Being a family meal planner isn't hard, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. Use these 10 tips to learn meal planning quickly and easily.
How to Meal Plan: 10 Essential Tips For the Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning
A huge misconception about meal planning is that it's hard, time-consuming, and/or complicated. Being a family meal planner actually provides the exact opposite benefits!
Meal planning is a crucial time-saving tip for busy moms! And meal planning is simple once you have a system in place. I also have a simple, FREE printable guide to help you meal plan easily. However, there are a few essential tips to keep in mind when starting out that will make the entire process easier for you to quickly master:
1. Have A Daily Theme to Speed Up Meal Planning
Any time you want to put an effective plan into place, it's important to have a system for accomplishing it. That way you save time.
Rather than starting from scratch each week, I have a template of the general types of foods I cook each day of the week.
That can look different for each family, and no one way is better than another. I alternate doing themes by type of food vs different ethnic origins from around the world.
Here are a few examples:
Monday = Meatless (or Seafood)
Tuesday = Taco (or Mexican)
Wednesday = Crock Pot (or Soup or 30 Min Meal)
Thursday = Breakfast for dinner (or grilled meat or Stir Fry)
Friday = 30 Min Meal (or salad)
Saturday = Pasta (or Mediterranean)
Sunday = Leftovers (or Do-it-yourself or eat out)
Alternatively, you could simplify it down to something like this and change which days you do them. That could look a little something like this:
- 1 salad
- 1-2 stir frys
- 1 slow cooker or soup meal
- 1-2 meals from a different cuisine from around the world
- 1 fish/seafood meal
- 1-2 prepare ahead oven meals
I try to use no one meat more than twice in a given week, and I rarely use beef. I might have 2 chicken or turkey meals, 1-2 fish meals, 1-2 meatless meal and 1-2 pork or egg meals.
2. Focus On Core Recipes to Simplify Meal Planning
As you find recipes your family enjoys, I add them to a notebook I created so that when I have those (inevitable) mental blocks, I can go back and look through my notebook.
I also have a running list of meals my family loves in case I just want to quickly glance through that instead of my big notebook.
I then take those meals that everyone loves and make them core recipes that get re-used on a regular basis (say, once a month or so).
If you can build up at least 20 of these, you won’t repeat them often enough to get bored with your meals.
Additionally, I have had the most success with using these core meals for 5 of our dinners each week and trying something new for 1-2 dinners.
Pro Tip: If you want to take this process a step further, build these core meals for each season using seasonal produce and rotate with the seasons. This will not only provide variety all year long but will also save money on produce.
3. Explore the World Within Your Kitchen
I have always wanted to see different parts of the world and try different dishes from each country.
Since I'm not able to do that kind of traveling at this point, I work to create a similar experience at home.
With a little research, some experimenting, and some healthy adjustments, you can make recipes from around the world.
You might be surprised to find that your kids enjoy Mediterranean or Thai food. I know I was! My kids LOVE Mexican and Chinese, and Italian, and that list continues to grow.
4. Stretch Your Meat
Protein is typically the most expensive (and time-consuming) part of the meal so if you can stretch it over multiple meals, it will save you both time and money.
This is another reason I love casseroles and salads and stir frys: you can stretch the meat farther by adding more veggies and grains than if you were just serving chicken.
5. Ditch the Idea of Being Short Order Cook
I made this mistake myself before I knew the concept of being a short order cook. Not familiar with the term?
Basically, it means that you cater to your kids and feed them only what they like. If you make something for dinner that they don't like then you whip up something separate for them.
Why is being a short order cook a problem? Well, if you cater to his or her food preferences you will raise a picky eater who doesn't risk trying new foods?
Instead, I urge you to expose your children to healthy and diverse foods from a young age and don’t make any specific foods for them.
It really will benefit them in the long run.
We have two rules in our house:
- Our kids are required to try a “No Thank You” bite of everything prepared for dinner
- If they are truly not hungry they are not required to eat. However, if they choose not to eat, they are not allowed to complain about the food.
