Meal planning is one of those things that we don’t think we have time to do. I mean, we’re already too busy, right? Wrong! Ben Franklin once said, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” When it comes to meal planning, he was definitely right. The time that you spend planning your meals will save you a lot of time and stress later in the week. Meal planning has added benefits too, you’ll eat healthier and probably save money.
I do my meal planning on Sunday afternoon each week and use my Meal Planning Binder.
I try to plan 1-2 meals that are in the crock-pot so they don’t take much prep time. Planning super easy meals on very busy nights during the week also helps reduce stress. These include things like hamburgers or hot dogs on the grill, tacos, and quesadillas. And now that my children are grown, I plan at least 1 night per week where one of them cooks.
I also try to plan at least 1 or 2 “new” recipes to try each month to increase the variety. Some of them end up being tried once and then we throw the recipe away, but others get added to our regular meals. Some of our current favorites were found this way.
Creating the Meal Plan
1. Maintain a List of Meal Options
The first step in meal planning is to have a list of the meals your family likes. I have a list of family favorites in my meal planning binder
I also have a “C” written beside each recipe that is made in the crock-pot, and an “F” beside those that are prepared ahead freezer meals. Yes, a meal can have both a “C” and an “F”. Those are the best.
I also have a list of side dishes that we really like. In addition, I try to keep fresh vegetables in the refrigerator, so we can easily add a salad as a side dish any time we want one.
2. Make Note of This Week’s Family Calendar
Each Sunday, I write the family calendar on my meal planning form so I can tell who is going to be here for each meal. We have allergies in the family so who is eating is important. On my master meals list, there is a GF for gluten free and a MF for milk free so I can easily tell which meals can be served to the people that are going to be present.
3. Plan Meals
I always do my plan in pencil (or actually erasable pen), so changes can be made easily when needed.
It’s important to match your schedule with your meal plan. You don’t want to be doing a meal that takes a lot of prep time on your busiest day. If you enjoy cooking, you also don’t want to have a super simple meal on a day that you have time to be in the kitchen.
I try to limit large preparation meals to once or twice a week. Some people have a regular rotation of meals that they use to make planning even easier. I don’t currently do that because our schedules are so different from week to week.
Once I have the main dishes planned, I go back and add side dishes where needed. Some main dishes don’t really need a side, and others are best with just a salad, so there are usually only a few side dishes.
My Meal Planning Binder includes printables that give you an easy place to do your meal planning (several designs to choose from) and grocery list preparation, along with some kitchen reference charts and a place for your recipes.
4. Grocery List and Shopping
Once the meals have been planned, it’s easy to create a grocery list. Then you can either go shopping or order your groceries from one of the pick-up or delivery services available. We use Walmart grocery pick-up for the convenience.
When we get home with the groceries, it usually only takes a few minutes to put them away. Then, I will do whatever chopping or preparing that can be done ahead for the rest of the week. Now we’re ready for the week and I don’t have to think about the menu.
The Rest of the Week
As a part of my evening routine, I check the calendar for tomorrow’s dinner. I make sure that anything that needs to be gotten out of the freezer to thaw is done.
Something that is important to remember is that life will still happen and there will be times when your plan doesn’t work like you thought it would. Don’t let that increase your stress. Your meal plan can be fluid enough to adjust to these times.
If our schedule changes, it’s usually easy to just switch a couple of days within the week. And, if we just don’t eat a meal, I carry it to an early day in the following week, so the ingredients aren’t wasted.
Extra Time Saving Tips
If you’re in a good meal planning and grocery list-building routine (or at least have a few good plans already hashed out), consider re-using them! Save good plans with the matching grocery list (instead of tossing them out after the week is done) in your Meal Planning Binder If you don’t have time to put together a meal plan for the week, simply pull out an old plan/grocery list and head off to the store!
Are you one of those people who likes to cross off your list as you shops so they can’t be reused? Two possible solutions:
1) Make an extra copy before you shop and tuck it into your Meal Planning Binder for future use, OR
2) Place your list in a clear page protector and cross items off with a marker. Your list will stay clean as you check off what goes in your cart! Once your home, a damp cloth will take away your marks on the sheet protector.
Do you have tips or tricks that help you with your meal planning and grocery shopping? Let me know in the comments below or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always love to hear from you.