just because they're on sale. These often become the items that sit in the back of the pantry, only to be found years later expired.
Opt for whole foods and fresh produce over processed and packaged foods, and consider buying in bulk to save money in the long run. When choosing products, read labels and compare prices per unit to ensure you're getting the best value. By shopping smart, you can save money, eat healthier, and reduce waste, all while enjoying delicious and nutritious meals.
Meal planning can seem overwhelming but with just a few easy steps it can become second nature! Start small by rotating through old favorites then work your way up to trying new recipes along with mixing up old ones with new flavors and ingredients. By taking advantage of sales and coupons at grocery stores, shopping smartly at bulk stores for staples as well as choosing organic produce whenever possible, meal planning can not only be manageable but even fun! With these tips under your belt meal prepping should be a breeze - now go forth and enjoy some delicious home cooked meals!