There are definitely times when my kids are not happy with the foods I serve them. I consider it a learning experience for them
Another option that is worth considering is to have a go-to option that your kids can have when they really don't like what you made for dinner.
When my kids were small and had trouble gaining weight, it was a bowl of plain Cheerios with milk and banana. It's filling enough that they won't be crying for food at bedtime, but not delicious enough that they will intentionally skip dinner to eat it.
And it gave me peace of mind that they were at least getting some nutrition and calories.
6. Use Spices to Change Things Up
My secret weapon in the kitchen is my spice rack. I believe the key to good cooking and adding variety in cuisine is a well-stocked spice rack.
Simple recipes can taste completely different just by changing the spices.
Want a Mexican flavor? Add some cumin and chili powder. Basil, Thyme, Oregano and Garlic give an Italian Flavor; and Curry provides an Indian type flavor. I think you get the idea.
I try to buy all my herbs in bulk at Sprouts since it saves a ton of money. Grocery stores and specialty spice stores are a great place to find spices, but the bulk bin at Sprouts or Whole Foods is a great place to buy spices at a fraction of the cost.
7. Use and Love Leftovers
Learn to love leftovers. They are a lifesaver when it comes to saving time and money. Add variety to them by mixing and matching your leftovers so you never have the same meal twice.
For example, fill a plate with some of Tuesday’s nachos and yesterday’s roast chicken and pair it with a bed of lettuce to create a taco salad to help leftovers feel like an entirely different meal instead of the same thing over and over again.
The only thing in your way is your imagination!
Further, leftovers don't need to only be used at dinner (although that is one way to not have to cook every night!).
Instead, change the breakfast cereal and sandwich and chips at lunch stereotypes with leftovers. They can come in handy here by providing a fast, healthy meal at either breakfast or lunch!
Another easy trick is to make a huge salad and store it in the fridge. Then, pull out the salad and add some leftover meat or a side dish to your fast and easy healthy salad.
8. Keep Your Recipes Organized
Remember that notebook I mentioned earlier to hold the recipe ideas that your family loves?
Well, it's important enough to give it a numbered point all of its own!
Keep a notebook full of recipes that your family loves in that notebook. Then take a piece of paper and write down kind of a cheat sheet of all those meal ideas for
Pro Tip: If you like to be organized, separate the notebook into sections based on meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert). It will help you save time when you are meal planning.
9. Find New Recipes
I mentioned earlier that it's important to add new recipes to your meal rotation. Not only is it important to introduce variety to your kids so that they don't become picky eaters, but variety is also important for nutritional value.
However…if Pinterest is as big of a time suck for you as it is for me (who can help but stare and drool at the pretty pictures for ages?), then an excellent alternative is to purchase the Ultimate Bundles Healthy Meal Planning Bundle.
This bundle is wonderful because not only does it help you take meal planning to the next level, but it also provides 1,000+ recipes AND 38 made-for-you meal plans! It's a steal and absolutely worth every. single. penny!
Seriously, check it out while it's still available!
10. Be a Family Meal Planner Cheater
Oh man, there are just those days. You know, the days where nothing goes as planned or you are just too tired at dinner time to stand up straight.
Even with the best intentions and thorough checklists, sometimes you just want to skip making dinner and put on your
ugliest comfiest clothes and hide in the bedroom binge watching tv while having pizza delivered to your door.
But it's important to have a cheat night in your back pocket.
Here's how you handle that: build a “cheat day” wild card into your weekly meal plan. Use your cheat day when you need to, and then shift the rest of your schedule back a day so you’re still eating all that tasty, fresh food you bought.
I have spent years working to build and simplify a meal planning system that works for our super busy family. With limited time and finances, using a family meal planner will help you save time and stay on budget!
Grab our FREE meal planning package to help you establish your meal planning system quickly and easily!
Get your meal planning in gear with these easy-to-implement tips for simple, healthy and fast meal planning!
What are some of your favorite meal planning tips? Share your wisdom in the comments!